OK, OK, so my husband and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary on December 30. Forty years!
When we tell people that, they usually look at us like we’re really old. That’s bad enough. But then the next thing they want is for us to say something profound and wise about a long marriage.
If there’s anything that renders me completely mute, it’s the expectation I will say something profound or — equally threatening — witty. When that happens, I just want to die or disappear, and end up looking like a neurotic hamster in search of her wheel and cage.
But marriage is a partnership — right? — so there’s no need for me to do this all by myself. I can shift the burden to both my husband and me. If you’ve read this blog over time, you kind of know him; if not, see earlier, completely objective reports here and here.
People sometimes ask me whether he minds my writing about him so much. That’s kind of a weird question, in my opinion. If he didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be doing it, based on this whole notion that marriage is a partnership and you shouldn’t be pissing off the other person unnecessarily; instead you should save yourself for the times when you need to necessarily piss him off.
Besides, my husband loves attention, especially of the flattering sort, which is pretty much what I deliver on a regular basis. Sometimes, though, he whines a little that I am not completely objective and that he needs to present his side of the story.
So! It’s our anniversary and today we’re both going to talk. It can’t hurt once every 40 years, can it? Let me turn over the stage so we can have a dialogue.
Oh god, she wants me to talk about my feelings. When Ruth said that it would be fun to do a blog together about our 40 years of marriage, it occurred to me that this would be the perfect opportunity to talk about my beef jerky recipe. It’s quite simple. Get a lean cut of beef, cut it into strips, put some salt on it, and then lay it out on an oven grill ideally over the heating duct in the living room for a couple of days. Brush away the dust, and Voila! — the perfect snack.
You probably think that this recipe came from Ruth’s Chickasaw ancestors. In fact, I kind of invented it on my own early in our marriage. Before children, Ruth and I shared a laissez faire approach to life. One of our first Christmases together, we cooked a nice steak with some friends. We lived in Virginia and it was bitterly cold outside (note to future jerky chefs: cold outside temperature = low relative humidity inside = perfect jerky-making conditions). The steak was rare and cut thin. We had too much food and wine and didn’t eat most of the steak. After the guests left, we went straight to bed figuring that we’d clean up Christmas morning. But why clean up on Christmas? On the morning of the 26th, I was assigned the task of cleaning up and discovered that Santa must have visited. The leftover steak strips had transformed into beautiful pieces of jerky. What joy. What happiness. What a feeling of discovery. (And you thought I couldn’t talk about my feelings.)
Why am I telling you this? Making jerky is a little like discovering the key to a happy marriage. We both began our relationship with a vague sense of what marriage was and, two days later, woke up a bit unrecognizable but full of substance and a rich story. Making jerky is not as easy as it might sound. It requires the right meat, the appropriate relative humidity, and the perfect companion who can tolerate and even celebrate your eccentricities.
Moving beyond the jerky metaphor, I think that two of the secrets to a long and happy marriage are truly enjoying one another and good luck. Oh, and the right amount of salt.
Celebrating 40 years of marriage and 31 years of beef jerky
I’m reminded of the time my husband and I were in a car together and I said I wanted to talk about our relationship. Then I reached over and locked all the car doors. You should have seen the panicked look on his face. The point is, I probably should have done the same thing today. If I had, I’d be misting up over some flowery emotional tribute he’d written instead of thinking, Beef jerky? Are you fucking kidding me?
“Guess what your father just compared our marriage to,” I asked our daughter when she dropped by with her boyfriend. She shook her head. “Beef jerky,” I said.
“You’re kidding,” she said, horrified. “Beef jerky?”
“I like beef jerky,” my husband said placidly.
Our daughter’s boyfriend didn’t say anything. He was too busy snacking on the damned beef jerky.
“I am wondering about the symbolism of this,” I announced. “Beef jerky is old and dried out and wrinkled.”
“Beef jerky tastes great,” my husband said. “It has a story to it. Like a good, long marriage.”
There are a couple of morals to this story. Yeah, I should have applied the locked car-door pressure, but now it’s too late. But, you know what? I am a sucker for a guy who can still amuse me, even after four decades.
Oh, and did I mention he got me a ring?
The most surprising part of celebrating a 40th wedding anniversary is to realize that you have been married for 40 years. It didn’t really happen the way I had planned. Growing up, I assumed that I would go to college and then law school. And then when I was around 30 or so I would marry someone. It seemed to work OK for my father and no other options called out to me.
The fly in the ointment of my plans arrived in the summer after high school when I was set up on a blind double date with a girl who I hardly knew but assumed I didn’t particularly like. The date involved a trip to the Sand Hills State Park. Imagine an endless sun-drenched beach where the closest body of water was about 300 miles away. Around sundown, we started talking. The next thing I remember it was midnight and we were in a diner, still talking and laughing and flirting. Talking with her was like dancing in clouds. It was so effortless, freeing, and pure joy.
We told ourselves it was just a summer fling before we both left town to go to different colleges. Our separate university lives started but we soon started writing occasionally. Within weeks, the dance took up where we left off in the summer.
I never went to law school and didn’t get married when I was 30. Instead, my plans were sidetracked by this lovely sensuous verbal dancer. As the years passed, we had two wonderful children and amassed a remarkable group of friends. We’ve enjoyed rich and meaningful lives and had more than our share of lucky breaks.
Through all of this, we are still dancing as effortlessly today as on the sand dunes a lifetime ago.
The Sand Hills to beef jerky, youth to late middle age, hippiedom to semi-respectability — you see what I mean? No wonder I’m struck dumb by the prospect of saying something profound about a long marriage.
So, our kids hosted a dinner party and everybody said really nice things about us and noted that 40 years was a pretty long haul. From time to time, I’d look across the table at my husband and wink or smile, thinking about our imperfections, our occasional knock-down, drag-outs, our children, our friends, our travels, our love, our teeth-baring moments, all the fun we’ve had, the sheer richness of our lives together.
You know what? I’d do it all over again in a nano.
“After all of this celebration and those compliments,” I told my husband later, “we’d better not fuck it up now.”
(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)