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!




Priorities 1



“I don’t really feel like the Greek tonight, Joe.” It was certainly not the first time she’s changed her mind about an evening’s plans, and with the past as prologue, it most assuredly won’t be the last. ThisPriorities 2 one stung, though, because I really wanted to go this time. It’s a Greek café in Seaport Village, which is a delightful shopping mall located on the waterfront. It’s all casual dining, a place where you go to the counter to order Gyro platters and the like and then grab a table. We almost always get a pitcher of beer; she drinks one small glass, and I finish it off (she’s the Designated Driver). Then we walk around the boardwalk which boarders San Diego Bay. I often have another glass or two of beer, and we end the evening with a cup of coffee at a bookstore/coffee shop, just for the sheer indulgence of it.


It’s been very hot this week, and I have been working some very long days on the Home Theater, ending the night at 7:00 or 7:30. Even though we live in San Diego and are forever touting the glorious weather, the plain fact of the matter is we get our share of humidity from time to time. One of those times was this week. I won’t gross you out with how many T-shirts I sweated up, but, man, this Saturday I was really looking forward to the Greek. Cool night on the bay, a few beers, walking hand-in-hand with my honey, sitting on various benches that face the boardwalk and the ocean, people-watching… It just didn’t get any better than that. But she changed her mind.


Like I said, it really disappointed me. She wanted to go someplace nearby for a burger and a beer, which is what we ended up doing, but man! This would have been our first trip to the Greek this year, and it’s been such a tough, tough week. I deserved that trip, damn it! But even as I was changing clothes and getting ready to go, I was having a little talk with myself. She works too—worked all week at a very challenging job as a Human Resources Manager—and although she wasn’t covered with sweat and sawdust like I was, she did put up with the usual quota of problems, crazies, emergencies, and god knows what all. All I did was saw boards.

Priorities 4More than that, the reason she was tired was because she’d spent the day running errands. Truth to tell, Christine LIKES to shop, but there is shopping and than there is the errand quota. Saturday’s was the latter. And some of those errands were for me! She got me a scrub brush for the shower and a bunch of new socks, which is pretty pedestrian when you think about it, but she did it for me, and did it because she loves me. Next month we will have been married thirty-nine years, and in all that time I seriously doubt I have purchased half a dozen articles of my own clothing. She always does it for me.


When we were first married, she occasionally hinted that she did not like one of the shirts I wore. I eventually figured this out (later I was to tell her, don’t hint; just tell me) and when I did, I dropped the shirt in the wastebasket. It was still a perfectly good shirt, but she didn’t like it. She felt bad and started to protest, but I said, “Hey, you dress to the nines everyplace you go. You know how I am. I will grab anything that fits. But if we’re going out together, you shouldn’t have to stand there thinking what a bozo I am because I don’t know to pick a certain color or fabric. So, here’s a thought. Going forward, just buy me whatever you want me to wear, and I will.” And from that day to this, that’s what she has done, up to and including, returning the occasional item I really do not care for. So, if she got tuckered out running errands for me last Saturday, it would be churlish indeed for me to complain when she didn’t want to make that long drive to the Greek (we live twenty miles inland), and especially so in view of the fact that she would have been the Designated Driver.


But the other part of that is my own past. My parents were in love with each other, but they did not have a marriage I would have wanted for myself. He could be very unreasonable at times, and never more so than when he didn’t get his way. He’d roar at her, and when that didn’t work, he’d pout like a little kid. He’s been gone a quarter of a century now, and her a dozen years, but I remember it like it was yesterday, his leaving the room and sitting in a chair somewhere with his chin down to his chest, her hovering over him, desperately trying to make amends. I never wanted to be that guy, and I never have been.


Priorities 5Some years back we’d made plans for something Christine was going to prepare for dinner, but when the time came, she was too tired to do it. I said, “That’s fine,” to which she immediately replied, “God, I’m glad you’re easy.” From that day to this, that’s been one of about a dozen little names she has for me, “The Big Easy.” When she went to New Orleans some years ago on business, I asked her to get me a T-shirt with that slogan on it, and she did.


So Saturday, just to make sure I was in the proper frame of mind, I made it a point to put on my New Orleans cap and New Orleans T-Shirt with “The Big Easy” on it. So, we went to dinner and had a good time, as I knew we would, and she thanked me for being willing to forego the Greek, which I knew she would, and she began making plans for next weekend, which was as inevitable as all the rest. She’s Mexican-American and cooks lots and lots of that food—and does so divinely, I must say. A couple of years ago, I came across a killer recipe for Margaritas which are, far and away, the best we’ve ever had, to such an extent that we really don’t know what’s second on that list, just that it’s a distant second. So her food and my Margaritas are now the plan for the next weekend.


Some years back I made a very elaborate backyard, and barring the unforeseen, that’s where we’ll be next weekend with a pitcher of my Margaritas and some of her homemade quesadillas, homemade tortilla chips (who the hell even does that in this day and age?), and glorious homemade guacamole. We’ll watch the sun set (we can see all the way to the ocean from our deck), have a toast or two, and enjoy the evening and each other.


When she reads this blog, I know she’ll feel a little guilty (hey, she’s Catholic) and will suggest going to the Greek in the near future, which we will, but not this coming weekend. This one’s got Margaritas and her home cooking written all over it. But, hey, that’s the secret of a happy marriage: learning how to prioritize.