Can Marriages Really Last a Lifetime?

Wedding rings
My Parents’ Marriage

For the first half century of my life, the end of summer meant one last celebration before summer was officially over –  My parents’ lifetime promise to one another, their wedding anniversary, August 31. They never commemorated it by going out just the two of them, but always at home with their children. As we grew older, my siblings and I would take the planning for the evening into our own hands. My brother John, born twenty months after me, and I took the lead. Our dad was a great cook and John followed in his footsteps. My main task, with the help of over willing younger sibs, was baking and decorating the cake. Because this occasion had always been a family feast, I was a teenager before I wondered why Mom and Dad didn’t chose to celebrate their anniversary in some more romantic manner.

Just you and me

Jule kisses Jay on NYE With few exceptions, from our first anniversary to our fiftieth, my husband Jay and I marked the day of our lifetime promise, December 19, with “just-the-two-of-us” dates.  The first exception was our sixth, the day we brought our second child, our daughter Carrie, home four days following her birth.  That lovely evening was still a quiet, intimate affair, shared only with the baby and her eighteen-month old sister. I sat in a comfy old high-backed upholstered chair, nursing the baby. Jay light the fire in our tiny fireplace and popped the cork on a bottle of champagne. He gathered Kristy in is arms. We sipped our wine and gazed at the fire, content with our laid-back salute to our love, which at that moment seemed best embodied in the reality of the two little girls on our laps.

romantic getaways

Yet, the date continued to be one that over the decades we chose to “get Jule and Jay on cruiseaway” to celebrate.  Sometimes, while the children were very young, the get away was simply dinner at a restaurant with food and ambiance the children couldn’t appreciate. Many years, we extended that into staying overnight in one of Chicago’s better hotels and spending the whole shopping on our beloved Michigan Avenue before dinner and a show.

Jule and Jay in ParisAs the kids and our marriage matured, to celebrate our promises to each other we fled our hometown. We took a train to New Orleans for our tenth anniversary and flew to Paris for our twentieth. Then, we were tragically grounded on our thirtieth by the accidental death of two of our closest friends. A funeral is a sobering way to commemorate an anniversary, but it most definitely strengthened our gratitude that we still had each other and could hope for many more years together.

holding it all together

Jay and I had not consciously decided to observe our anniversaries differently Jule and Jay at breakfastthan my parents had celebrated theirs. We just did. Now, as another summer ends, I remember as I do every late August my parents’ marriage. I suspect that many newlyweds felt as we did when they make that initial lifetime promise.  We see our parents’ marriage as somehow staid and boring. Or maybe, as lifeless and hostile. As kids, maybe we witnessed arguments and saw tears. Young and idealistic, we vow that the romance will never die in their relationship. We will always love one another as completely as we do today and with the same amount of passion.

what exactly is marriage?

Easier said than done, right? Was my marriage really that different than that of my parents? Or do all marriages simply follow a similar pattern of beginning on high hopes that fade as the years go by and we could no more escape that fate than escape the wrinkles and grey hair than came with the ensuing years? Can any promise really last a lifetime?  I don’t have a universal answer to the second question, but I have pondered the first and my honest response is that our marriage has been a very different he experience than the one my parents lived.  At the same time, many aspects of it are not just similar but almost identical.

Marriage is a complex social contract. If we look at the history of marriage, we see that before the modern era, it was an agreement between families rather than between individuals. One of its central purposes was to bring stability to society at large, not to provide happiness or fulfillment of any kind to the couple. I want to avoid swirling down into a sociological/historical treatise here (something I’m easily drawn to). So, I’ll just say, that the marital contract of our time has evolved into two-person covenant, a promise of fidelity and love “until death do us part.”

a social contract

As we go about choosing a mate and promise ourselves to them for a lifetime, that’s the pledge that fills our consciousness. But, just outside our peripheral vision, the ancient social contract remains intact. When we say, “I do,” we are still vowing to contribute to the joining of two families in a manner that will contribute to the stability of society. That is a big task, made even larger because most young couples don’t realize just what they have promised until they are smack in the middle of it. Creating a stable base unit within the social order requires complex time management and careful financial management.

