It wasn’t New Year’s Eve exactly – but darned close – that we celebrated the end of 2019 with a warm and lovely ceremony that was meaningful and fun, and also a nod to days, actually decades, gone by.
Our friends Bob and Mary Redmond celebrated 55 years of marriage a few days before the New Year rang in. They renewed their vows during Sunday services at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church – the very same church where Mary’s parents were founding members in 1958, where she and Bob were married, where their daughter was married and where family funerals have been held.
After the service, a celebratory lunch was hosted in the parish hall. Their children (one residing in Spokane, one in Seattle) and spouses, their four grandchildren, as well as other relatives, friends and their church family were all there for the happy event.
Bruce and I have known Bob and Mary for all but a few of those 55 years. In time and space, much of their history took place side by side with ours. They moved into their house in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood just across the street from us the year after we moved in. Both of their children were toddlers; we had no children at the time. Over the years, and as our families grew, we shared conversation and meals, holidays and even vacationed together sometimes.
Even after we all left the neighborhood and settled elsewhere in Spokane, we held each other’s hands as we experienced the bad stuff – deaths of siblings and parents, the pain of some unhappy family dynamics, serious illnesses, waiting together in hospital ERs or waiting rooms and the unspeakably sad death of a grandchild before his second birthday. And, of course, the good stuff, too – births, graduations, weddings, arrival of grandchildren, launches into the world of those grandchildren and assorted adventures filled with laughter and companionship, along with many other happy times.
When I looked up at them as they said “I do” at the altar in December, I saw clearly that very familiar couple, both now moving a bit more gingerly, but still holding on to one another. They have been through all of it – worried to death the other would die and then being so exasperated that they could (figuratively) facilitate that passage into the Great Beyond.
They are truly good people. We should know. We’ve watched them over practically a lifetime.
It occurs to me that being long-time married is like a perfect attendance record in school, which you get because you show up every day. But a successful marriage long term is really more than that, more than just regularly coming home from work and occupying your place at the dinner table. It’s more than just being present. It’s about being a presence in the marriage.
By that I mean being consciously present, being engaged, being an active participant. It’s about making a positive difference by being there. Even when there’s a little turbulence along the way, because even in the best of marriages, it gets a little bumpy out there.
But when it’s been good overall, as it has been for our friends, it’s because they’ve made an impact for the better by encouraging the dreams and goals of the other person, lending courage and support when needed, gently pushing the other out into the arena when that’s the right thing to do and kindly supporting each other.
I remember well one summer when all our children were young, the Redmond and the Pettit families went sailing for a week in the San Juan Islands, something I know was way outside Mary’s comfort zone. But it was something Bob really wanted to do, as did we. Afterward Mary said it was one of her favorite vacations.
And I see year after year, even now, how Bob takes on traffic and parking chores and carries out auction items for the dozens of ladies (me among them) who attend Mary’s annual PEO Make It Bake It Take It auction at their home – in the winter, in the snow and in the dark of night. He’s the lone man surrounded by a whole lot of estrogen at that event, but he shows up cheerfully and does his duty every year.
These may be small things, but after a half century of them, they really do mount up and count for something.
We don’t see each other as often as we did when it was easy to pop in by just walking across the street, and our families have moved into the future along different paths as well. Still, the four of us are season-ticket holders to the main stage productions at Spokane Civic Theatre and also go to the National Geographic Wild presentations every winter. We still never run out of things to talk about when we get together for those activities. You’d think that after nearly 50 years, conversation would get stale. It hasn’t.
And I know if we had trouble, Bob and Mary would be at our door before we even reached out to them. They are a presence for us, too.
“I do” promises aren’t consistently easy to keep, so once again I send congratulations and a warm and encompassing hug to our friends, who have kept them well – and to everyone who has chosen to be a presence in their marriages.
Till death do they part.
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