When old folks argue

Yesterday we had an experience that has me thinking.

Thinking in a good way, but also thinking in a kind of serious way.

It was a pretty typical weekend day for us. We had invited some guests to come for dinner and spend the afternoon with us.

Not “guests” as in “people you need to impress” but “guests” as in “family, people who get it, people you just really want to spend your day with.”

All would have been well as we prepared to make dinner for two young couples with little kids if only Nonni here hadn’t come down with a nasty bout of asthmatic bronchitis.

Nonni woke up yesterday feeling (as my mom used to say), “Like something the cat dragged in.” My husband, also known as “the sweetest man in the world,” let me sleep late while he dealt with our old hound and our new puppy. He even took said puppy to the vet.

But when it was time to make dinner, I asked him for help. This is an unusual request from an over functioning, over controlling Italian woman, but I did. I asked for help.

Then company arrived. Our beloved young folks, with babies in arms, arrived as planned. And “Papa” went straight into Grandfather Host mode. He was charming, hugging babies, pouring beer, chatting and laughing.

Meanwhile, Nonni was sauteeing and coughing in the kitchen.

Nonni was NOT amused.

Nonni was, in fact, crabby, cranky and slightly snarling.

Both young women asked how they could help.

All of the men stayed on the couch.

Finally, Nonni growled at Papa.

And here is the point of this post.

When a couple argues during a more than 40 year relationship, this is what it means.

It means that sometimes humans misunderstand each other. Even humans who love each other and want what is best for each other.

I remember, back in about 1980, every argument felt like the end of the relationship. Every time I lost my temper, every time my husband lost his, it felt like the end of the world. I tried so hard to always push down my irritation, swallow my needs, keep the boat from rocking.

But now that my one true love and I have come through graduate school, two separate careers, raising three children, falling head over heels in love with a grandchild, and even living with three different dogs….well.

Now I understand that when I’m mad at Paul, or when he’s mad at me, it means “I’m mad at you.”

It doesn’t mean “I hate your.” or “I want a divorce” or “You are a terrible person.”

What freedom.

The best part of getting older, maybe, is the realization that you can get really annoyed at the person you love, and still love them in the morning.


My honey and I, back in the day. At Dolly Copp Campground.

True Romance

My honey and I, back in the day.

My honey and I, back in the day.

My Dad was a true romantic.  He was always one for grand gestures.  He would routinely reach out to my Mom while she was trying to make dinner, pull her into his arms and tell all six of us giggling children, “Your mother is the most beautiful woman in the world!” He was always the guy who bought the huge Valentine card with the red velvet ribbon, full of words of poetry and schmaltz.  He would sometimes sing to my Mother, in an off-key voice, so full of love for his girl that he couldn’t contain it.

And I will never, ever forget the Christmas morning when he really went over the top. They had been together for probably thirty five years by then, weathering times of struggle as my Dad worked full time in the day and attended classes at night.  They had raised six children into healthy adulthood.  They had scrimped and saved and worked very hard.  Now they had come to a place of relative bounty, and Dad had gotten a hefty bonus at work.  On Christmas morning, in front of the assembled kids and a couple of spouses, Dad ostentatiously presented Mom with her gift: A full length mink coat, with a pair of diamond earrings in the pocket.

Wow. Right out of a Cary Grant movie, right?

I sort of always wanted that kind of romance for myself.  In my secret heart, I guess I always assumed that I would find a man who would kiss me lavishly in front of our children, praising my lips and my hair and my heart of gold, all at once.

But then I grew up.  I fell in love with Paul.  I fell in love with a quiet, gentle soul who tended to avoid the limelight.

Presenting your true love with a full length fur in front of the assembled family is not exactly avoiding the limelight.

But that isn’t the only thing that differed from my childhood daydreams.

Once I grew up, and became a well educated and professional woman, I found that I preferred to buy my own jewelry and clothing.  I was happy to find myself married to a man who gave me practical gifts.