“Adulting,” as it is now popularly called is tough work for any individual human being. It becomes much more complex when two people must manage the multitude of grown-up responsibilities at the same time in the same place.  If this doesn’t sound romantic, it’s because it isn’t.  The couple, who has promised to “love and cherish,” wasn’t thinking of doing dishes and balancing check books. But nonetheless they’ll spend more time on those two activities than they ever will having sex.

My parents could not avoid the move from couple in love, swept along by the At Clinton Inaugurationforce of passion and romance, to married pair, properly feathering a nest – nor could Jay and I. In that way our marriage were similar. Like my parents and like Jay’s, we worked and budgeted our income, we bought and furnished houses, we beget and cared for children. We belonged to communities and made friends. Those everyday activities of the stable base unit of society repeated themselves from one marriage to the next in our families.

mission: intentional commitment

DePaul CentennialIn one important way, our marriage differed from theirs. From the beginning, we strove to keep our relationship intentional. Deep, abiding love for one other person above all others is not easy to maintain for a lifetime. You have to fight for it.  There are far too many reasons promises can slip away or even be snatched from you. Most of us develop other passions over the course of our life.  We love our children to the moon and back. A hobby like gardening or painting absorbs our souls and frees us from stress. Our profession prospers and demands almost constant attention. A volunteer activity desperately needs our help. Some one new and exciting becomes attracted to us.

Marriages, like that of my parents, lasted through the force of society’s will and expectation.  That is no longer true.  Divorce in no longer frowned upon, but considered the reasonable decision in many situations.  If a couple wants to stay in love, they have to choose it against all odds.  They can’t just assume that if it’s good, it will last on its own.  At lease, that’s what we have found. Like any living thing, love thrives on nurture and nurture takes time.

For us, that has meant both a commitment to spend time alone together and to spend time with other couples who value their lifetime promise as much as we value ours. Being alone together out of the house lifts our spirits. It’s fun to put space between ourselves and our responsibilities.  And when someone is your regular companion for having a good time, it’s easy to feel caring toward that person.  Add to that the intention of love – and voila! Romance – even at the garden store. The exercises on “For Better or Worse,” a page on this website address the subject of intentional relationships.

We enjoy a diverse group of friends, married and single, young and older, but CFM meetingthrough the years regularly gathering within our faith community with other couples committed to intentional marriage gives us a chance to talk about love and committed relationships, the ups and the downs in an honest way not available in casual conversations. These deeper dialogues help us work through some of the thorny issues of our own relationship and have served as an anchor for us over the years, especially when we were working our way through some tough times.

To those friends, if any of you are reading this, I say “Thank you so much.”

What do you think? Can the promises made on your wedding day last a lifetime? Why or why not? Let me know. 

  “Some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays.”
Henny Youngman

For My Eyes Only

Coffe and journals
private, secrets thoughts

Keeping a travel journal has been a life-long habit for me.  The pandemic has, however, not halted this delightful occupation. In fact, many times in my life I have kept a journal for weeks or months at a time whether I was traveling or not.

Typewriter w "Diary"
Photo by Marcus Winkler

Journaling is a pastime we often associate with another era, a slower-paced time. The diarists of the past give us fascinating insights into personal life in the centuries before our own.

Now, however, the pace of life may seem too hectic for journal keeping. With all the social media out there, aren’t we leaving enough of a record for the generations that follow us?  Who has time to sit down and actually hand write words into a blank notebook? It is my guess that most of the

Journals in bookstore
Photo by Tezzerah

beautifully bound journals that book stores and gift shops sell are received with gratitude, then sit on a shelf for an indeterminate period of time before being shipped off to a thrift store.


Yet, for me, it was in the years when I had the least amount of “free” time that I was the most prolific journal writer. One whole summer I journaled when I first woke in the morning before I even ran to the bathroom (I could never do that today!). I sincerely believe that journaling saved the integrity of my intimate relationships as well as my sanity.

an alternative life

When I examine what famous diarists say about journaling, I find a close resonance with my own experience.

Girl in front of fireplace
Photo by Marco Paulo Prado

Noted essayist of the late 20th century, Susan Sontag wrote, “In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.”  Like Sontag, I often tried to create a better world through constructing it on the page. In my journal from 1987, I recorded my final struggle to find a program tailored to the way our Johnny learned so that he could be “normal,” rather than labeled “disabled.”

gaining perspective

Unlike the diaries of Samuel Pepys,, English diarist of the 17th century, who provided us with such a wonderful eyewitness account of the historical events of his time, my journals more closely resemble those of Franz Kafka.

