First Anniversaries

First Anniversaries

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

First Anniversaries

Empty pockets never held anyone back. Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that.
~Norman Vincent Peale

The night of my first wedding anniversary, I called my mom. I was planning to be strong, to hold myself together, but as soon as she picked up the phone and I heard her voice, I cracked.

“Hi,” I said, holding at bay the knot that threatened to explode in my throat.

“Well, hello to my girl,” Mom exclaimed.

I pictured her, a thousand miles away in Pinedale, Wyoming, spending a quiet Sunday afternoon in the La-Z-Boy working a crossword, her bare feet curled under her legs. In Lafayette, Indiana, two time zones away, I stared at the carpeted kitchen floor in our cramped apartment as dinnertime was fast approaching.

I had already talked to Mom earlier when she and Dad called to wish Bryan and me a special day. It had been a conversation filled with laughs and smiles. Now, less than twelve hours later, all those smiles seemed long gone.

“Is everything okay?” Mom asked now, an air of concern shifting the tone of the conversation.

“Mmm-hmm,” I quivered, a lie Mom immediately detected.

“Okay, what’s the matter?” she asked.

The story tumbled out. For months Bryan and I had prized a gift certificate to a small, lavish Italian place downtown. The gift card was worth forty dollars, enough for a romantic evening under dim lights with thick, cloth napkins, two sparkling glasses of wine and plates heaped high with exquisite fettuccini Alfredo. We drove to the restaurant after church to check its dinner hours, only to find it was closed on Sundays. Our gift certificate was useless. With Bryan in school and me earning a meager writer’s salary, our checkbook was too thin to splurge on a nice meal, even on our first anniversary. We would be celebrating our special occasion at home, over boxed pasta and cheap wine, sitting on bar stools pulled up to a stainless steel counter—the closest thing to a table we had.

Bryan, who had grown up in a family of five, was used to nights of canned vegetables and only enough food for one serving apiece. Sometimes, his dad even skimped on meals so his children got enough. A night at home for him, even on our anniversary, was no big deal. With a full afternoon ahead of him, he returned to school to catch up on some summer classes. I was alone, exactly one year after the most momentous day of my life, soon to start boiling water on the stove.

I knew Mom would be sympathetic. As much as I didn’t want to admit it to myself, that’s why I had called. I was an only child in a family where money had never been an issue. I was used to getting everything I wanted. Now I cried into toilet paper, one-ply.

I expected Mom to soothe me with comforting words and remind me of what truly mattered—that I would still spend this night with the one I loved, my best friend. I wanted her to justify our splurging forty dollars on a night out, even though we couldn’t afford it. Maybe she’d even offer to help us pay.

Instead, she told her own story:

On her first anniversary, twenty-nine years ago, she cooked elk steaks packaged from the elk that Dad shot the winter before.

It was old meat.

“Dad was only bringing home $300 a month from the shop, and I wasn’t working yet,” she said. “All of our money had gone to bills and rent. So on our first anniversary, I was the cook and cleanup crew. The paycheck demanded it.” Fresh steak from the store was not an option.

“I tried not to let it bother me,” Mom said. “But as I took the paper off that meat, I cried.”

I slid to the carpeted floor in tears at Mom’s story. I had never known my parents to struggle. But being poor early on had no bearing on their love for each other. In fact, their first anniversary celebration had set the stage for a relationship that was still going strong after twenty-nine years.

Our first anniversaries had converged, two nights twenty-nine years apart. Mom and Dad did what they had to do, without the outward signs of glamour or romance. And it was our turn to do the same.

I was still in the kitchen wiping my eyes when Bryan came home.

“Hey woman,” he whispered into my ear. “Get out of the kitchen. I’m cooking tonight.”

~Kate E. Meadows

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