Purple and Gold
Purple and Gold
Summer in Vermont has through the years added unanticipated pleasures for this old preacher, way beyond honing carpentry skills and getting reacquainted with my family after eleven months of labor in the ecclesiastical sweatshop. One such serendipity we tasted again last week, getting together with other couples, the husbands of which were college classmates of mine. Over the past fifty-three years we have done some serious and seemingly continuous reuning, so much so that the wives, who have other alma maters, seem to be every bit as purple as their Williams College spouses. (Purple, as in the purple cow mascot, is the color favored by the sons and daughters of Colonel Ephraim Williams.)
We gathered in the house that Hugh and Barbara built, the Weedon home in Adamant VT, a few miles north and east of Montpelier. Hugh, our class agent for years, persuasive beyond belief in cadging dollars from his classmates, shed this mortal coil a couple of years ago, but his spirit lingers among us. In fact, my Barbara and I cannot drive down State Street in the Green Mountain State's capitol city without saluting, as we pass Christ Church Episcopal, Hugh's memorial in the front garden. So there were nine of us dining and one looking on from a heavenly perspective, even as his (Hugh's) portrait beamed down on us serenely from a nearby shelf.
Barbara Weedon is a landscape designer. After a tour of her gardens, followed by cocktails on the terrace as twilight settled in, we sat down to a buffet with several tasty delights, including, would you believe, edible day lilies filled with a dollop of cream cheese. Conversations, good conversations, ensued. Why, I wonder, do some people feel the necessity to play parlor games when there is so much to talk about? Before we knew it it was the bewitching hour for septuagenarians, who probably wouldn't be septuagenarians if they were not mindful of the necessity of getting sufficient sleep. Barbara and I had a three-quarters of an hour drive home, interrupted on a back road, I cannot resist reporting, by two small skunks involved in a mating dance illuminated by our headlights.
Halfway through the two hours of dinner and conversation, someone suddenly called our attention to a worthy statistic about the couples around the table, that each had or would soon have a golden anniversary.
I cited this statistic in a phone call to our class secretary. Gold and purple Steve Klein (with his own golden bride, Joanne) was nonplussed, observing that plenty of classmates had already reached that milestone... so what's the big fuss. Of course, he's right. He often is. But the statistic, if commonplace, started me thinking why. Why would the Class of 1953 be so golden?
In my youth the local paper, The Stamford Advocate, made a big fuss over couples who had attained fifty years, put their photos in the paper, and reported on the society page the blessings priests and pastors bestowed on them. I haven't seen a similar column in The Hartford Courant since it was first delivered to our doorstep four years ago. People live a lot longer than they did in 1949. And they live a lot longer together, the rising divorce rate notwithstanding. Like Steve said, no big deal.
Still, the concentration of durable marriages among my classmates needs further explanation. I suggest, with tongue only slightly in cheek, that my venerable brothers from the purple hills of the Berkshires are blessed with extraordinarily good judgment. One may question whether or not the same may be said for their spouses. The men, however, have chosen wisely, with an eye not only to beauty but to patience and loyalty and, as with me and a few others, a woman with her own vocation and earning power.
We also married at a young age, because... well, because it was what one did in the 1950's: get married in your twenties, have two and a half children and a thirty year mortgage. We didn't worry about commitment and compatibility. They went without saying. Nor did we burden marriage with heavy expectations about happiness and an equitable division of domestic labors. I mean, I finally learned how to cook and do the laundry when our nest emptied, my wife returned each night home frazzled from teaching kindergarten, and I needed some way to assuage my guilt about her labors over the stove and washing machine.
That is, as the times changed, so did we. It helped immeasurably that the women who linked up with the purple men were strong in their own right, articulate, and thoughtful. Like I said about our night in Vermont, the conversation was very good: I sat with Granthia on my left, Barbara Weedon on my right, and Linda facing me across the table.
The following morning as we left our hillside cabin to return home, we came upon the Corinth town listers looking for an acceptable time to visit the hill and reappraise our palaces. One of the listers, Jen by first name, remarked when I asked her about her husband, that he was her husband: they are getting divorced after fifty years of marriage. Obviously he wasn't in my class at college! Which wasn't my first thought. That was, the first thought, how could you split after making an investment of fifty years in each other? In that stretch of time, husbands and wives surely have, sometimes with excruciating pain, learned exactly what buttons on the other not to touch. That's a treasure of wisdom not lightly to be abandoned.
The following afternoon I sat at a meeting with four men ranging in age from twenty-seven to forty-one. We chatted before a fifth board member, a thirty-something woman, arrived. I reported on the golden oldies saluted above. They shook their heads in disbelief... that anyone in this day and age might stay married to the same person for fifty plus years. Their moms and dads, okay, but that generation (mine?) was old school, old church; and, considering the weight of familial pressure in the Latino community, from which two of the four had issued, divorce was not an option.
I didn't have the time or the will to explain to my friends around that table that the purple and gold couples with whom I had recently communed were not old school or old church and divorce was always an option. It (divorce) just was an option not exercised.