Silhouette and journals
Photo by Recovery Ministries  He highlighted the perspective on can gain from keeping a journal. “We may be wiser because we are able to look back upon our former condition, and for that very reason have got to admit the courage of our earlier striving in which we persisted even in sheer ignorance.”

Following the crash of 2008 and the loss of our life savings, I see myself meet the challenge of a drastic change in lifestyle not necessarily with dignity, but with a certain amount of courage.  I wrote, “I hate the ‘camping out’ at the homes of others. Yet, that’s what Jesus expected his disciples to do – go and depend on the hospitality of others. . . In a way it is a witness that allows others to practice the virtue of generosity.”

never mind the stumbles

Like Virginia Wolfe, I write as an avocation and like her, I enjoy the freedom that journal logging allows. Wolfe says, “The habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do, I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus must lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink.”

It’s a fun way to compose. Where else but on a page, I wrote only for myself could I write as ridiculous a sentence as, “I think I’m going to have to be very disciplined about everything in the weeks to come. I’ve made too many commitments, none of which can be dropped. So, I need to find a way to accomplish them all. It need not be forever – just for the next eight months, sort of like being pregnant – except that I feel like I’m giving birth to quadruplets!” I’m so glad I didn’t have to edit that for any publication.

illusion of acceptance

Wolfe enjoyed the creative freedom of journaling, Anais Nin found acceptance

Candle and journal
Photo by Naemi Jimenez

in her diary. “Writing for a hostile world discouraged me. Writing for the diary gave me the illusion of a warm ambiance I needed to flower in.”

My journals are my confidants. I share with them feelings and thoughts that I don’t dare reveal to another human being. They are my rehearsal stage for relationships. Before making important decisions or taking significant actions, I assess them on the pages of my journal. My mother, famous for pithy sayings, always proclaimed, “If you can’t say anything good about someone, don’t say anything at all.”  Sometimes, biting our tongue is difficult and putting the complaint on paper helps. One of Love’s best Lessons is knowing what not to say.

sometimes sensational

As much as I rejoice that my journals are not for public publication, they still entertain me. Oscar Wilde once claimed, “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”

Somewhat the opposite is true for me. Cooped up in my own office/bedroom on a rainy November day in Portland, Oregon, I delight in reading, “Today, Nancy hired a driver she met in the street and while it rained all day, that didn’t stop our adventures as we drove up into the hills of Bali to visit charming

Rice paddies
Photo by Sam Bayle

villages, each of which specialized in a different ancient art from woodcarving to silver jewelry making.” In an instant, I’m back on those steamy mountain roads as our jeep rolls back almost as far as it inches forward. We get out in mud up to our ankles.  The driver enlists the help of several village boys to free the jeep from the mud. Soaked, but happy, we hop back in and are off to the next amazing turn in the road. Without my journal, I might have forgotten that wondrous moment.


inspire wisdom

Ralph Waldo Emerson kept diaries for fifty years.  These tomes are filled with nuggets of wisdom. If he hadn’t written less, what he did write might be less inspiring works. A willingness to write regularly and frequency develops a habit of reflection, he believed, that expands the mind and can lend itself to the expression of profound truth.

I hear him. Everyday life is filled with thoughts about what we are to eat, drink,

Dog and journal
Photo by Alexandra Lammerink

and wear. We engage in ongoing conversations with others to work out the logistics of the home/work life balance and individual relationships.  Ordinary discourse doesn’t often lend itself to deep contemplation. But journal keeping does. It can give each of us an “Emerson moment.” That’s the theory anyway. In pursuing my own journals, however, I have not uncovered such a moment. Some important love lessons, yes. Profound wisdom, maybe not.

resistant rearrangers

I fit, perhaps, more into the Joan Didion mold. Didion writes, “Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.” There I hear an echo. Many, if not most pages of my journals, reveal struggles, fears, and challenges. Such a perspective comes back around to Sontag.  “Rearrangers of things” try to recreate, make over, or undo. Such attempts fill my pages in my diaries, mostly in the form of promises to have fewer expectations of others and more of myself.

