“Sunrise, sunset

“Sunrise, sunset

“Swiftly fly the days”

from “Fiddler on the Roof”


I do actually know that ours is not the only happy marriage, that happy marriages, although a decided minority, are still sizeable in number, but whenever my mind runs in such channels, I find myself coming up hard against Goethe. He once wrote, “This is the true measure of love: When we believe that we alone can love, that no one could ever have loved so before us, and that no one will ever love in the same way after us.” Of course, in setting that standard, he also stated the obvious, that no happy marriage, however halcyon, is without equal.


We do know that. We are not unique; there are many others who are equally happy, maybe even a few who are just as happy and obscenely rich, but, even so, there are times when our love does seem more auspicious than most. The celebration for our Fortieth Wedding Anniversary is a case in point.


We have always celebrated the moments in our lives, but none so much as our anniversary. We almost always go out of town for a few days, but whether we stay or go, the actual day is a holiday. When it falls during the work week we take at least one day’s vacation, usually more. But two of them have called for more than that.


On our Twenty-Fifth we went to Hawaii and spent a week on Kauai, rising when we wanted to, driving wherever the spirit willed us, holding hands, reminiscing, building a few castles in the air and looking for ways to build foundations under them. One of those was an unframed map of the Sandwich Islands (the original name of Hawaii) that became the impetus for my learning how to cut my own picture mats and make my own frames. I ended up purchasing two hideously-priced Koa boards ($26 a board foot) and using them to frame six items we brought back from the islands.


For the Fortieth, which we celebrated on the 14th of this month, we went to a bed-and-breakfast inn on the northern California coast that is truly exceptional. Dennen’s Victorian Farmhouse bills themselves as “a natural paradise, resting on two beautiful acres of land, designed to be the perfect retreat for couples,” and they really are just that. All the rooms are furnished with antique furniture from the 18th and 19th centuries. This old woodworker identified the mahogany at once, but I’m nowhere near knowledgeable enough on this type of furniture to be able to speculate on the identity of the artisans who created these pieces.


We chose the Mendocino Suite because of its size and its relative isolation from the other buildings, a factor that worked somewhat against us when we had to tote our luggage up a long inclined path and two flights of stairs. Please don’t describe them as short; I’ll lose my excuse for panting so at the end of that trek. But it was in that idyllic setting that we celebrated our Fortieth Anniversary.


Forty years! I’m still having a hard time getting my arms around such a concept. As a geologist measures such things it’s no time at all, but for you and me it’s a staggering amount of time, over half a lifetime. What kind of marriage has it been? Well, blissful, happy, mirth-filled. Face it, we laugh all the time. But also one that delights in the present moment.


As I said earlier, ours was a fairly isolated unit in a bed-and-breakfast on the northern Californian coast. That part of California is heavily wooded, and our little bungalow looked backwards towards the wooded hills. To our surprise—it being August—it was both overcast and much cooler than our own San Diego. But also to our delight. On the evening of our first full day there (we stayed five days and did nothing but be), we moved the couch around to face the back French doors, poured a beer, and watched the woods fill up with fog, holding hands and basking in the warm wonder of still being so deeply in love four decades later.


Our little unit was perched atop another residence, although accessed by a separate entrance. It was a charming little two-room suite with two wood-burning fireplaces that had originally been two separate units. They retained the two separate entry doors when they combined the units. A little metal placard is atop each of them, and reading them I was immediately struck with how ideally suited this unit was to celebrate our Fortieth. The two doors were marked SUNRISE and SUNSET.



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.



“An Unforgettable Thirty-nine Years”


Thirty-ninth Anniversary 1




“Oh, Christine, you always make me feel so special.”


It was our waitress speaking, one of several we’ve come to know over the twenty plus years we’ve frequented a local restaurant. We were there for breakfast as we so often are, and Christine had returned her greeting, saying, “Well, good morning, Lupita, and how are you today?”


