Monday, May 11, 2015

While we're young

Video exists — though we no longer have means to watch — of this day 30 years ago.

It's twilight in the final scene, made darker by the dense forest of oak and cedar and sycamore around Nancy's parents' house.

We are attempting to leave our wedding reception, probably long after we should have.

Our vanilla-colored Plymouth Valiant shudders and belches like a chained dragon, only less cool, backing up the sloped driveway with great effort.

Friends and loved ones stand about, cat-calling and laughing, because it appears we are not going to make it off my in-laws' property.

Our honeymoon at that moment threatens to commence somewhere within walking distance of Auburn, Calif.

At an undisclosed location, if possible.

But then the car screams and roars and catches, leaping backward up the steep lip of the driveway and spinning onto Foresthill Avenue, pointed west.

Valiantly, the Valiant lurches ahead and settles on a uniform speed, disappearing into the last light, leaving all whom we love wreathed in the milky blue smoke of burning oil.

Inside the car, unseen on video, we are laughing at ourselves for our rude departure, laughing at this first moment alone together, as husband and wife, our hearts light and free.

We have an idea where we're going, but not quite. We'll see when we get there, but first, let's go around this corner.

It was the perfect moment to foretell these last three decades.

Though we have lived through life's rich turmoil, planning and hoping and struggling and failing and changing, and planning and hoping some more — though we have made an equal number laughable blunders and surprisingly wise moves, with more to come — we have always done so together.

Being married to Nancy and being in love with her has been the easiest thing I've ever done. Of course this anniversary is a big deal, but she would tell you too: We just figured this day would come. It's not that we never doubted: We've just never seen reason not to expect it.

Everything was new and different and slightly unsettling from that moment on 30 years ago this night, and continues to one degree or another today.

We spent the night at a bed-and-breakfast in Sutter Creek, about an hour south of Auburn on Highway 49, which weaves together the Gold Rush towns along the foothills of the Sierra. So new, our first night together, amid prim gingerbread 19th-Century fashion. The restaurant, a short walk on a crooked sidewalk from the inn, sprung for a bottle of wine to mark our wedding day. We, a married couple having dinner, looked around to other couples, wondering aloud if, say, 30 years later, we will still have things to talk about.

A couple staying at the bed-and-breakfast — they own one of the largest trucking companies in the state — gave us advice on life and marriage. I forget what they said, but we didn't disagree. We didn't know any better.

The next morning we found our windshield covered in Oreo™® cookies, placed, we learned, by Nancy's former college roommates Sharon and Donna. The creme filling™ was supposed to ooze over the glass and delay our departure — I'm trying to imagine myself laughing while I tried to clean the mess. But it was cold overnight in mid-May and the cookies plinked off without a trace.

Such a considerate prank.

At Don Pedro Reservoir, where we camped the next night, I locked the keys in the car, though the trunk was open. How were we to know we could have gotten into the car through the trunk? The tow driver showed us when he arrived three hours after our call.

We owned Yosemite Valley the next night, surveying it like first explorers before other campers had begun showing up for the season. The towering canyon walls enveloped us in cool green-blue. Nancy never quite lives down the moment in which, for some reason, she decided to drink from a still pool on the bank of the Merced River.

We spent the next two days in the valley's hush in our campsite, Nancy too sick to move or talk or think. Somehow my locking the keys in a car that was really not locked at all goes all but forgotten.

Maybe that's why being married 30 years seems so easy. Nancy is kinder.

Highway 49 runs into Highway 41 near Coarsegold and descends west to the central San Joaquin Valley, where work awaited. The editor had been a bit worked up about giving me a couple of extra days off, since I'd only started at the newspaper five months before, but he was married with little ones underfoot, and felt for me.

Our working lives were to begin. Our lives lives were to begin.

Nancy ended up working at the same paper, and we lived the life of a young couple with plenty of time to go to movies and ride bikes — I bought her one on layaway, a working man, providing for his woman — around Kings County.

We've been in Sacramento for 27 years, doing the usual — wondering how we raised our wonderful children, taking out mortgages, renting, buying, leasing, working, getting ill, getting better, trying this, trying that, changing. Always changing.

Our views, our outlook, our looks: Always changing.

But always together, for more than half our lives now. That hasn't changed.

We are not equally yoked, as we had been admonished in becoming wedded. I have dragged my feet a great deal of this marriage, Nancy carrying much of the weight in weighty matters.

We have had our, "Oh, if you only knew what I put up with about you all these years!" conversations. The top of one small couch sags, the frame inside broken from when I got mad once during one of those conversations. Best friends argue. Best friends remain best friends.

We have changed each other over time, much more for good, I expect, than ill.

Decisions await, expensive and thorny ones, variations of the decisions you make, too, at certain ages and stages. Every so often, with some work and luck and pluck, we will make the correct decisions, and laugh at the ones we botched.

We will celebrate this anniversary as we have most such occasions, especially lately, with the merest of plans, only enough to secure a base camp.

We have an idea where we're going, but not quite.

What's around this corner? Let's see.

Happy anniversary, Nancy. Love, Me.

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