Gratitude journal
Photo by Gabrielle Henderson

So bad was this habit that five years ago, I began keep a “gratitude journal.”  It’s not the only one I keep, but along with any other recording I do, this little purple, bond book requires that at the end of the day, I log one thing for which I was grateful that day. Sometimes, I’m really stretching, such as “Discovered ‘Yukon Vet on TV with Evelyn; much better than teen comedies.”,_Yukon_Vet  Other entries smack of complaints in disguise, “So glad Nancy encouraged me to swim laps in the pool today. Always enjoy it more than I think I will.” This journal, if nothing else, is good for a reality check.

fahrenheit 451

Are these diaries and journals just for me? Will I burn them before I die? Hard

Piles of journals
Photo by Julia Joppien

to think of all of that going up in flames and yet, weren’t they for my eyes alone. Henry David Thoreau thought otherwise. He claimed, “Is not the poet bound to write his own biography? Is there any other work for him but a good journal?”  Thoreau makes an interesting point, but I think he mistakes journals for memoirs. The life narrative I wish to share with future generations unfolds in my memoir, which, while honest, is not all revealing. The musings of my diaries really do need to be buried with me.

the good place

As you read, you read a journal of sorts. That’s how blogs originated. People began sharing the thoughts they had formerly casually record in leather-bound or paperback lined notebooks online instead. The first blogs were “bio” + “logs.” Now blogging is an industry. Most blogs intended to inform or to sell. The fragile connection to journaling has grown tentative.  For me, though, writing this blog conforms to John Steinbeck’s dictum about journals.

Journaling in a coffee shop
Photo by Tyler Nix

“In writing,” Steinbeck noted, “habit seems to be a much stronger force than either willpower or inspiration. Consequently, there must be some little quality of fierceness until the habit pattern of a certain number of words is established.”  Because this blog is a promise not just to myself, but to those I hope will read it each week, it provides the writing discipline of which Steinbeck speaks. By establishing writing as a strong habit of mine, it sets in motion the wheels that turn my other creative endeavors.

Do you keep a diary or a journal?  What do you most like to record in it?  How frequently do you entries?  Let’s compare notes.

“The happy-go-lucky Anne laughs, gives a flippant reply, shrugs her shoulders and pretends she doesn’t give a darn. The quiet Anne reacts in just the opposite way. If I’m being completely honest, I’ll have to admit that it does matter to me, that I’m trying very hard to change myself, but that I’m always up against a more powerful enemy.”

Anne Frank's Diary
Photo by Dessidre Fleming


Aversion to Gardening

Backyard garden
in your own backyard

After a summer of daydreaming about wonderful destinations and fun-packed adventures that could be mine if only I wasn’t locked down by a pandemic, I turned my sights last week to pleasures readily available to folks stuck at home. With great joy I reflected on my life-long love of reading, a pleasure still easily indulged.

House and Garden
Photo by Ben Ashby

Today the pendulum swings to an engrossing activity that I personally dislike so much I hate to even write about it.  But it’s so big and obvious that it can’t be ignored, especially because thousands of people find that tending their garden tops the list of summer delights. There are literally dozens of magazines devoted to the topic. Talented photographers spend a lifetime capturing the beauty of gardens in breathtaking panoramas. Neighborhoods across the world host garden walks so folks can take a peak at each other’s hidden gardens. A public park without a garden would hold little appeal for most people.

she loves me, she loves me not

I have to clarify that I don’t hate gardens. Beautiful gardens, as small as a neighbor’s patio and as magnificent as Butchart Gardens in Victoria, Canada, enchanted me since I was a tiny girl picking the daisies from my mother’s garden. The enchantment and its consequences may, however, have something to do with my present aversion not to gardens themselves, but to gardening.

I can remember that summer afternoon of my fourth summer as vividly as last summer’s trip to Portland’s International Rose Garden. Having gathered a fistful of the pretty white-petaled blossoms with their fuzzy yellow center, I headed into our backdoor and up the steps to the kitchen. “These are for you,

Little girl with flowers
Photo by Caroline Hernandez

Mommy,” I chirped.

