After 40 years, can I still say, ‘I love you?’

There’s something frumpy about the number 40. I hated my 40th birthday. Kathy took me to the Ventana Inn, high above the California coastline in one of the more sumptuous settings imaginable. But instead of celebrating, I sulked, any vestige or illusion of youth stripped away by the numbers 4-0.

Today is Kathy’s and my 40th wedding anniversary and, after grousing through much of the last few weeks, we finally admitted to each other that it’s not an anniversary either of us has looked forward to with excitement. For one thing, it means we’re getting pretty old (even though we did marry at age 12). For another, it lacks the gravitas of, say, 50, or even 25. I mean, who repeats wedding vows on their 40th anniversary? Or hires a crew to sail them around the Caribbean? Or throws a party?

But once we worked through the wrinkles of this sort of awkward milestone, I’ve been thinking it is a special day, this July 17, 2011. Who would have known that two kids, smiling carefree on a Vermont hillside 40 years ago would last this long?

Back then, our life together got off to a rather inauspicious start. Three of Kathy’s brothers, driving across the border from Canada the day before the wedding got stopped by the border patrol and busted for carrying a joint or two to the party. The car was impounded. They never made it to my parents hillside, where the ceremony and party went on without them.

The next morning, July 17, 1971, Kathy drove up my parents hillside in her white wedding dress alone, but for the slobbering bull mastiff beside her in the front seat. The rest of her family was running late, she announced. We took this minor inconvenience in stride, too, sneaking into my parents downstairs bedroom to pop the cork on a bottle of champagne while we waited for her family to arrive. Twelve hours later, at about midnight, we showed equal aplomb by driving off as my father, with his thick German accent, ran after us on his hill, shouting, “they’re breaking the rules, they’re breaking the rules,” a reference not to us but to college friends who had pirated in hard liquor to supplement the wine, beer and champagne that Gunther’s Germanic “rules” allowed at the wedding. A lot of drunk 22 year olds slept on my parents’ property that night. But he got over it; he always did.

Forty years of married life holds its highs, its lows and its in between. Kathy and I are still as different in some ways as the day we married. She the midwestern girl with the warm smile who has for years (over?)organized my sometimes chaotic life, but also been my compass, my companion, my soulmate, my anchor and my guide. Me, the New York City and Long Island boy who likes to talk and tell stories, but, unlike her, can’t fix a damned thing.

We’ve bridged these differences, usually with reasonable ease, in our shared love of travel and nature; kids and dogs; politics, education, books and ideas. And along the way, Kathy learned to talk more and I learned, once in awhile, to listen better.

We’ve moved 13 times; lived in six states and the District of Columbia; raised two daughters, three golden retrievers and two cats; and today watch with pride and pleasure as our daughters raise their own: Devon, Meghan’s daughter nearly 4, Dylan, Betsy’s son, just now 1. We’ve traveled pretty widely through three continents and more than 40 states, hiked trails and up mountains in many of them, had our share of silly fights, and more than our share of laughter. They’ve been good, these years that have flown by.

One thing, I believe, we can say on our 40th anniversary is that the odds are pretty darn good we are in this for the long haul, that those wedding vows made so long ago held. What makes me happy today is that I can say those words with pleasure — and anticipation of more to come.

It’s been a nice ride on a pretty darn interesting road, Kathy. Stick with me for a few more decades and who knows what adventures will turn up ahead.


About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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