Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Anniversary Trip

Here's last Sunday's Letter from Harrisburg column, plus photos of our trip to Washington.

Marriage built on routine can still take turns of sweet surprise

My husband’s phone buzzed at 1:45 a.m., over on the table in the tasteful studio apartment near Puget Sound, where we were spending our 30th anniversary.
I had slept uneasily, with strange, colorful shapes battling in my dreams. Since the phone didn’t wake Paul, I got up and answered it.
One wonders, at such times, what’s wrong back home, who crashed a car, and what’s on fire.
“Uh yeah, I just got off at Exit 216, and I’m lookin’ for the Wilton Smucker Warehouse. I got a load to drop off.”
I thought, groggily, “What sort of insane truck driver calls at this time of the night?”
He went on. “I went through this little town, and I’m seein’ a sign that says ‘Harrisburg 3 miles’.”
The world seemed tipped the wrong way and answering him took a huge effort.
“Did the town just have one stoplight?” I finally said.
He asked someone beside him, “Did the town just have one light?”
The someone else didn’t know. I didn’t know why I’d asked.
I tried to remember where Exit 216 was, but I was distracted by a strange sensation in my stomach. The valves in my esophagus were opening, from bottom to top, and a seething something was pushing rapidly up the pipe.
The truck driver was still loudly demanding that I tell him where he was and where he should go.
I handed the phone to Paul, who mercifully was now awake. Then I grabbed a nearby wastebasket and threw up.
Paul finished directing the driver while I went to the bathroom and finished what I had begun.
I had a happy thought in the middle of this dreadful episode: My life isn’t boring after all.
Even 30 years into this marriage, the plot takes unscripted turns. How lucky I am.
We found this place through VRBO and stayed in the apartment above the garage.

I’m not sure where I had absorbed the idea that married life was boring and single life was not — maybe from watching my overworked parents and their peers, stuck in their small circumscribed lives of repetitive sameness. Oatmeal for breakfast, “singings” at church on Sunday nights, milking the cows twice a day, green beans in July, sewing circle on the same Tuesday every month.
It looked like imprisonment to a 16-year-old eager for adventure, quivering with anticipation for life in the real world.
When I got married, some years later and a few degrees wiser, a touch of that fear remained.
Thirty years in, swamped with blessings, I understand the appeal of sameness, the contentment of routine, but at this stage they are not often mine to enjoy.
We have six children — four still at home — my dad with us for the summer, a house in the country, a business, several jobs, and more remarkable opportunities than we could ever take on.
Blessings bring responsibility and responsibility brings work and decisions, and it all leads to stress that makes you forget how fortunate you are. It’s easy to focus your stress on the foremost blessing and most convenient target — your spouse.
So we took off to celebrate and rest, because our lives could change very quickly, we know that, and when the dust settles we want to still enjoy each other’s company.
We chose the Olympic Peninsula because it intrigued us both and was within a day’s drive. It proved to be exactly what we needed, the astonishing natural beauty healing our exhausted souls, the historic sites and local attractions keeping us busy and entertained.
We went out to a Chinese restaurant for dinner one night, fortunately not knowing what would happen a few hours later.
Maybe our lives are still a little too narrow, because we both like to — subtly, we hope — observe other people and “figure out the dynamics” as Paul says.
“That group. Is it a family?” Paul asked. “It’s all ages, but it doesn’t come out right.”
Happily for our curiosity, they explained it all to the waiter when they left — birthday child, mom, two grandpas, three aunts. Ah yes, of course.
There was no question about the nervous couple who sat at the next table, both polished up for the occasion, eager to please. They talked loudly enough to let the surrounding guests know that this was their first date, he was 61, and she was 10 years younger.
Would she like some wine, he asked. No?
Maybe some tea, she said.
He talked about his ex-wife. “She liked all this special stuff. I’d drive all over town trying to find what she wanted. Nothing was good enough.”
The woman said, “Oh, I’m not like that. Eating a hot dog outside, that’s good enough for me.”
He said, “Really?”
We sat there, 30 years in, soaking in the joy of familiarity and history and knowing each other this well, thinking what a burden it would be to have to start all over.
A cool garnish.
It was a virus and not the dinner that made me sick that night, I figured, because by morning I had a fever.
I slept most of the day, aching all over like I had camped on rocky ground in a cheap sleeping bag, but knowing that I didn’t have a single responsibility waiting for me.
“Can I do anything for you?” said Paul, who acted restless and confined but refused to go on the whale-watching excursion without me.
“A back rub,” I suggested, even though he isn’t the back-rubbing type. Eager to help, he attacked my spine like he was scrubbing a greasy oven rack.
“No, no,” I said. “You’re a farmer, spraying a field. You want to make sure all the acreage is covered.” So he did. Then he drove to McDonald’s and bought me some iced tea. I drank it and slept again while he worked on the stack of paperwork he’d brought along.
My 15-year-old daughter called me. “Oh, Mom, I’m so sorry you’re sick. Is Dad taking good care of you?”
I told her about the back rub and the tea.
“Awwww, that’s so sweeeet!” she gushed, referring to Paul and not the tea. I agreed.
The next day I felt much better, so we went on a long ferry-and-road route to Whidbey Island and over to the mainland and then back to the western side and north to our welcoming little apartment.
On Sunday we went exploring again, hiking to three waterfalls in the Olympic Mountains and the relentless sunshine.
Looking down from a bridge on a series of waterfalls.
Another waterfall.
 We returned on Monday, replenished, rested, refreshed; knowing each other again; ready to come back to home and all it entailed.
Back in the daily swirl of responsibilities, I have a renewed sense of awareness, of gratitude, of astonishment, even, that I, who asked for and feared all the wrong things back then, was given this life, this man, this marriage, this abundance of blessings, these crazy turns in the story that keep me forever surprised.
Betty MacDonald wrote The Egg and I and the Mrs. Piggy-Wiggle books, among others.  She lived along this road.
Another ferry, with Mt. Baker behind.
This boat looked like it could tell lots of stories.