Instead of the smile I expected, my mother’s response was a horrified, “Oh, no.” She ran to the kitchen window and peered out at our yard. “You’ve wrecked the daisies!” She was screeching, or so it seemed to that four-year old. “Don’t ever touch my garden again. Do you understand?”  I nodded and backed out of the kitchen.

grandparent retreat

One incident alone isn’t enough to set up a lifetime resistance. But other experiences amplified rather than diminished that first vivid impression. My paternal grandparents bought two city lots at the end of World War II. On one they built, a charming Cape Cod two-bedroom. The other one, lot line to lot

line, was a vegetable garden. Most Sundays my grandmother prepared dinner for her sons and their families. Often after these family gatherings, I remained at their home for a few days.

Staying at my grandparents’ home gave me the chance to do whatever I

Carpenter at work
Photo by Dominik Scythe

wanted from playing dolls in the living room to exploring the near-by creek.  Grandma fixed all my favorite foods. Grandpa, who had been a ship builder until his retirement,  often built toys for me.  I loved watching him take small piece of wood and turn it into doll furniture. They didn’t ask me to do a single chore and let me read myself to sleep at night. Grandpa would walk me to the candy store on his was to the tobacco shop to buy his weekly cigar.  He also begged a cigar box off the tobacconist for me. Staying there was my own little piece of paradise.

forbidden eden

Only one thing was forbidden. I could not bother them when they were in the

Vegetable garden
Photo by Mario Rui Andre

garden. Looking back, I think that for each of them, the garden was a time of escape, a time to be alone with their own thoughts. Or it could have been that producing an abundant crop of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, potatoes, and corn took all their concentration and they just didn’t need to be distracted by a small girl who asked a thousand questions a minute. For reasons that remain a mystery to me, Grandma taught me to sew, can, and braid rugs, but never to garden.

if at first you don’t succeed. . .
Flower border
Photo by Stella de Smit

Years passed and the summer arrived when I acquired a garden of my own. It came with our first house, a tiny Victorian cottage in the suburb of Western Springs. We bought the house not to obtain a garden, but because apartment dwelling had become uncomfortable with two small girls. We moved in when the garden was in full bloom. Flowers of various shapes, sizes and colors grew in a bed that ran around the edge of the back yard lawn. We enjoyed their beauty that summer without giving them a lot of thought.  Then came a typical Chicago winter. Everything died back and was buried in snow.

Finally spring came, the snow melted, and small green shoots sprouted up all

Weed-filled yard
Photo by Adam Winger

over the edge of the yard. Somewhere, somehow I’d learned that you had to get rid of weeks so they wouldn’t choke the emerging flowers. So, while the girls took their nap, I labored in the cool, damp April afternoons, pulling weeds. In May I waited for the flowers to start.  None came. In my ignorance I had uprooted not only weeds but flowers as well. Too disheartened and busy to plant a whole new flower bed, I concentrated on raising children instead.

workable compromises
Photo by Robert Bye

Two years later, we moved back to the city away from the suburban landscape and the dreaded garden. My girls and I lived close enough to the park to enjoy the wonderful flowers that bloomed there, changing with the seasons.  In the winter, we frequented the conservatory, taking a morning-long tropical vacation in the middle of a Chicago January. The closest I ever came again to “gardening” was filling

Geraniums outside window
Photo by Sabita Sahu

window boxes with geraniums and petunias. That was just right for me.

the end of the trail

Lounge chairs in our Portland yardIronically, now in my wisdom years, I once again live in a house with a garden, an unexpected series of events plopped me down here. I remain, however, unwise in the ways of flowers and flowering shrubs. Here is where the Love Lesson comes into this post.  This time, when I moved to a home with a garden, my stalwart husband Jay had retired from professional life. Fortunately for me, he has discovered a late-in-life passion for caring for the flora that fills our Portland outdoor space.  Nothing could be more ideal – a garden without gardening.  At the back of the yard there’s a beautiful lounge chair under a pear tree. It’s my favorite spot for my true addition – reading.

Where do you weigh in on the topic of gardening?  I’d love to hear from you.

