Some married people look like they belong together. You’ll know this is true when others refer to them as vegetables, as in “They’re peas in a pod.” These people also will, later in life, take on the irritating practice of dressing alike, usually right after they start watching Lawrence Welk reruns. But the rest of us just don’t look like we belong together. Like our outward appearance should have provided an important clue that our differences might not just be skin deep. From one of our first trips together, to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, in the summer of 1983:
It was quite a challenge to remember back to our first date in March, 1983. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that just about everything I needed to know about Gary, I learned on our first date. Not that you particularly care about the details of our first date, but had I been paying attention, instead of being smitten and somewhat tipsy, I would have had complete insight as to what my next 30 years would be like.
Oh, I bet if you ask him, he’ll have his own list about me, after all of these years. No doubt, you’d hear about list-making, throw pillows, and black sweaters. But knowing that I can’t embarrass him, I just had to put this down before I forgot more of the details…
I wanted to make a good impression. I decided to wear this very trendy, winter white, pin wale corduroy jumpsuit that I thought would cause him to swoon, or at least be impressed. And I had some pretty big 80s hair going on. A deadly combination for enticing this almost-divorced assistant professor if there ever were one.
Gary came to my apartment to pick me up and announced that our Friday evening was going to start differently than we had planned: We were now going grocery shopping for 24 people. Sounds like fun, right?
What I didn’t know was that the following day, he was going with a group of students and peers from his university department on a weekend whitewater rafting trip. He had arranged for boats and guides and two dozen willing participants. And he told them that he would take care of getting all of the food. Apparently he had had a busy week being professorial and had run out of time. So, instead of starting our date in a more typical way, we went grocery shopping.
Gary only had a vague list to shop from, so we spent the next hour tossing 24 of everything into a cart and then driving it all back to his rental house to put it all away. More fun, right?
And then he announced that we should drive up to South Mountain Park, marvel at the sunset view of Phoenix, and drink a bottle of wine! This sounded like a great idea, except that sitting at the Dobbins Lookout is not a great place for my impressive, winter white, pin wale corduroy jumpsuit, so we decided to change our clothes. Somehow I wound up trading my jumpsuit for jeans and an androgynous flannel shirt, and away we went.
As we sipped our wine, we did what people do on their first dates: We shared our stories. My story didn’t take long, sad to say. I had no siblings, no previous husbands (only dysfunctional, Italian ex-boyfriends), pretty boring parents, and hadn’t been anywhere or done anything interesting except be single and a bar fly. As I was (and still am) 12 years younger, I just had far less to report.
But Gary’s story was full of his two boys, his siblings, his parents, his adventures, his excitement about his upcoming divorce, his scuba diving classes, his Everything. He had an enthusiasm about life that I had never witnessed before, while parked on a bar stool.
I remember realizing that this new relationship might be instantly doomed because there was nothing that I could teach or show him that could possibly keep par with his exciting life to date. How could dull, little ol’ me bring anything to the table?
I took another sip of wine, put those thoughts aside, and looked at the sunset. Well, hell, if he didn’t mind, I surely didn’t. Gary loaded film into his 35mm Canon, and snapped off a few photos of the view, including this one, which doesn’t begin to capture the beauty and magnitude of the evening:
Wine consumed and first kiss out of the way, we drove down the mountain in his Aries K car (not like a K cup; it was a thing at the time, maybe not a good thing, but it saved Chrysler’s ass, look it up) and decided to stop at a Mexican restaurant in Tempe.
Neither of us had eaten there before, but it was fantastic and soon became “our restaurant.” Gary queried our lovely waitress in depth about his possible food choices and hailed the mariachis in spite of my pleas. He said his glass was dirty, so he asked our timid busboy for another one. While no one should drive after a pitcher of margaritas, we did stupid things like that back then, so after a great dinner, we made it a short distance away to his rental house.
Gary had recently decided to take guitar lessons with his 8-year old son, Michael, as one of those father-son activities that divorcing dads often feel compelled to do. I’m not sure how many lessons they had taken, but for reasons I don’t recall, he decided to play the first song he had learned for me, which was “Tin Man” by America. When I took guitar lessons years before, as everyone in my generation did, I was horrified to discover that the first song that I would have to learn was “The Streets of Laredo.” “Tin Man” was such a better choice.
However, I had never heard it played or sung quite like this before, or since. It was so sweet in its enthusiasm and painful in its execution. I sweetly asked if he knew how to tune his guitar. He said that he did but that he couldn’t hear the difference between the strings. I smiled, told him it was great, and hoped we could move on.
