I’ve decided to start putting some of the best newsletter essays here on Medium, so more people can read them. You’re still better off just subscribing. This one is from June 2016, about my parents’ impending 48th wedding anniversary. (It was 45th when I wrote it.) They just closed on a place in Winterville, Georgia, so we get to have them around all the time now. We’re pretty lucky.
My parents celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary on Sunday. They were married on June 19, 1971, when my father was 22 years old and my mother was 20. They (obviously) hadn’t been dating long. Dad, raised in a military family, signed up for the Air Force and assumed he was headed to Vietnam when he met my mom at a party in her hometown of Moweaqua, Illinois, population 1,831. They obviously enjoyed each other’s company enough to stay in touch during basic training in Virginia, but — and this is the way the story is told to me, which is not necessarily the same thing as saying this is precisely how it happened — Dad split up with her during basic training because he didn’t want her to wait for him when he was in shipped to Vietnam.
(Side note: Apparently my father wrote this to my mother in a letter, explaining that, as far as he knew, he could be going to “Buttfuque, Egypt.” My mother, who was 19 after all, didn’t get the “Buttfuque” joke and spent an afternoon at the library trying to figure out what area of Egypt “Buttfuque” was in.)
The split didn’t last long — considering their age and compressed timeframe, I can’t imagine it was much longer than a week — and they decided that he would come home from Virginia for a long weekend and just get married. Dad came back a day early so that Mom’s older brothers could make sure he was acceptable; apparently they tried to get him drunk but both ended up passed out under a table while Dad kept playing pool. Bryan and Sally were married in Mattoon on Saturday, spent the evening in Effingham and were off to Virginia the next day. Dad never ended up getting shipped out; the Air Force needed him as a mechanic, so he stayed behind and worked on planes. Many of his friends were less fortunate.
My mother is very frank about her decision-making process during her and my father’s truncated courtship. “He looked good in a uniform, he had a cool car … what more is a 19-year-old equipped to understand? She always says it’s just “good luck” that it turned out that Bryan Leitch was an outstanding guy, a hard worker, someone who was devoted to being a steady and present father. He could have been a jerk. It was just good luck, she says. I’ve always suspected it was a bit more than that.
Three years after their wedding, in August 1974, they would have a son named Keith who would die in childbirth. A little more than a year after that, they had me. Four-and-a-half years later, they had my sister Jill.
(That’s not actually me, that’s my Uncle Sean, but he was a better looking baby than I was.)
Anyway, on Sunday, they will celebrate 45 years together. They will do so by boarding the dog and falling asleep at 6 p.m.: They’re flying to San Francisco on Monday, and Seattle on Thursday, where they will meet me, and we will watch a lot of Cardinals baseball.
Life is difficult and scary and full of things with sharp teeth that want to bite you. I have all sorts of issues that I have to deal with, like everybody else, just trying to make it through without messing up anybody else too much along the way. The hardest part is not knowing all the rules: There are times it feels like the rest of the world has all studied from the same rulebook and you missed class that day. The best advantage you can have as a kid is to have people who love each other and show that they love you by being there, present, constant, on each other’s side and on yours. It’s how I want to be for my children, because that’s what my parents have been that for 45 years. It’s impossible to state how grateful I am for it. That, Mom, is “good luck.”