Remember that children, marriages, and flower gardens reflect the kind of care they get.
H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Black-eyed susans
Photo by Joshua Cotten

Addicted to Reading

Summers are for reading
Beach and books
Photo by Link Hoany

Over the past weeks, I’ve been waxing nostalgic about “what not to do during a pandemic.” I’ve compared the present confining situation to past summers of relative freedom. You have joined me in journeys as far away as the Ukraine.  Or simply sat beside me at a Chicago baseball game. There is, however, another time-honored summer tradition – the art of doing something that comes as close as possible to doing nothing at all.

Such pastimes remain happily intact. For the rest of the summer, I’ll share my thoughts about summer delights that the quarantine doesn’t limit. Some, in fact, are made easier by staying home.   Reading novels tops the list of my “do-almost-nothing” category of summer pleasures.

guilty indulgences

While for some folks reading falls in the “should” classification of activities, for me it is essentially a guilty indulgence. And

Child on bed with books
Photo by Annie Spratt

guilty pleasures are by far the best ones. I can thank my mother for turning reading into the apple in the Garden of Eden. Like many in her generation, my mother firmly believed that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Her busy life attested to this conviction. Spare time did not exist for my mother, the overwhelmed mother of five young children and a homemaker with very high standards as in “cleanliness is next to Godliness.

As the eldest child in that family and a girl to boot, my designated role in life, from before I learned to read, was “mother’s helper.” Mom shifted whatever chores she could to my shoulders and still remained as busy as a bee. Consequently, by the time I discovered the joy of reading, time to indulge that source of pleasure was decisively limited.

coveted hideaway

Summer reading took on an additional layer of guilt. When I was growing up, adults believed children  belonged outside whenever possible whatever the weather.  This principle held firmest over the summer no matter how high the temperature soared.  Then, as now, I hated heat. In those days before air-conditioning, the coolest place in our house in summer was the basement. Behind the big iron coal-burning furnace was stored  a decrepit chaise.

Our kitchen’s backstairs led both to door

Basement stairs
Photo by Charles Deluvio

to the yard and to the basement. This arrangement made it possible for me to appear to head outside when I was in reality creeping down the basement steps, book in hand, to curl up on the old chaise and read. For one whole summer, I didn’t need to take my own books to the basement because I found an old set of Zane Grey novels in the fruit cellar.  The highlight of that summer was the discovery that the phrase, “meanwhile back at the ranch,” seemed to have originated in those exciting narratives.

please don’t tell

I carried the sense that taking the time to curl up with a good novel was a frivolous waste of time into my own stint as a

Pride and Prejudice
Photo by Rawkkim

young mother and homemaker. In fact, I allowed myself to become addicted to the what many in the literary world might deem the worst possible genre of all – Historical Romance. http://Romances.

Not without reason, I shared with very few people my love of these drawing-room comedies with their fairy tale endings. I feared I would be scoffed at. After all, I was an educated woman with a degree in English. The same mother’s voice deep inside that told me I needed to restrict how much time I spent reading would also nag me to read “better” books. It suggested biography, history, or the classics.

As I had no free time until evening, I read, as many do, just before falling asleep at night.  By that time, I had prepared and cleaned up after a meal for six.  I had also bathed, read to, and tucked four children of various ages into bed. There was probably laundry to fold that I was ignoring. My energy level simply wasn’t up to “good literature.” So, I sought escape into this lesser genre.

What is a “good” book?

But was it somehow unworthy of my time and attention? Novels were not then, and are not now, the only thing I read. I also read to become informed. When I read non-fiction, I prefer short-form articles in magazines and journals. I know that many people become completely engrossed by topics like religion, travel, politics, business, and science and are more than happy to delve into book-length discussions of their favorite subjects.  That’s not me.

Book and cup of tea
Photo by Negin Mrd

Narrative literature, whether non-fiction or fiction, informs a different dimension of my self. Reading to gain information primarily involves my intellect. But when I delve into a memoir or a novel, they engross my psyche and my emotions.