And the years went by.  Like my parents, Paul and I have both worked hard. We have raised three children into healthy adulthood.  We have lived through graduate school together,  we’ve both had night jobs, we found ourselves working two jobs. We have experienced the scrimping and saving and keeping our fingers crossed that the furnace would stay on and the roof wouldn’t leak. We have eaten our share of beans and rice in an effort to cut costs.

We have had many Christmases, birthdays, anniversaries together.

We are not a traditionally “romantic” couple.

And here is what I have learned.

Romance is in the eye of the beholder.   My husband, my friend, my love, does not bring me jewels and flowers and perfume.  Instead, he brings me tiny gifts that tell me that I hold a place in the forefront of his mind and heart.

Sometimes he stops to buy me asparagus. Sometimes he walks the dogs even though its my turn.  And sometimes romance is found simply  in what he says.

My husband is one of those “reach out and touch someone” guys. He absolutely loves Facebook for the way that it lets us reconnect with old and dear friends.  Paul is the most loyal of friends: he will not forget you even if he hasn’t seen you since you were both walking around without your front teeth.

He recently connected with a group of people who worked together at a local ice cream parlor in the 1970’s.  He has been out of his mind with joy at finding them again. He has spent hours exchanging messages and emails with his old buddies.

I will be honest, I had to talk myself into letting go of my frustration the 900th time that he started a sentence with, “My old friend B. was telling me………”. He has met them for lunch, gathered them for group phone chats, helped to organize a reunion cook out.   I have tried to grin and bear it.

“Huh”, I have thought to myself. “Where is that romantic guy I was supposed to marry, h’mmm?”

And then I found him.

We were sitting together the other night, talking over his recent visit with his wonderful old friends.  And he said, “One of the ice cream parlor women said the same thing that our old High School friends have said to me. They both told me that I’m not the same as I was back then. That I’m so much more open and confident and friendly.”

I laughed and joked, “Well, of course!”, I said with a smile. “You owe it all to me.”

My husband didn’t laugh. He reached out and took my hand.  He said, “But its true, honey. You didn’t make me more outgoing.  But you always gave me room to grow.”

There you have it, my friends.  That is true romance.  Recognizing the little things that someone does to help us become our very best selves.

I will treasure that statement for the rest of my life.  And I’ll buy my own earrings while I do.

A VERY serious side note

Today was my daughter’s bridal shower.

It should have been a perfect day.

The very happy couple.

The very happy couple.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous.  The sky was blue, the sun was warm and the breeze was fresh and clean.  My slightly disorganized garden was blooming and bright, the color of the rhododendron blossoms nearly matching the wrapping paper from Bed, Bath and Beyond.

My beautiful girl was in her glory; gorgeous in a long yellow dress, she was basking in the attention of so many friends and relatives who love her.  Her handsome almost husband was charming and smiling and full of fun as he introduced his family to hers.

It should have been a perfect day.

Everyone had fun. The food was abundant and delicious.  The gifts were generous and incredibly thoughtful, and everyone was impressed with the wonderful start that our kids were given on married life.

Yes.  It should have been perfect.


Eventually, the day came to a close, and the guests began to make their way to their cars. As usual when a big Italian party winds down, there were leftovers to disperse. And that was when the trouble began.

Oh, its not what you think. There were more than enough grilled sausages to send home for everyone, and more than enough rolls to hold them.  There was enough pasta salad and potato salad and orzo salad to sink a small ship.  There was leftover mac and cheese (Holy cheesy goodness, that Reverend can cook!), leftover baked beans, leftover cupcakes and pie and brownies and cookies.

It wasn’t a fight over the good stuff that made the day a less than perfect success.

No, my friends. It wasn’t any human issue that caused the day to end on a sour note. Nope.

It was the damn Tupperware.  Or Rubbermaid.  Or Snap N Go.

It was the desperate and impossible task of searching for matching containers and lids that almost made me toss a saucepan through a window.

