27: Along Came Leonard

27: Along Came Leonard

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Married Life!

Along Came Leonard

Success in marriage does not come merely through finding the right mate, but through being the right mate.

~Barnett R. Brickner

My first adventure as part of a couple lasted thirty-three years and was a traditional marriage for its time (Dick and I were married in 1953). He commuted to work in the city while I taught school in our neighborhood. When I became pregnant with our first child I retired, because “a mother’s place is in the home.” Dick agreed with me. In our world, daddies earned the money and mommies took care of all things domestic — the cooking, cleaning, laundering, childraising, and nursing whoever was sick on any given day. Mommies didn’t get sick — they never had the time.

Because we’d both grown up with this model, my husband and I felt comfortable with the pattern and it worked for us. Dick’s advances in his career were not considered his alone. They were our victories. His disappointments were not his setbacks, they were ours. We thought of ourselves as a single unit. When he died, I felt like half of me had died with him.

Life went on. It had to. But I didn’t believe I would ever be whole again. Food lost its taste — talking to an empty chair over dinner added no flavor. There was no laughter in the house.

Friends included me in their social activities as before, but I was the zombie in the crowd. Still, it was a life, and after about two years it felt normal to me and I saw myself continuing that way forever.

Then the phone call came. Hal, a fellow educator, now retired, wanted me to have dinner with a friend of his. The man had recently lost his wife to the same cancer that had claimed Dick. Hal thought we could help each other. I didn’t think I needed help. I’d settled into my routine. I did not want my life disturbed again. I said no.

“Just have dinner with him… for me,” Hal urged.

Reluctantly, I agreed. Maybe I could help this newly widowed man. I’d walked the lonely road he traveled now.

“His name is Leonard,” Hal said. “I gave him your phone number. He’ll be calling you.”

We had dinner and played “who do you know,” since he had recently retired from the school district where I still worked. We found we had many of the same friends, although our own paths had never crossed. We shared school stories and laughed. We talked about the trauma of losing our mates and fought back tears. We lingered over dessert, engrossed in conversations of discovery. By the time we said good night, I felt I’d known him all of my life.

Many more dates followed. After a while, it seemed as if we were spending all our available time together, even when our interests didn’t match. Leonard was a runner; I was a couch potato. I learned to half walk, half trot my way through competitive races so we could do them together.

Baseball bored Leonard, but I was obsessed with it. He’d join me, a magazine tucked under his arm, so we could share peanuts and hot dogs for our dinner. He enjoyed his reading material while I rooted for the home team.

Leonard was a political conservative; I was a flaming liberal. We talked politics by taking good-natured pot shots at each other.

We were so different; what was the attraction? We didn’t try to figure it out. All we knew was that we felt whole again in each other’s company, and that was enough. We married during my winter break from school, with all of our grown children there.

We would use my two weeks off from work for our honeymoon. I looked forward to it, remembering my first one. It was my model for what a honeymoon should be. Dick and I had gone to a luxurious resort hotel in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where we lazed in the sun by the lake or pool, staff people always ready to fulfill our every wish. We slept late and had room service bring us breakfast. We dined on elegant cuisine in the dining room every evening, followed by a show or dance orchestra to entertain us. I felt like a fairy tale princess. I was more than ready to relax into another such honeymoon.

But Leonard’s idea of a nuptial trip was different than mine. He flew us off to the Pacific Rim on the longest airplane ride of my life. We rose early each morning and ate modest meals on the run as we trekked around Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Macau and Hong Kong on our own. He had been to these places before and was eager to show them to me. I’d forgotten to tell him I was the stay-at-home type who liked the familiar.

In the end, it didn’t matter. The sights and sounds, the tastes and smells of cultures so different from my own became addictive. I learned to use toilets that consisted of a drain hole in the floor. I survived wild rides in tuk-tuk taxis — rickshaw type carriages attached to motorcycles whose drivers sped through Bangkok’s traffic so perilously close to cars and buses that a bent arm could have cost me an elbow. In another part of Thailand, I was fascinated by the boats of the floating market, laden with their flowers and produce for sale.

In Malaysia, I replaced my tank tops with blouses that had sleeves because I felt conspicuous having uncovered arms in that Muslim country. I was careful in Singapore not to drop a tissue on their spotlessly clean streets. By the end of our honeymoon, I had caught Leonard’s lust for travel and adventure.

It was hard to get up and head off for school on my first day back at work. My desk was piled high with tasks and I was interrupted constantly by teachers and fellow administrators dropping by with congratulations, chatter, and problems to be solved. I stayed long after the last bell of the day to catch up with the most urgent matters on my desk. It was close to 6 p.m. when I arrived home, exhausted.

Something strange was going on. Mouthwatering aromas were coming from the kitchen, where I found Leonard tending to pots heating on the stove. The table was set with napkins, dishes, silverware and wine glasses.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Leonard looked up. “I’m making dinner,” he said.

“Why?” I asked, still astounded at the sight of a man in the kitchen.

“Why not?” He looked surprised that I would ask. “You’re working, I’m not. Sit down, food’s ready.”

I pulled out a chair and obeyed. Pot roast, mashed potatoes, carrots, and a tossed green salad magically appeared in front of me. Leonard sat down and poured the wine. We clinked glasses. “To us,” we said and took our first sips. I lifted my filled fork to my lips and ate.

The kitchen had always been my domain. Obviously, this new husband of mine did not follow the traditional marriage model. Here was another difference between Leonard and me, but this one was deliciously easy to accept. It took no adjustment at all.

 

~Marcia Rudoff

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