50 Years

Three years ago I wrote a post about an EPIC night shared by my parents and aunt and uncle on the occasion of their 1st and 5th wedding anniversaries.

It involved fishsticks and champagne and steep San Francisco streets and a poor dude who had the nerve to drive through an intersection when it was not his turn.

This year is my aunt’s and uncle’s 54th wedding anniversary. Two weeks ago, they were there for my parents’ 50th anniversary party. We had fishsticks and champagne. I understand why there was puking the first time.

Two days later, there was a party and everybody came. My dad asked my brothers and me to speak at the party, and we did. But before the party, I told my parents this:

The world knows how we feel about you. That will not be news to anyone in the room. 

But the ones who should talk are you. You’re the ones who made it. You know the secret for being married 50 years and still liking each other so much that you spent 7 weeks in a trailer the size of a laundry room and lived to tell. Explain that there was lots of champagne and there were also fishsticks. Probably more fishsticks than champagne on the day to day, if we’re being honest. Dispel the myth of the perfect marriage for everyone in that room.

I knew what I was asking: that they consider speaking with truth about their relationship on a day when it would have been so easy to sit at the head table and let the admiration wash over them like a wave.

But I also know my parents. They want to serve others, even at a party in their honor.

So they did it. They told the truth about being married 50 years. They did it with humor and grace, and they did it for the newlyweds in the room, and the couple with young kids who haven’t slept in years, and ones with three kids going 12 different directions who feel like ships passing in the night, and the empty nesters who are about to get to know each other all over again, and the almost retireds who are worried about how they will fill their time together, and the ones where “for better or worse, in sickness and in health” has become a challenging reality. They lived each of those seasons, and spoke about them with wisdom and faith.

They took a room full of married people and reminded us that our experiences are common, the good and the bad, and that we have each other to lean on. It was hopeful and life-giving.

It was so much better than a champagne toast in their honor.

(We did that too, though.)









Fishsticks and Champagne

The story goes like this:

In August of 1969, my aunt and uncle were celebrating their 5th wedding anniversary on August 15 and my mom and dad were celebrating their 1st anniversary on August 17. They all lived in San Francisco, my parents having recently graduated from the University of San Francisco and my uncle finishing up law school in the city.

My mom and dad on their honeymoon, August 1968

My mom and dad on their honeymoon, August 1968

So Lesley doesn't know when this picture was taken, but I am guessing late 70s.

My aunt and uncle, late 70s.

My parents lived in a small walk-up near the university. This means is that they had a second story apartment in an already hilly city. Think stairs, indoors and outdoors. Everywhere.

This will be important later in the story.

They had no money. My mom and dad were 23, my aunt and uncle not much older. But they decided to celebrate the anniversaries together. So my mom cooked up a bunch of frozen fishsticks and someone—probably my uncle—found deeply discounted (because their labels had fallen off) bottles of champagne.

I know exactly what this party looked like, even though I was only a prayer two years in the future. I have seen the four of them like this many, many times in my life—joyful, loud, carefree. Full of laughter.

But not always making top-notch decisions. Because, fishsticks. And champagne. A combo that has trouble written all over it, like prosciutto and margaritas, or brie and beer.

Sure enough, by the end of the night, they were sideways. My dad was getting reacquainted with his fishsticks. My aunt couldn’t manage the stairs down the hill to the street in an upright position. She slid down them on her bum, howling with laughter all the way. Of course.

Then some poor fool had the audacity to cut my uncle off at a stop sign.  The way he tells it, he just barely got hold of the back of her pants to stop her tumbling out the window after she rolled it down to give the guy a piece of her mind.

This night is legend in our family, part of the fabric that holds us all together. Not just how silly and funny it was, but how my uncle’s eyes still twinkle when he tells the part about my aunt. Or the lesson we absorbed about the importance of celebrating wedding anniversaries, even with fishsticks. How my mom tilts her chin defiantly and says “That’s all we had, so that’s what we did!”

This August, they will celebrate their 51st and 47th anniversaries.

Last week, we were in Canada with my cousin and her family for their 11th anniversary. It was the last day of a visit that had ten of us staying in one house—six kids under the age of 10. A big night out was not in the cards.

But there was champagne in the fridge.

We contemplated fishsticks. We really did. For a good half second. And then we got our feet under us and ordered sushi. Luckily, we are twenty years older than our parents were on that fishstick night and more financially secure. We crammed everyone around the dining room table, poured the champagne into half-pints because we couldn’t find any Solo cups, and went at it.


Alas, we only had one bottle of champagne, so the night was tame. No sliding down the stairs required.


Yes, a tiara is normal Friday night attire for Lesley. It’s one of the reasons I love her so much!