The ferry.  It was huge, full of cars down below, with room for hundreds of people up above.
What do you know--they're serving "me" at Elmer's!

The Olympic Peninsula scenery is amazing.  Ten miles from Puget Sound, the mountains are 6000 feet high.

We managed a smiling selfie on a hike.

Port Townsend

More Port Townsend

There are all kinds of ships in the bays, and, I'm told, the occasional nuclear submarine heading out to sea.

A squinting couple on the ferry.

A cool view while waiting to get on the ferry.

Maybe this belonged to a relative...
Maybe I should go away and leave Steven in charge of the kitchen more often.


  1. First of all, Happy Anniversary! Having just celebrated our 31st a few days before you, we look back in wonder at all that's gone on in our lives and how quickly 31 years flew by. I got a kick out of your statement about your folks when you first were married, how they seemed so out of touch. I wonder what our kids think of my husband and me! I am thankful you were on your feet quickly and back to enjoying your trip! Thanks for the great blog. Always a pleasure to read!

  2. Happy Anniversary to you both! Beautiful photos--I know the Olympic Peninsula well and it is wonderful. Good thoughts :)

  3. We just celebrated our 20th anniversary - and spent it taking care of sick kids throwing up. Must be something in the air!

    I made the mistake of leaving anniversary plans to my hubby, so I figure our actual celebrating will take place in December, if ever... LOL.

  4. Obviously, this was a good time of year to get married. ;-)

    And I totally cracked up at your description of Paul's backrubs!

  5. Congratulations on thirty years of marriage! After 2 years of marriage and one baby, I too am finding married life is not nearly as boring as I once feared it would be. But no matter how exciting life gets, I treasure the routines of our little family in our big old farmhouse.
    Your description of a back rub made me laugh out loud. I read it to my husband, who, ironically, is an ag pilot, so the metaphor fitted him exceptionally well.