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Washington Voices

Front Porch: Celebrating a life shared, a life gone

Thu., July 26, 2012

My husband and I celebrated our 45th anniversary this month. It was a wonderful day for us – but like more things as we are getting older, it was tinged with sadness, too. I guess that comes along with making it to senior citizenhood.

We booked a room at The Davenport and did downtown things – listening to the Harvey Phillips Northwest Big Brass Bash in Riverfront Park (who knew a group of tuba players could soar so mightily on everything from military service anthems to Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”?), seeing a movie, eating out and enjoying other fun things in our own city that we seldom do. We reflected on the past 45 years – although we’ve actually known one another 49 years – and remarked that if we listed everything that happened over these years, it would seem like a long time indeed. But in looking at it as a whole, it’s gone by in a flash.

Because Bruce was stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base back in 1967 and I was finishing up at the University of Florida – and the wedding was to be in Miami – I ended up doing most of the paperwork to get us hitched. With the appropriate documentation in hand, I went to City Hall and got our license to marry. It cost me a whole $3. Ever since, I’ve told Bruce that he’s been bought and paid for by me and that I expect him to behave accordingly. It’s kind of our joke. But what isn’t a joke is that I tell him, which I often do, that he’s the best $3 I ever spent and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

But just before our special day this year, our good friend Tom Burnett died. We’ve known Tom for four decades. He and I were reporters for The Spokesman-Review back when we were pups. We were next door neighbors for many years, too. He and his wife, Sandy, have shared family tragedies, births, holidays, lots of meals and more fun than I can describe playing pinochle. Bruce and Tom would always partner at cards – and it was usually a wild ride as Tom would often bid many points higher than he needed to, just because. There was always a lot of laughter. 

I’ve written about Tom before. He had been editor and publisher of The Rathdrum Star, a weekly newspaper in North Idaho that he had to fold at the beginning of this year because of economic concerns. He just couldn’t pour his personal resources into it any longer to keep it afloat. I found its closing a sad thing and wrote about it in this space.

Tom and I talked a lot about journalism, about the changing status of print media. The week before he died, we had lunch with some old work pals in Spokane. On that last day that I saw him, he asked me about a lot of the goings on in Spokane he’d been reading about (he read the newspaper every day) – like the controversies concerning development at Kendall Yards, the firing of the executive director of the Museum of Arts and Culture, about the site of an historic home in the city. As we were near all of the places he was asking about, we drove to them all, and we had a good talk about them and how their stories had been covered.

I didn’t know that would be the last conversation, but since it was, I’m glad it was about something we both cared a lot about.

And now his wife is doing what all surviving spouses have to do – go on alone, build a new and unfamiliar life, come home to silence at the end of the day. Sandy kept sneaking into my thoughts when Bruce and I were having our anniversary dinner at the hotel and talking about things, both big and little. Tom’s wife wasn’t having those conversations with her husband any more, and we talked about the fact that, unless the unlikely occurs and we die together in an accident or something, one of these days one of us will be in the same exact place that she is now. Hopefully, a long, long time from now.

We’ve lost several friends in the past year. Actually, I hate that phrase. They’re not lost, they’re dead, and I don’t much care for the emptiness that replaces their being here. So while Bruce and I are glad that they have been in our lives, there is still that sadness now that they’re not – even on a special anniversary date, when everything else is happy and sunny and celebratory.

I guess that’s just how life goes. Happy and sad all at the same time.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at Previous columns are available at

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