Who speaks to a waitress like that? Christine’s the only one I know who does, although I have very much followed her lead over the years. We say please with every request, even the routine ordering of the meal itself, and we thank them for everything they do for us. Needless to say, we’re big tippers, but the most welcome part is just Christine, the way she treats people. It’s why she’s been a Human Resources Manager for so many years.


Thirty-ninth Anniversary 2When we moved to San Diego in 1982, she went in search of a job as a secretary, all she was really trained to do at that time. At one place the Human Resources person interviewing her made note of her personality and said that she really ought to pursue a career in Human Resources. Well, that was one of our recession years, and unemployment was high. She didn’t get that particular position, but within the week she saw an opening for a department secretary for a HR department, applied for it, and got the job. In less than a year she had three salary increases, two promotions, and ended up with a private office and the equivalent title (banks have weird titles) of Assistant Manager.


She’s more than just a nice person, though. She is considerably more intelligent than she gives herself credit for, but the main thing, the best thing, is her unerring touch for human relations. She’s been in that business for over thirty years now, and except for that first year as a secretary, she has been in management. She left her first job after some six years and immediately started a new HR department for a subsidiary of another bank, this time as a first-time, full-on, department manager. While there she hired her own staff, set the interior department policies, wrote many of the procedures and pretty much knocked ‘em dead. She’s been at it ever since.


One of her best features comes out whenever there is a conflict between employees or between employees and management. The latter is the more common and the more difficult, I suppose, because it so often ends in another termination of employment. But regardless of what is said among the lower ranks, the goal of Human Resources in general and Christine in particular, is to resolve the situation in such a way that the employee stops the objectionable behavior and keeps the job. But how? She’s told me stories about entering a room with the employee sitting there, arms crossed in defiance, all but daring Christine to say anything at all in defense of management. And yet on a surprising number of occasions she has been able to turn thing around to such an extent that the employee ends up in tears, gives Christine a hug, and vows never again to repeat the bad behavior. And then keeps that promise!


Thirty-ninth Anniversary 3Who the hell can do such things? Christine can because she genuinely likes people, but more than that, she knows exactly what to say and how to listen. When you’re with her, you’re the only person in the world, it seems. She has such a wonderful air about her, a feeling of warmth and welcoming. Over the years she has made it a point to not just sit in her office. She goes thorough whatever building she happens to be in on a very regular basis. She talks to people, gets their names, learns how to pronounce the difficult ones, and remembers them! That most of all, remembers them. Hell, I barely remember my own at times, but she is one who can greet by name a person she’s seeing some six months after the only other contact—and then make reference to something that person may have said or done at the earlier meeting.


But I cannot talk about Christine without talking about her laugh, a laugh like champagne, really. Today, this day of days, marks our thirty-ninth wedding anniversary, and I’ve heard that laugh for all but two or three of those 14,235 days. We’ve had the same ups and downs as everyone else, had good times and bad, buried half my family, and four years ago, her mother, but through it all, we have laughed. She often says, “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane,” and she’s right, which is to say we two must be very sane indeed because we laugh constantly.


I have several times told the story of our first date on April 3, 1976. She’d invited me over to her apartment for a home-cooked Mexican dinner to thank me for having given her a writing lesson a few weeks earlier. We’d worked in the same department for two years, but had never been anything more than friends. But the moment I entered her little one-bedroom apartment it just felt right to her. Within half an hour she was asking if we could do such-and-such later in the summer. From my prospective, it was as if someone had flipped on a bright light. Four months and eleven days later we got married, and all these years later that light still blazes. She flat lights up a room, both with her laugh and her constant caring for others. I don’t think anyone who’s ever met her can forget her.


Well, I guess you know how I feel about her, but the best for me, is how she feels about me! We’re romantic enough to mark not only our anniversary and Valentine’s Day, but the memory of that long ago April 3rd. We rarely let it go by without making some sort of comment. This year, she sent me an email from her office that was titled, “You still make me feel special.”


And I guess that’s the way to end this, by stealing from one of our better singers, because I really do think it’s incredible that someone so unforgettable thinks that I am unforgettable too.*




*If you don’t know Nat King Cole, you just don’t know!