Their stories reveal truths about the human condition that help me make sense of my own life. I follow the characters as they learn life lessons and apply them to my own experience. When good things happen for a character to whom I am drawn, I feel encouraged because I identify with them. None of this happens at an analytical level. I could, I suppose, if I were to write an essay about the experience analyze what it is I learned in reading a particular book or how it changed my perspective. As I read, however, it simply happens.  I don’t think about it while reading.

back to the present

It’s fair to ask if a Historical Romance novel could possibly be vivid and evocative enough to provide the enlightenment, I

Flowers and book
Photo by Brigitte Tohm

claim for them. Can these stories, which inevitably end “happily-ever-after,” deliver a moral or a message? More to the point, since romances captivated me in my twenties but have lost their luster for me in my elder years, what were the life lessons, the love lessons they offered me then?

Observing relationships within families and between men and women in an era and in a place vastly different than my own offered me a distance, an objectivity by which I could discern what worked and what didn’t in intimate relationships of any period, including my own. Not every novel laying claim to the genre, “Historical Romance,” offered me a vivid enough identification with its characters and their challenges and triumphs to pull off such discernment. On many occasions I bought or borrowed a book, began to read it, and quickly laid it aside.

For a narrative to hold my interest, the world the author built had to be completely valid. The details of description needed to portray a picture as authentic as a painting executed in the early 19th century. That included how articles of clothing were depicted. The characters’ speech, its rhythm and vocabulary, had to conform to ways people spoke at that time. This was especially true in what they thought and how much of what they thought they felt comfortable expressing and to whom.  If these, and any number of other details, reflected a late 20th century mindset, I immediately lost interest in the narrative. It had nothing to teach me.

through an alternative lens

Pulling me totally into their world and out of my own was the

Woman on bed w books
Photo by Lacie Slezak

only way the author could evoke deep sentiments. At that level of complexity the tale roused in me a profund emotional response. This response to altered my perceptions. My own relationships were easier to examine through the lens of an alternative cosmos. The characters modeled ways of accepting unexpected change and dealing with loss. They showed determination in the pursuit of goals and discrimination in the maintenance if friendship. Wealth and the temptation of greed confronted them.  Poverty and war were survived. Characters made tough choices and overcame adversity.  In other words, their experiences mirrored many of my own, but at a distance that made absorbing the lessons somewhat easier.  Yet, through those, I moved more solidly into adulthood.

Not all the lessons were personal. When a particular society is under the microscope of a compelling narrative that examines the familial and intimate relationships within that society, broader issues about the culture and its social mores become apparent.  I could see and yearn for some of the benefits of living in what might have been described as a “more civilized” time, but I could also see the ugliness beneath the surface. It made me both appreciate the improvements of living in the 20th century but also ask what troubled depths lay hidden in my culture. And they were myriad.

hindsight – more powerful than foresight

How do I know this?  Through hindsight. Awareness of the process was unconscious at the time.  While reading, I simply escaped – away from doing dishes, changing diapers, and folding laundry into luxurious salons and ballrooms. But, without fully realizing it, I returned knowing more about myself.

Moscow Mule and books
Photo by Shangyou Shi

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” – Groucho Marx

What is your favorite kind of book? Or do you have another guilty summer pleasure?

Love in the Time of Baseball Drought

Life without baseball – almost

Would there be a 2020 Major League Baseball season? For weeks, then months, the answer evaded the professionals and the pundits. Finally, after a long stretch of squabbling and doubts, the season was announced. It would begin the last week in late July. Yahoo!

But when the games got going, so did a lot of disappointments.  We are, after all, in the middle of a pandemic!

Cub cap at Wrigley Field
Photo by Blake Guidry

Jay and I have survived another kind of baseball drought. Like every couplet we came together with completely different DNAs. Biologically those strands merge to shape four very unique children. The merger of our psychological and cultural DNAs fashioned the “us” out of “you and me.” Because I left home at eighteen to attend college and never returned, but Jay returned to Chicago after he graduated from Notre Dame, his hometown DNA somewhat dominated the identity of our committed relationship.

sports on the periphery

Growing up in Detroit, Michigan, made me a nominal Tigers fan, but

Detroit skyline
Photo by Doug Zuba

I didn’t come from a sports-orientated family. My dad, his brother and my grandfather were avid boaters and fishermen. In cold weather, they buried themselves in basement workshops building or repairing furniture. My grandfather also crafted toys for my siblings, cousins and me. Any knowledge I had of hometown sports teams came from reading the newspaper, a favorite pastime I developed in the third grade. But there was no one in my family to discuss the wins and losses of the Tigers or Lions with. So, my interest waned.

focus on the game

Jay experienced a whole different milieu growing up. In his family, people worked to make a living, but they lived for sports. His Chicago Cubs 1906grandfather had been a teenager in the glory days of 1907 and 1908 when the Chicago Cubs had won back-to-back World Series. His devotion to them lasted a lifetime although he never saw them win another championship.

