Love and Marriage

(This is the text of my part of the lay-led service at our UU church yesterday. Happy Valentine’s Day!)

I come from a long line of long-married people. We are so long-married that in the summer of 1980 my mother’s side of the family had a big celebration in the small Iowa town where her parents lived: One Hundred Years of Marriage. One Hundred years because that year my grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, and both my mother and her sister celebrated their 25th. As the years went by, all four of my cousins went on to get married, and they remain married to this day. The paternal side of my family is just as tenacious: every single person over there got married once and by god stayed married (with the exception of just two unrepentant cousins). As I remarked to my cousin Birdie several years ago, this is a pretty hard act to follow (she has, though).

As a child, I imagined that I, too, would marry the perfect husband. The lives of my married relatives seemed to be just right, exactly as things should be. My parents’ marriage, in particular, was inspiring. Best friends, lovers, colleagues, partners in every aspect of life, from parenting to radical activism, my parents had each other’s backs. While friends’ parents were divorcing right and left, my parents stayed strongly and lovingly connected. They have now been married for 56 years.

Love and marriage featured prominently in the family stories I grew up hearing. My maternal grandmother, Mitzi, was teaching school, when she met my grandfather, Roland, who was a first generation Scandinavian stud. Too in love to wait for a more decorous and public wedding, they eloped and got married in Wahoo, Nebraska. Wahoo, Nebraska! I love that! Then they had to keep their marriage a secret because, at the time, schoolteachers were supposed to be single girls, “because if you were married,” my mother would tell me, “that would mean you were having carnal relations and were not fit to teach children.”

My paternal grandmother, Lulu Belle, was the prettiest girl in Taylor County, Iowa, having won the 1925 beauty contest at the age of 19; my grandfather, Allen, a sexy athlete with flaming red hair, the just-hired teacher and coach at the high school. They met at a baseball game when he walked right over and sat down next to her. He courted her in his new Buick coupe and they got married on my grandmother’s family farm. My parents were high school sweethearts who married outside in a forest glen, my mother wearing a dress her mother sewed for her. My aunt Cissy married Matt, an orphaned farm boy her parents had taken in out of the goodness of their hearts; My uncle George met his pretty, dark-haired wife, Garnet, when she was a beatnik in Berkeley; my cousin Birdie married a professional baseball player; my cousin Red married his sweetie in a romantic island-themed wedding, his flaming red hair looking a lot like his grandpa’s.

As for me, by the time I’d made it to college, I had decided not to get married. I was a fierce feminist, I questioned the institution of marriage (along with every other institution), and although I was dating men, I was beginning to have doubts about my sexuality. It took another 15 years, however, for me to understand that I was not straight, and by the time I met my spouse, Tex, I was in my 40s. In June, we’ll celebrate our first wedding anniversary.

Tex and I have a romantic story: we met online, in the modern fashion. I answered her personal ad and she almost didn’t write back because my personal ad didn’t have a picture. (At the time, I didn’t know how to put a picture on the computer.) We were both newly single and both swore up one side and down the other that we just wanted to date and have fun, but the first time we talked on the phone, I thought to myself, “She is the marrying kind,” and promptly started to fall in love with her. Tex remembers the lovely calm feel to our first dates, a quiet, subtle sweetness, she says, that seeped into her heart over time. We sustained a long-distance relationship for over five years until finally moving in together; we had our wedding here in town at our UU at First Parish, the first couple to be married by the new minister.

This Valentine’s Day gay and lesbian couples all over the country are taking part in gentle acts of disobedience: going into their local city and town halls to request marriage licenses. This is part of the annual Marriage Equality USA tradition, where February is Freedom to Marry month, and these actions are done in the hopes of raising awareness and educating the public about the importance of securing the right to marry for all of us. (And, in a side note, those of us lucky enough to be legally married in Connecticut, Iowa Washington DC, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont are being encouraged to take our marriage licenses to our local Federal Building IRS office and ask for the marriage tax penalty.) Same-sex marriage is still so new – legal same sex marriage, that is. We have always found each other, always pledged our hearts and lives to each other; it’s only the public and legal aspect that is beginning to change, though that is no small matter.

Being married has been a revelation to me. When you say, “I’m married,” everybody knows what it means – who Tex and I we are to each other – and it is sweet indeed to finally begin to experience what so many have taken for granted for so long. Being married, that mundane miracle we all recognize, has freed my love and I to concentrate on our family and our relationship rather than using energy constantly having to fight for inclusion in this most human of ventures. Books and treatises on marriage, acts I’ve witnessed in friends’ and family members’ lives, make sense to me now in ways I didn’t even realize I was missing, as I begin to understand the blessings, hard work, surprises, challenges and joys that make up a lovingly married couple’s life. And Tex assures me that we can aspire to be married quite as long as all those other long-married folks I’ve spoken about – just because we didn’t start in our 20s doesn’t mean that we don’t have plenty of time! Of course, how much time we’ve got is part of the big mystery, but I do know one thing:

It feels damn good to finally take my place as part of the family.

 

Published in: on February 14, 2011 at 1:58 PM  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Hi you. Loved this btw, esp the retelling of all your relatives’ love meetups


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