Celebrating an Anniversary

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

Is it possible to celebrate an anniversary for its own sake? To invite friends and strangers alike to pay tribute to an institution, without giving credit to the two who hung on for the ride?

For 50 years.

When we were kids, a year was an eternity. Would Christmas never come?

But 50!

Do you remember, as I do, seeing pictures of ancient husbands and wrinkled wives who look as though someone is propping them up for the camera? When you’ve been married 50 years, you’re old, really old.

Fifty years? No wife can possibly feel the same about her husband after 50 years. That’s true, of course. Many love their mate more than they did a half-century before. Some are merely holding on because they came from families that just don’t do divorce. A few stay together because they’re more afraid to leave. Some feel taken for granted. Some still feel that little leap of the heart when the other comes into view, or speaks on the phone.

I guess our marriage has experienced all of the above.

I remember that shortly after we were married I calculated that we could hope for 50, maybe 60, years together and that was not nearly long enough to love Dave. And I wept at the thought that death could separate us.

I remember worrying about how I’d ever manage to raise three children born within five years if something were to happen to him. Or if I left him.

I remember thinking, “He takes me for granted. And vice versa. What’s wrong with being taken for granted”?

When I worked late, I took it for granted that he’d have dinner started when I got home.

I took it for granted that part of every paycheck was diverted into plans that would educate the kids, pay off the house, make early retirement possible.

Today I take for granted that tires, fluids and electrical systems have been checked regularly, and the car is as safe as it can be. I’d never do it.

And I take for granted that he loves me, at least most of the time. He takes for granted that I love him now more than ever before, despite the bruises his sharp words sometimes leave on my heart.

Maybe it’s not even that I love Dave so much as I love my image of him. I know this: I’m still learning how best to be married to him. That’s not easy, but it’s worth the effort. I cannot imagine not being married. To him.

When he goes to the lake for a few days’ boating without me, the luxury of being totally unaccountable for my time makes me giddy, and I squander the first day. For the next day or two, I can stay incredibly busy filing photos or cleaning or turning leftovers into exotic cuisine. Then I start missing him, and he misses me. I know because he calls me and says he’s coming home. “Got that varnishing done and ran the engine a little. It’s supposed to cloud up tonight, so I might as well come home.”

Not, “I miss you.” Not, “Can’t wait to see you.” Just, “I might as well come home.”

I haven’t even started the columns I was going to write and I’m caught between resenting his early return and delight that I have someone with whom to share ideas. It takes time to learn how to be married; too few couples are willing to invest it.

I turned 19 in December, 1955. I’d met Dave Satterthwaite the preceding February. He was 24. We were married March 25, 1956, on a gusty, chilly Sunday that cleared off later in the day. It was a small and simple wedding in the Presbyterian church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

I wore a “tea-length” white dress of chantilly lace over taffeta that I remember costing $50, the most I had ever spent on a dress, a record that stood until I bought a winter coat in Washington, D.C. in 1977. I plan to have the dress on display at the reception.

I’m warming to the idea of a simple gathering of friends and acquaintances who know an invitation when they read one. Like this: Saturday, March 25, 2006, 2 to 4 p.m., at Christ Our Shepherd Lutheran Church in Peachtree City. Do come and celebrate our first 50 years together. We’ll need your friendship even more for the second 50.

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