When Jay was young, his whole extended family gathered at their grandparents’ home for Sunday dinner. He joined the men in the living room, first to listen to the games on the radio and later to watch them on TV. He’d sit right beside his grandfather, who filled him in on the background of the players and when the Cubs were losing, told him stories of better days. This loyalty pitted Jay against his father, a Chicago southsider and an avid White Sox fan, but it bonded them in a friendly rivalry and joint love of the game.

cubs are “us”

Thus, as Jay and I melded our lives into one in the late 1960s, one strong component of our new cultural DNA was a stalwart Cub

Wrigley Field
Photo by Blake Buidry

allegiance. Being a Chicago Cub fan, I soon discovered is a very odd phenomenon. And never odder than when I first started to follow them. My husband, I soon learned, avidly followed a club that had a terrible record, but fact that the team was likely to lose any given game one attended took nothing away from the terrific good time to be had at the ballpark.

cracker jacks and all that

“Take me out to the ball game” meant something so completely different then than it does now. For us, there wasn’t even a question of paying for parking. We could catch the “L” just three blocks from our Rogers Park apartment and get off at Wrigley Field’s Addison

Hot Dogs
Photo by Jay Wennington

Avenue stop We were “bleacher bums.” Tickets were $1 a seat. Hotdogs were 30 cents and a beer was 40 cents. We could attend a baseball game for less than it cost us to go to the movies. Even on our newly-married, still-in-school, budget, a Cubs game was affordable entertainment.

Sitting in the bleachers wasn’t just good for us because it was cheap. When I sat in those seats, I learned a lot about pitching, defense and outfield play because the whole game was right in front of me, and Jay conveyed to me the lessons his grandfather

Baseball outfielder
Photo by Ben Hershey

had taught him. Those were some of our greatest times together. While I learned about baseball and came to love the game, I came to know and understand my husband better, to see the world through his eyes, to walk in his shoes.

loving the “lovable losers”

Did we want the Cubs to win? Of course, we did. We cheered like crazy for every hit. We moaned and groaned loudly when the opponent scored. A Cub home run had us dancing in the aisles. We never left a game before it was over no matter how far behind the Cubs fell.  We had seen the team come from behind too often to ever give up.

Were we brokenhearted when they didn’t? No. We had just had such a delightful afternoon (and they were all afternoons in those

Beer at baseball game
Photo by Blake Guidry

days of no lights at Wrigley Field) that losing didn’t diminish our spirits. For the space of a few hours, the worries and stresses of work and school, of passing tests and paying bills, of just plain making the grade in the adult world fell off our shoulders.  In Wrigley Field we were kids again. Life was, for a short time, all about having fun. Even losing couldn’t spoil that.

After the game, very often we strolled east to the lake and north home, full of good cheer whether the Cubs had won or not.  We didn’t expect that the team would go into the play offs, which was just as well. We were back in school by September with less time on our hands. . . . And there was always next year.

“next year” came after all

One of their best years, 1969, we weren’t able to go to any games because our first daughter Kristy was an infant.  But we joined

Photo by Mike Marquez

neighbors on lawn chairs outside our apartment complex to play the games on the radio, barbeque hotdogs, drink beer and pretend we were at the park.


The closest we came to seeing the Cubs win it all was in the film, “Back to the Future,” which we thought was an impossible dream in 1989, the year the film came out. And when the proverbial “next year” finally did come in 2016, Jay and I no longer lived in Chicago! We had to watch the joyous crowds surrounding Wrigley Field on our TV in Portland, Oregon.  Talk about bitter sweet!

Life will always throw you curves, just keep fouling them off . .  .the right pitch will come, but when it does, be prepared to run the bases.  Rick Maksian

Photo by Max Bender

An impossible dream came true for Jay and me when the Cubs won the World Series?  Have you had an impossible dream come true?  Share it with us.