The First of Forty Carats





“World Enough and Time”


“HAD we but world enough, and time,  

This coyness, Lady, were no crime  

We would sit down and think which way  

To walk and pass our long love’s day.”

—Andrew Marvell


If I didn’t read as much as I do, I’m not sure I would know what serendipity is, but whether I understand the term or not, it favors my life all the same. For those who are not familiar with the word, it’s a gift for making pleasant, valuable or useful discoveries by accident. It happened to me earlier this month when I went in search of our annual Christmas Ornament. We were married in 1976, just a few years after Hallmark started making their dated ornaments. Christine was quite taken by the idea, and we’ve gotten one every year since. This year when I went in search of an ornament, I was really thinking of an impossible theme for it: Janus.


Janus is my favorite of the Roman gods. He’s the god of beginnings and endings and is usually depicted as having two faces, the better to enable him to look both forward and backward. I’m told that January is not actually named for Janus, but I frankly don’t believe that, simply because it fits so nicely with the god Janus and with what he represents and with what the month of January has come to mean to people in general and me in particular over the years. It has always been my most productive month, and also the month when I do the most work and make the most plans for the year to follow.


That’s what makes this ornament absolutely perfect—its timing in our lives. This January represents considerably more than just another new year; it’s the beginning of a new season, a much bigger transition than Christine and I have previously shared with each other for a number of reasons. I can begin with the main title of this blog because the 40 Carats I’ve referenced is intended to show that 2016 is the year of our 40th wedding anniversary. Anyone who has read any of my occasional blogs on marriage over the years knows how very happy the two of us are in our relationship. With such a significant milestone approaching, I thought it might be fun to write a little about some of the things we have learned about happy marriages over the years. So this will be the first in an occasional series that I mean to eventually take out to 40 Life Lessons, as it were.


The other aspect is a bit darker—or hopeful, depending on your prospective. But anyone married as long as we have been is clearly no longer young, and in the coming year she will finally retire. There are some who will see the cloud in that much more than the silver lining, the kind of people who give work their all, to such an extent, really, that once they retire, the boredom just damned near kills them. Without their jobs they no longer have any meaning in their lives. And now that same fate is upon us—or soon will be—but only if we think of it as fate, not future.


I have deliberately posted this on December 21st, the Winter Solstice, because for us it is very much the beginning of the winter of our lives, and we know that. Even so, it is a time we are very much looking forward to. I cannot tell you how often we have come to a Monday and remarked that “it was a good weekend,” when the truth is we didn’t do a damned thing. But for us it really was a good weekend—and for the simplest of reasons: we spent it together. It’s pretty much all we’ve ever needed.


We were married in another city and very nearly another time. Gasoline was 35 cents a gallon, electricity was affordable, the middle class still prospered, and leisure suits were all the rage. We worked at the Long Beach newspaper at the time, and Christine soon became a department secretary for one of the advertising departments. Every year they had an elaborate Christmas luncheon, but only some of the employees were allowed to go, which necessarily produced quite a bit of jockeying for position and hurt feelings for many of those left out. Christine was on the Invitation List, but when she saw the bad blood that was developing she threw up her hands and said, “To tell you the truth, I’d rather have a peanut butter sandwich with Joe!” She was rewarded with a horrified gasp and immediately assured one and all that she was kidding, but really, she wasn’t.


Christine sometimes worries about our future in the Golden Years, but I never have. She has no fears of how she will spend her days without a job because so much of it has been dealing with people’s problems and idiosyncrasies and irascibilities and miscues and hurt feelings and god knows what all. How she’s made it through with that marvelous, infectious laugh intact is beyond me. But miss all that? Not on your life. But she does worry about the money sometimes, and I always tell her the same thing. We are a very cheap date, always have been. On our honeymoon we were going to drive around California. We went to San Diego for a few days (we lived in Orange County at the time), then drove up to Santa Barbara, the first stop of half a dozen we’d planned, if memory serves. That night we were sitting in the room sharing a beer when we looked at each other, and said almost simultaneously “You know what? Let’s just go home. We can travel some other time. Let’s just enjoy being married.” Some thirty-nine years later we are still doing just that!


We’re not looking forward to retirement to travel places or go to fancy restaurants or expensive outings. We just want to do the one thing we have yearned for all these years. We want to spend time with each other. Elsewhere I have written about that first date on April 3, 1976, but as I left her apartment at two o’clock in the morning, a song title immediately popped into my head: “Never Can Say Goodbye.” And from that date to this, I have always felt that way about her.


For some years now we have gotten up half an hour earlier just to enjoy a cup of coffee with each other before we begin our days. On the weekends it’s even nicer because we’re not relegated to just half an hour. Almost invariably, she is the one who will eventually say, “OK, I don’t want to get lazy, so I need to get going so I can do such-and-such.” For myself I could easily spend the rest of the day on the couch with her, and if there just weren’t so many things that have to get done on weekends when you’re working, she’d sit longer too. And that, really, is the one thing we most anticipate from our new life—time to do the things we really want to do instead of forever chasing after the things we have to do.


So, perhaps that could be our first carat in this series: no matter how many children, jobs, or other responsibilities may come along, you began with only two. Don’t let that get buried under the prosaic necessities of life. Make time for each other. And a world.