Northern Stars

Most of us husbands do a fairly decent even though sometimes awkward job of being the guy married to a woman who is better than we deserve. Let’s admit it. We don’t listen well. We stink at discussing our feelings. We almost never look at a calendar so we can think ahead about the important dates. Yet, deep down we care.

This is why I’m on the phone at the last minute before our anniversary trying to find someone who will deliver a vase of flowers to my wife within the next 12 hours. Never mind this is only days before Mother’s Day when most flower shops are about as intense as the Situation Room at 3AM during a global crisis.

I can hear the electronic ring on the other end.

“Good afternoon. Tiger Lily Flowers. How can I help you?”

“I need a flower arrangement delivered to my wife in the morning.”

Long pause. There is a hesitant cheerfulness on the other end.

“I’m sure we can work that in. We’re pretty busy with Mother’s Day and all.”

“I’m sorry to put you in a bind.”

“What’s the occasion?”

“Tomorrow is our 43rd wedding anniversary.”

“Wow”, she says. I can tell that the young girl on the other end is having visions of crippled old folks shuffling around on walkers with high-viz yellow tennis balls stuck on the end of the legs. “We don’t get that every day. That’s amazing.”

I’m glad she is impressed. “Thank you M’am.”

She expands on her admiration. “We had a man call in here the other day who had been married for 32 years and I thought he was old. Congratulations.”

“Thank you M’am. Do you have any Daisies and Baby’s Breath? I know she likes those.”

“I’m sure we do. Like I said, it’s Mother’s Day and we are loaded with fresh flowers. I think we can put something together for you.”

So, I gave her my card numbers and made a payment somewhat equal to the first house payment we ever made. I try not to think about that because I am a husband with a not-so-perfect track record when it comes to flowers. At least I’m not at the grocery store flower cooler after work on the day of the event trying to choose something in a clear plastic wrapping to take home. I am one step ahead of most years.

Other than being alive, being married is the one thing I have done the longest in my life. I went to school for nearly 20 years. I’m pretty sure I’ve been wearing a shirt or two for over thirty years. I have tools that I’ve been tinkering with for nearly 40 years. But over 45 years with the same woman sharing this thing we call life beats them all.

We got a few congratulatory texts about the event. The one we chuckled about came from our oldest daughter who said, “You guys make it look easy.”

I’m sure it hasn’t been easy for Beth. I have no gender confusion issues and I am male. I have fallen asleep in the middle of important conversations. I have procrastinated and forgotten things that she has asked me to do. I have worked a lot of evenings when she had all the responsibility of wrestling three kids through bath and bedtime. I have promised trips that we have never taken.

But I can say that I have never forgotten our anniversary. I have handed her cards while the ink was still wet, yes. But I’ve never just let it get completely away from me.

I remember well the bash we threw for my parents at their 50th. The fellowship hall at Berea Christian Church. Friends and family stirring around. I was only in my Thirties then and really had no appreciation for what that meant. Now that we are closing in on that number, I am blown away by the significance of it all.

After work yesterday, I stopped by Cook Brothers in town. Steve asked me, “What’s for supper tonight? I might need to come home with you.”

“You can’t come. I’m taking Beth out for supper. It’s our anniversary.”

“Well, what number is this one?”

“This is 43.”

“There ain’t many of us around who can say that.”

Which is sad when you think about it. The hardest thing and the best thing a person could ever do is to stay married for life. Call me old fashion, but I believe that. We could have parted ways over things that seemed serious at the time, but which later proved to be trivial in the big scheme of things. Most of a married couple’s troubles are about self-centeredness or thoughtlessness. And all of them could be prevented with the right kind of selflessness and forgiveness. But it takes effort.

We’re in the car headed down to Columbus. Carrabba’s is our destination. We haven’t eaten there in years. It’s usually too crowded and the wait is too long on the weekends, but this is a weeknight and pandemic rules are still keeping a lot of people away from the restaurants. Plus, since we’re old, we were there by 5:30.

The food and service were great. Steak and garlic potatoes for me. Grilled Salmon and garlic potatoes for her. We put our phones away and talked the entire time. We didn’t intend to, but we ended up going over the years we’ve been together by the milestone events that have defined us. Jobs. Kids. The places we’ve lived. The reasons we moved around and made major changes in our lives. 43 years and it seems so short looking back.

On the drive home we were listening to music in the car.

“Did we ever have a song we called ‘our song’?” I was asking because I was sure she would roll her eyes at me and recount the exact spot and describe exactly what we were doing and what we were wearing when we decided to claim ‘our song’. She usually remembers every little detail about stuff. But not this time.

“I’m sure we did, but I can’t remember it.”

A Rascal Flatts tune came up. We drove along in silence for a time. A near perfect tenor voice filling the void around us.

“God bless the broken road that led me straight to you.” All the mistakes. All the clumsy dating. All the stupid relationships. All the failed attempts. They were just Northern Stars pointing us along the way.

I made a lame attempt at being thoughtful, “That could be us.”

“Yeah. Sure could.”

Silence. She was thinking. “How many other girls did you kiss before you decided it would be me?”

“I wasn’t counting.”

Happy Anniversary.