OPINION: For 35 years, all Memorial Days have been memorable

Days after taking the plunge in Chicago, we did so again on our honeymoon in Jamaica.

Credit: Bill Torpy

Credit: Bill Torpy

Days after taking the plunge in Chicago, we did so again on our honeymoon in Jamaica.

Thirty five years ago this Memorial Day weekend, my brand-new wife, Julie, was sitting on the back of Smitty, my best man, as he crouched on all fours on the dance floor. I was removing her garter. He had a lightning bolt on his head.

Her thoughts behind the glazed smile? What on Earth have I gotten myself into?

Our union initially surprised mutual friends. She was fun and cool and didn’t suffer knuckleheads. I was thought to be exactly the latter, a blustery Chicago South Sider.

Well, so far, so good. We have since weathered through the equivalent of five seven-year itches.

I was trying to determine the success rate of 35-year unions. One source said 26.2% of marriages last 30 years. But that came from a divorce law firm, so take it for what it’s worth.

There’s also a term called “gray divorces,” which is splitting up after age 50. Those schisms have doubled in the recent decades. I suppose some of the older generations remained unhappy ‘til death parted them but the ensuing generations figure they have a few years left so....

Yet here we still are, resisting the forces that buffet marital unions.

A 25-year marriage is silver and 50 years is gold, but I had to look up 35. It’s coral. However, coral reefs are endangered, so the modern environmentally friendly substitute is jade, which is welcome to hear because I get claustrophobic while snorkeling.

The shock of marriage seems to wear in on Julie.

Credit: Linda Stahl

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Credit: Linda Stahl

People speak of predetermination or even fate. I see life as a serious of random acts that nudge one along various paths, some with lifelong impacts.

Consider: If I didn’t go to a matinee showing of “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” in the summer of 1981 in Carbondale, Illinois, (I needed AC), I wouldn’t have bumped into an acquaintance who offered me a room to rent for the semester. It was in that rundown rental house that I met Julie, who was friends with my roommates. She was funny and pretty and had a bite, so I packed my away observations until a chance meeting years later.

If, instead, I chose to go see “Porky’s” on that long-ago afternoon, then I wouldn’t have gotten that rental room or met Julie. I might be married to (or even divorced from) someone else and living in St. Louis or Milwaukee.

Julie and I agreed to get married the previous year while drinking Jägermeister and camping in the Alps. I think Julie was impressed by my extended and tight-knit family while visiting in Ireland. She comes from a small family unit and was not used to all the cacophony, as well as solidarity and interplay, that are attached to a large unwieldy Hibernian clan.

As they say, you don’t just marry a person, you marry their family. And if you dive in and become part of it, then you’re halfway home.

I asked Julie this week to give me a few thoughts on the matter.

“It’s a daily grind but if you look back, we’ve done so much, especially with the kids,” she told me. “We’ve been through a lot together.”

The Torpy kids gather around the newest sibling.

Credit: Bill Torpy

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Credit: Bill Torpy

We’ve had four children, three of whom — Emma, Liam and Fred — are happy, taxpaying adults in rewarding careers. Our youngest, Mick, who died from cancer four years ago, is our deepest heartache and one of the glues that binds us together. Our kids, who live in other states, usually pick up the phone when we dial and even call us, something I see as a success because I didn’t think to do it much when I was young.

Julie continued, “We work as a team, but we’re completely different people, which makes it work. You’re an ‘I,’ and I’m a ‘we.’ You’re stuck in the past and I look more toward the future.”

One ingredient of a successful union is knowing when to bite your tongue, especially when you’re hearing the truth. She’s also giving and thoughtful.

She added that I’m “up for anything.” For instance, I smiled and enthusiastically said “Sure!” when she came up the crazy idea of dogsledding in the Yukon last January, something I’d never come up with in a million years.

Also, time makes you more simpatico, kind of like the smooth rocks found in a stream. Or perhaps there are fewer things to quibble about, like, “What?! I thought you were gonna pick up the kids.”

I came across an article concerning a University of California-Berkeley study. It was headlined, “Hang in there. As couples age, humor replaces bickering.”

“Our findings shed light on one of the great paradoxes of late life,” said the study’s author. “Despite experiencing the loss of friends and family, older people in stable marriages are relatively happy and experience low rates of depression and anxiety. Marriage has been good for their mental health.”

I agree. I’m saner than ever. Life allows one perspective and that knowledge is especially keen if you are able to share it day-in, day-out with someone. Granted, our perspectives are often different. But even so, if they are shared then they become part of each other’s reality, each other’s being.

Through the years, that osmosis makes you a better person.

So, as we approach this milestone, here’s to the next few decades, my love.

And if we ever do a vow renewal ceremony, we will skip the garter extraction.