On August 7, 2021, Jackie and I will have been married 50 years. Half a century! Our Golden Anniversary!
Perhaps you didn’t realize that I was old enough to have been married for so long. I have trouble realizing it myself. But it’s true. And I am overwhelmingly thankful.
The mindset today is that you should put off marriage until you finish school, pay off your college loans, get “established in your career,” can afford a house, be able to pay for a big wedding. . . .No wonder the marriage rate has plummeted. Thinking like this pushes off marriage into the distant future, setting up conditions that you may never attain.
We didn’t do that, to say the least. We met the week before classes started at the University of Oklahoma and got married the summer before our junior year. I was 19.
I arranged for MWF classes so that I could work on a construction crew Tuesdays and Thursdays. Jackie had a work-study job with George Miksch Sutton, the great ornithologist and bird artist, who came to our wedding. Together we brought in $240 per month. We lived in a tiny furnished efficiency apartment that rented for $60 a month. We had enough for utilities, the phone bill, food (hamburger meat cost 59 cents a pound), and gasoline (at 22.9 cents a gallon) for my sixties-something Ford Falcon. Credit cards weren’t common in 1971, so we didn’t have one, making it impossible to go into debt.
We owned virtually nothing. For entertainment, we would walk to a T.G.&Y. and go up and down the aisles, just looking at the pretty consumer goods, as if the store were a vast museum. We sometimes signed up for the same classes so that we could save money by using the same textbooks. And yet, though it was a challenge to make ends meet every month, I never remember feeling deprived. I just remember feeling deliriously happy. Profoundly happy.
I got a teaching assistantship at the University of Kansas, where we lived in married student housing, which ever-capable Jackie ended up managing. With my modest stipend for teaching two classes, our prosperity improved somewhat. We started having children, which opened up another dimension of happiness, as well as other challenges.
We were also on the same spiritual pilgrimage together, going from mainline liberal Protestantism to campus-style evangelicalism in grad school, and then, after I earned my degree and took my first full-time teaching job at a junior college back in Oklahoma, to Lutheranism.
We have lived in Oklahoma, Kansas, Oklahoma again, Wisconsin, Virginia, and now, after retiring, back to our native Oklahoma. Even after we got “established in our careers”–me as an English professor, and Jackie as a French and Spanish teacher–we had our struggles and our trials. But we had learned to struggle together, and the trials only brought us closer to each other.
I marvel at all the things we have done and all the places we have been. We have had a rich, rich life together.
Jesus said that a married couple is “one flesh.” Hamann said that their unity-in-difference is analogous to that of the Trinity: we are two distinct individuals, and yet we are one substance. I can relate to that.
When I read Milton and his depiction of the primal marriage in Paradise Lost, I think of Jackie. Not that she’s Eve! Rather, she always makes me better than I actually am. But what Adam most appreciates about his wife, I appreciate about my wife: “those graceful acts,/ Those thousand decencies, that daily flow/ From all her words and actions mixed with love” (Book VIII, lines 600-602).
Adam says that before the Fall. Afterwards, he and Eve undergo a bitter conflict, but after reconciling, they resolve in this new world of sin and pain, to “strive/ In offices of love, how we may lighten/ Each other’s burden” (Book X, lines 940-942).
That’s what happens in a good marriage, and ours has been a good marriage. After 50 years, a golden marriage.