Yeah, we moved on. Armed with a bottle of Kahlua, as I recall, we somehow wound up sitting in the dark by the pool at my ASU “Sin City” apartment complex, talking for hours. I’ll spare you the rest of the details.
Gary went on his river rafting trip the next day and, when one of the boats broke after a huge rapid, was the only person there, “professional” guides included, who took on the challenge of fixing it. He scoured the shoreline, found an abandoned 2×4, sawed it up with his Swiss Army knife, fixed the damn boat, and saved the trip from utter disaster.
Fearing as all women do after a great first date that I might never see him again, I was shocked when he showed up at my office on campus on Monday morning with a bagel and a note. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.
Long story short, as I mentioned at the beginning of this foggy trip down Memory Lane, had I been paying more attention instead of being smitten, I would have seen all of the primary indicators of my next 30 years. And here they are, in case I haven’t bored you to tears already:
- Whatever I think is going to happen next is probably completely, utterly wrong. Oh, it’ll probably happen eventually, but the exact timing is completely up for grabs in the World According to Gary. Why not take your first date grocery shopping? Of course she’ll want to go; why wouldn’t she? I took the following photo two winters ago, when Gary suddenly decided to pick the coldest day of the year to install a new weather system. And I thought we were going to Costco. Silly me.
- Gary loves to organize group activities with lots of people. Can I even count the number of big parties and events he’s insisted on having over the years? No way. Sure signs of a die-hard extrovert. Most people hate doing this kind of thing; it’s expensive, exhausting, and time-consuming. A born camp counselor, if there ever were one.
- Gary has absolutely no fear about throwing himself and often others (see “group activities” above) into new and sometimes potentially dangerous activities. Weekend white water rafting? No problem. Let’s notch it up later and pile your terrified wife and enthusiastic boys into an overloaded raft and float down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River by ourselves, in low water. Let’s travel around Scandinavia for a month and backpack in polar bear country. Let’s live in New Zealand and camp next to rising flood waters. Let’s live in Chile and buy a car with really, really bad brakes. Let’s take that dirt road; I wonder where it goes? Let’s dive in murky water with sharks. Let’s backpack the coastline of the Olympic Peninsula and risk death on multiple occasions. And I’m just getting started; it’s a pretty long list after thirty years. This is why I carry accidental death insurance on him. Of course, he would disagree on the “dangerous” part, since his fears are of a completely different nature (see next entry). In addition to a lesser fear of used batteries sitting in a garage for more than an hour…
- Gary has deep-seated and usually unwarranted fear of food quality, thanks to the culinary inadequacies and food-quality ignorance of his mother, further enhanced by multiple unfortunate, moldy food incidents from his ex-wife. For the record, I have never come even close to serving him tainted food, even during long remodeling projects. But I’m pretty sure that if I ever leave him, it will probably be because he asked me one too many times:
“When did you buy this lettuce?”
- Gary will always have a camera with him. This is a genetic trait in his family, shared by his father and brother. Gary even has taken photos of me in some of those dangerous situations, above, which I find almost as irritating as the lettuce queries.
- Gary loves music but has no musical ability whatsoever. While he is not unique in this respect, the entertaining part of it is that he has absolutely no embarrassment about sharing his lack of talent with others. As with most things, he could care less what anyone thinks; I wish I had this trait. And remember “The Little Kicks” episode with Elaine? Well, ‘nuf said.
- He’s another MacGyver. While it wasn’t technically on our first date, per se, the whole thing with the 2×4 and the Swiss Army knife was not an isolated incident.
There are so many examples of his creative handiwork, but perhaps the best example was when he fixed our doomed ex-taxi in the south of Chile, in the middle of the night and nowhere, with duct tape and a pen knife, when the accelerator cable had gotten stuck, in the “accelerating” position. I wish I had a photo from that night, but this one from a few years ago, when he decided to erect scaffolding in our living room to fix our ceiling fan will have to do. I would have just called somebody:
- He’s not the diamonds and roses type, but food works. Just when you wonder if he is paying attention and really cares, he proves that he does. That one bagel spoke volumes.
In spite of our extensive differences in opinion about salad, flossing, germs, and hoarding tendencies, we’ve both adapted. Not changed. Just adapted. And that’s probably what all people who have been together for 30 years do.
And that, you’ll certainly agree, is saying something. Perhaps it’s our differences that provide the long-term glue.
Sometimes others can sum it up even better:
“A wedding anniversary is the celebration of love, trust, partnership, tolerance and tenacity. The order varies for any given year.” (Paul Sweeney)
“Some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music and dancing.She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays.” (Henny Youngman)
Thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.