Not long ago my mother and stepfather sat for a portrait photograph. I asked them how the photo looked.
“Fine,” said my stepfather. “We were a great couple.”
Were? From where I sit, I said, you still are.
Tomorrow, my mother and stepfather will be married 40 years. That milestone is pretty impressive, especially for a second marriage.
They were married in 1972; the days of bell-bottom pants, the Watergate break-in and Don McLean’s “American Pie.” The first scientific hand-held calculator sold for $395, “The Godfather” was a box-office hit and two people who met on a blind date decided maybe they’d give love a second chance.
They were introduced by common friends, one of whom was our mailman. When people ask how they met, my mother likes to say, “The mailman brought him.”
I was 8 years old at the time. Self-absorbed, I spent my time playing with dolls or talking on the phone and was, in general, oblivious to the stress and problems of the grown-ups around me, particularly my recently divorced parents.
Then one day my mother received a phone call from the man the mailman had told her about. The man asked her on a date, but she said no.
“I didn’t know him from a hole in the wall,” she said. But she knew he worked at a discount store in Pontiac called Cousin Fred’s, so a few days later she announced we were going to the store to buy Christmas lights.
But we already have lights, mom.
“Just get in the car!”
So, we went to the store, unbeknown to me, on a reconnaissance mission. He looked like a nice guy, so she introduced herself. (Very bold, but it was the year of the ERA, you know.)
I recently asked him what their first date was like.
“I don’t remember,” he said. (Note that his ability to conveniently forget emerges as a common theme. Doubtless, it’s key to their successful partnership.)
Foolishly, my mother let me accompany them on a few of their early dates. I was a major pain, demanding all the attention.
“You embarrassed me,” mom recalled.
I asked him if that was true.
“I don’t remember,” he said. (See?)
Why would a 27-year-old man, an Army veteran trying to make his way in the world, want to marry a woman with a high-maintenance youngster? What if the woman also had an adorable black puppy named Ralph?
It was a package deal.
“The real reason he married me is because he liked the dog,” mom said.
Sadly, half of first marriages in the U.S. end in divorce and 67 percent of second marriages fail. So how did my mother and stepfather beat the odds? I tried to interview them for this column, but they weren’t taking the journalistic process too seriously.
What’s the secret to your success? I asked.
“We’ve never hung wallpaper together,” she said.
Certainly in 40 years there have been highs and lows. There have been health scares, job layoffs and deaths of loved ones. But there have been great times, too. Like becoming merchants and seeing their business succeed, traveling to new places and spending time with their many friends. Of course, one of the highlights was the arrival of their one and only granddaughter.
What’s their wish for the future?
Mom hopes for good health for the family. My stepfather, however, has more practical dreams. “To be able to sleep in if I want,” he said.
“You’re retired,” I said. “Why don’t you just turn off the alarm clock?”
He’ll consider it.
In the meantime, they’re celebrating 40 years and looking forward to that golden 50th anniversary.
Anyone who knows them will agree, Jane and Harlan are the very picture of a happy couple.