72: Homecomings

72: Homecomings

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Married Life!

Homecomings

A happy marriage is a long conversation which always seems too short.

~Andre Maurois

The dress was cranberry and rust plaid, somewhat bold for me. It had been a splurge. I’d yearned to feel sophisticated, and this dress somehow did it.

There was a reason for the indulgence: I was a young bride about to meet my husband’s college buddies at the big Rutgers University homecoming game. It all felt momentous in our brand new marriage.

We drove up the New Jersey Turnpike that day in our used Chevy convertible, but I wouldn’t let Victor put the top down for fear of ruining my carefully arranged hair. I’d slept the whole night before in hair rollers to achieve just the right look.

I was nervous. At twenty-one, I barely knew myself, let alone how to behave in my new role as somebody’s wife. “Wife” had such a grown-up ring to it, but grown up was not what I was feeling that day. Like a hapless eighth grader, I was worried about whether these guys — and their wives — would like me.

We climbed up to our seats, and there they were, six couples who all seemed perfectly nice. But I kept mixing up their names, and who went with whom. Besides, it turned out that the plaid dress itched.

That year marked the beginning of a precious marriage ritual for us — but we didn’t know it.

We could never have dreamt, as we clambered up those stadium steps in those early autumns, that over five decades later, we would still be meeting. Who thought in decades? Back then, a year was an eternity.

Suddenly, we were all having babies, moving into split-levels in the suburbs, and realizing that we really didn’t have to dress to impress at those football games.

No more Chevy convertibles either. We were at the stage of marriage — and parenthood — when a solid station wagon with faux wood sides was our vehicle of choice. Kids and convertibles didn’t match.

Then one year, six couples had been reduced to five plus one widow. A horrible car accident had claimed one of our gang, and we young marrieds couldn’t connect the dots: we were still young enough to feel invincible, yet death, which was supposed to be for our parents’ generation, had intruded.

Our perfect little young-marrieds group would go through other losses and renunciations — the first divorce among us felt like a knife cutting through our former equanimity about life and love and the notion of forever.

Through the years of homecoming games, we measured out our own wins and losses. Marriage was no longer a given as yet another couple divided the sheets and towels and called it quits.

Our cars were getting smaller again as the kids we’d chauffeured to soccer practice and Scouts were suddenly, audaciously, leaving us for places with trailing ivy and grassy quads.

We didn’t dash up the stadium steps anymore — my husband had fallen victim to a tricky back and mine wasn’t terrific either.

Nobody can remember precisely when we slipped into sleek condominiums or when we stopped eating spicy foods and transitioned to decaffeinated coffee and herbal teas.

But we still went to those Rutgers games, by now climbing more slowly up the steps and into our seats in the stands. One year, my husband and I couldn’t get to the game because we had a far more important commitment: a granddaughter’s ballet recital.

Our marriage was at a vastly different stage by then — and so were our priorities.

There also was a new sensibility about how blessed we were — and how young and middle marriage eras had yielded to something brand new: senior status. It was both shocking — and enormously satisfying.

Those of us who had cheered together for the Rutgers football team for so many autumns were awash in new realities in a post-9/11 world. My husband and I clung closer, searching for meaning and connection in a world that had been inalterably altered.

Yes, there were grandchildren to sweeten this fourth quarter — undeniably, a bonus, and the source of shameless bragging. But not quite enough.

It was marriage, which now spanned five decades — a notion that took our breath away — that had become even more central.

Last fall, as we drove up to the stadium for the homecoming game, we carted along pillows to soften those bleacher benches, and carried a blanket in case the wind started up.

As we walked together towards the stands, holding hands, a few younger couples smiled indulgently at the silver-haired alumnus and his lady, officially part of the Old Guard now — the fifty-year-plus alumni.

How could they understand what our years marked by this annual autumn event had enclosed within them?

But clearly, on that brisk autumn day, we were now in a different universe. We were the very-very-married — still relishing the small rituals of wedded life that matter.

And as we gingerly took our seats, my husband leaned over and kissed my cheek. He told me that he remembered that plaid dress — and that first homecoming game as husband and wife.

I smiled all through the whole game.

It didn’t matter a bit that Rutgers lost.

 

~Sally Friedman

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