It's Been a Great 10 Married Years
Some time ago, I casually asked my wife what she would like to do for our approaching 10th wedding anniversary.
This is one of the most dangerous questions a married man can ask his wife, of course. If it doesn’t result in an instantly ruined bank account, it can lead to all kinds of uncomfortable conversations no married fellow in his right mind would wish to have about his true feelings.
Luckily, she was cooking at the time, up to her pretty elbows in a wild mushroom strudel.
“Gee, I don’t know,” she casually came back, “what about rural France?”
“What about it?” I asked.
“Maybe I’m dreaming out loud. But wouldn’t it be fun to go back to Chantilly or Compiegne? We had such fun there.”
I couldn’t disagree. We did have fun back then. In Compiegne, we stumbled upon the annual steeplechase and whimsically placed 20 bucks on the final race of the day, saw our nag come from dead last to win at 20-1 odds, and made off with a small wheelbarrow of francs. At the pay-out window, an unshaven Frenchman was so excited he kissed us both.
We bought buckets of roasted chestnuts and truffles and expensive wine to send home to friends, ate like Sun Kings on the lam.
Then there was the other time we played golf alone on France’s most famous golf course — Club du Chantilly — and afterward met a group of friendly chaps playing dominoes and drinking pastis on the clubhouse terrace. We asked them for local restaurant recommendation and they personally escorted us a delightful village bistro with hams dangling from the ceiling and a friendly Egyptian owner named Naba.
We were escorted to a long wooden table in back where platters of fresh asperges blanc and several bottles of a local chilled red Sancerre wine were set before us.
“You both to eat,” Naba commanded, so we did as instructed.
A short time later, a small army of chattering locals entered and took seats all around us — the clubmen had gone home and fetched their wives. No one spoke English, and our French was laughable. But we stayed there until the wee hours of the morning laughing and eating and drinking. They refused to let us pay.
So anyone who says the French are unfriendly can just kiss my asperges blanc.
Fun, If Not Prudent
“How about a trip to Laurinburg?” I suggested, pleasantly recalling these wonderful French excursions, if not exactly what they cost.
“Don’t you mean Luxembourg, sweetie? That could be nice. I hear the weather is awfully nice there in June”
“No, I mean the real Laurinburg. I understand there’s Golden Corral buffet opening there this week. Perhaps we could catch the riding lawn-mower races in Ellerbe.”
She gave me a look over her strudel. Evidently this was all my own fault, of course.
Ten years ago, on our honeymoon, we wandered around Italy for a couple of weeks, taking in the ruins of Pompeii and the hill towns of Tuscany and Umbria before going on to Greece, where we bought cheap silver wedding bands and ate and drank ourselves silly.
Highlights included getting tossed out of a famous convent for showing up late and taking a ferry across the Aegean with refugees escaping the civil war in Albania. That was even more fun and sobering, than the aforementioned fortnight in France.
If I’d learned anything since then, it was that my wife has gourmet taste for the unknown adventure and a remarkable talent for making any old place feel like home, so even a trip to the lawn-mower races in greater Ellerbe could be big fun. I can envision at least two trips through the dessert buffet line at Golden Corral.
Over those swiftly passing 10 years, we’ve buried one parent and two dogs, sold a beloved house and sent two — soon to be three — kids off to expensive colleges. We lost good friends to divorce and death, lost a small fortune by waiting to sell our house until the housing market collapsed, yanked up roots and started again.
If you looked at all of this on paper, the timing probably couldn’t have been worse. The investment brokers and bean counters of the world would simply shake their heads at our matrimonial follies, this unplanned odyssey, our lack of pragmatic financial planning. They would point out we’ve followed the inclinations of our hearts rather than a prudent retirement strategy designed to assure a comfortable old age either owning part of a vineyard or playing golf six days a week.
They can kiss an unshaven Frenchman for all I care.
Embracing the Unknown
Money comes and goes, but the chance to embrace the unknown and create something new is ultimately, I’ve found, the path to happiness. During the arguably most challenging decade of my life, I’ve helped create two magazines from the ground up, taught writing at a distinguished university, written four good nonfiction books and two unfinished novels, made three or four of the best friends a bloke could possibly have, seen my golf handicap soar, gained 20 pounds from my wife’s cooking, turned mostly gray-haired, and quit worrying about unexpectedly dying in Florida (OK, not quite).
I’ve also worried incessantly about my kids far away in college, somehow lost three nice wristwatches, broken a finger, lost my taste for alcohol, met a stream of fascinating folks to write about, and learned that prayer really works. God, what fun.
My wife’s own life, she will tell you flatly, has blossomed in wonderful, unexpected ways. And to think I never saw it coming. A decade into this adventure, I would tell you it’s all because one autumn evening 13 years ago, a beautiful divorced gal named Wendy came walking into a friend’s supper party in Fayetteville, N.Y., bearing a platter of homemade brownies.
She was wearing brown plaid pants and a fetching smile. By the end of the evening I learned she had two small boys, loved good French wine and white lilacs. A week later, we went to a roadhouse beside one of the Finger Lakes and talked all night.
“You know what I think?” she asked at one point.
I shook my head — though, weirdly, I actually did feel like I might know what she thought about stuff. Life. Kids. Dogs. That sort of thing. Even, maybe, me. Among other things, I learned she really loves fried oysters.
“I think we deserve each other,” she said simply, and gave me that same fetching smile.
Ten years ago this week, we married with our kids and her parents and just a few close friends present in our backyard in Maine. It just so happened to be the 60th wedding anniversary of my own parents.
So this week, I surprised her with a golden retriever puppy we’ve named Ajax. He’s 7 weeks old and already a complete terror. She adores him. She surprised me with another fine Swiss Army watch. Hopefully I won’t lose this one anytime soon.
To celebrate, we’re skipping both France and Laurinburg and taking ourselves off to Charleston this weekend to eat fried oysters and see what kind of happily married fun we can create.
Guess I’ll save the lawn- mower races until our 20th.
Award-winning author Jim Dodson, Sunday essayist with The Pilot and editor of PineStraw magazine, can be reached at email@example.com.
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