There I was, trying to thank everyone, clean up the dining room and quickly pack up little batches of goodies to take home.  I’d reach into the container drawer, grab a 3 in by 4 in rectangular container. I’d fill it up with potato salad and grab for a 3 in by 4 in rectangular lid.  Oops.  Nope. Wrong shape. This one has a slightly rounded corner.  Reach back into the drawer, while attempting to chat with the relatives around me. Pull out another rectangular lid.  Nope. This one has sharp corners.

I tried round Tupperwares with round Rubbermaid lids. Nope.  I tried round Rubbermaids with round Tupperware lids. Nopienopenope.  I eventually gave up, and tried to pack the goods into recycled yogurt containers.


Who knew that a Stonyfield Farm container wouldn’t be a good match with a Chobani lid?


I know that there are many issues in the world for us to be worried about right now. Violence and civil war in Iraq. The rapidly rising seas.  The missing honeybees and monarch butterflies. Dick Cheney still getting airtime on national networks.

Still, if you ask me, the biggest problem facing the world today is the lack of uniformity in leftover container law.

If I am ever appointed as Queen of the World (What? It could happen.), the first thing that I would do is pass the “Every container has to match its lid” law.  There would be ONE set of containers, and only ONE. Each lid would be marked with a symbol that would match it with its container partner.

Anyone who created a leftover container that did not follow these specifications would be thrown in jail for a thousand years. If he tried to escape, he would be fed to an angry alligator.

I. Am. Not. Kidding.

I know that we all fear and loathe big government, and we don’t want more regulation. But let me say this about that: You can take the government out of education, out of religious worship, out of marriage, out of health care.  Whatevah.   But it is definitely time for us to have leaders who are willing to take on the difficult question of container-lid misfitting.

The madness must stop.

A hard working middle class American woman should be able to throw her daughter a bridal shower without having to panic about the lack of a lid to fit on the containers of leftover home made baked beans with maple syrup.

Enough is enough. Fellow American women, we must act now.

Patting myself on the back.

Boy, sometimes I really do something right.  Sometimes I can just look in the mirror and congratulate myself on a job well done.

Let me give you an example.

I did an absolutely outstanding job in choosing a husband.

No kidding. I rock.

I met my husband when we were 12 years old.  We were in the seventh grade, can you stand it?

Of course, I don’t remember ever actually speaking to him back then, but I know that he was there. He played basketball and he came to the “luncheon” that the home ec girls made for the wood shop boys.  He ate the pasta, and lived to tell the tale. He was a survivor.

Once we got to High School, we had a few classes together. Not math of course (he was smart), but I remember him being in some of my English and Social Studies classes. We didn’t socialize exactly, but I think I smiled at him a few times.

Then, once we all finally hit the appropriate maturity level, he was one of the group of kids who became my High School friends.  Parties, football games, dances, concerts…..he was there for all of them.  I have the grainy photos to prove it.

And for some mysterious and glorious reason, in the fall of my senior year, I suddenly looked at him with different eyes.  As young and foolish and inexperienced as I was, I apparently had a moment of infinite wisdom and decided to turn my limited charms his way.  I must have recognized, in some sweetly primitive way, that I had found a guy who would be worth the effort of luring and hooking.   I don’t know what it was that gave me such advanced reasoning skills, but I applaud my  sagacity.

I flirted, he noticed, and the rest is history.

We have been together for 40 years.  (Oh, Jesus.)  We have raised three kids and had our careers and learned all about life.

And I knew that I had done a really great job of choosing a mate. But this morning I had my proof.

I woke up late, rushed through my morning routine and headed out the door.  A mile from home, my car began to make a sound like a Sherman tank on crack.  I panicked, and gasped and didn’t have the slightest idea of what to do.

So I turned around and went back home.  Because Paul was there.  He looked at the car, he handed me his keys, he calmly assured me that he would take care of it.   And without a second thought, I got back on the road, leaving my wreck behind me, in his capable hands.  I didn’t have to question whether he would make it all better. I didn’t have to ask myself if he would be angry.  I went to work and I faced my day and I taught my students and I knew, as I have known for 40 years, that a really great guy was there behind me, keeping me on track, making everything work.

I am amazing, aren’t I?   I really do know how to pick ’em.