In high school, my wonderful English teacher, Miss Young, made us memorize a Shakespearean sonnet. The class erupted in protest. Why was this important? To which Miss Young replied, “Once you know it, you will always have it.” So true. Mine was Sonnet 116:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov'd,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.
On August 18, 2018, my marriage hit the half-century mark. All day, the words I had memorized when I was sixteen rattled around in my brain. Love is an “ever-fixed mark” that “alters not” over time. Yes, indeed. That’s how it feels to be married for fifty years to my best friend. Marking fifty years of marriage is rare and special and a bit weird. As I watch many of my friends reach this anniversary, we all ask how did so much time go by?
My husband and are were the first member of our generation on both sides of our families to reach this special milestone. On the other hand, I am the third generation of my side of the family to celebrate a fiftieth wedding anniversary, blessed to have had two sets of grandparents and parents celebrate fifty years of marriage. My older cousins were not so lucky. On my husband’s side, we are the first couple for as far back as we can trace to celebrate a Golden Anniversary. Since I am fortunate to have participated in two earlier generations’ celebrations, I viewed ours in the context of how times have changed.
Going back to my grandparents’ era, I get why, when my maternal grandparents celebrated their fiftieth, it was a huge deal. Theirs was a more formal time, and being married for fifty years was not the norm. They had a party in a social hall complete with floor-length dresses and floral centerpieces. As I recall, the party took place just before my sophomore year of college. It felt more like a wedding, which I guess is fair since I doubt they had much of a celebration when they married back in 1914. All grandchildren were in attendance as well as extended family, friends, and some relatives who came from out of town. There was a head table, music, and at least one hundred people were invited. My grandparents and their children were announced as they entered the hall. I was pretty impressed and thought it was incredible that they lived long enough to reach a half-century of married life. Because my father was the oldest child in his family and my mother the youngest, his parents didn’t reach their fiftieth until 1970. By then, my grandmother’s health wasn’t great. At that point, I was married and living in Chicago, so my memory of any special celebration is hazy. Still, my grandmother lived three more years, so they made it to their Golden Anniversary.
It seems like just yesterday that my brothers and I threw a fiftieth wedding anniversary party for our parents back in 1994. While the dress requirements were more casual and much of the formality of my grandparents’ celebration had been dropped, it was still a pretty big deal that included extended family and friends. In their era, that was the norm. There were numerous toasts and family photos. I think my brother made a mix tape of their music – big band, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald. They went on to celebrate 68 years of marriage and lived to see grandkids marry and great-grandchildren born.
To be the honorees at a similar event is unimaginable. And yet, it happened. Our celebration was even more casual. Our children threw us a party in a private room at the restaurant that had been a fire station. Their children ran around playing pool, tag, and various games that consumed countless quarters. Still, it was fun to watch a slideshow in which we aged fifty years to the tune of Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison, Happy Together by The Turtles, and Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da by the Beatles. There was also a parody of Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover called 50 Years Wed to my Mother. If you know these songs, chances are you are pretty old.
At my grandparent’s big bash, my grandfather gave my grandmother a gold pin in the shape of a leaf. My parent’s celebration included them exchanging expensive gold jewelry as well. But there was only one thing my husband and I wanted. A family photo. Here we are with our grandkids. Priceless.
My high school English teacher was right. Despite forgetting why I entered a room to “get something” or where I left my cell phone, I can still recite Sonnet 116 from memory. And after all of these years, I know this to be true (Shakespeare will have to pardon my paraphrasing):
- Love doesn’t alter even though we do.
- Love is an ever-fixed mark that weathers many storms in life.
- Love is not time’s fool, but remains constant, even after 50 years of marriage.
So glad I memorized that sonnet.