Olivia Newport Parents' Wedding Picture

My parents on July 9, 1949.

Today would have been 63 years. Technically my parents were married 55 years. By the time they reached 50, my dad’s early dementia was clear to all of us, and Mom had some serious vow-keeping to live into over the next few years. Grace released Dad to wholeness in 2005.

Grief is no piece of cake even when you have so much time to see it coming. But I’m not writing about my dad’s death, but about the life and abundance that came from my parents’ marriage.

My parents met in Washington, DC. She was a girl from Arkansas, barely not a teenager, and he was a young man from Brazil who arrived with the classic immigrant’s lack of English. The story goes that Dad used to go after work to the apartment Mom shared with a couple of other women to use the telephone. If he couldn’t find a date, he’d take the roommates out. Gradually it was just the two of them and he wasn’t interested in the telephone.

But they gave each other up, because they were too different. His course was set to go back to Brazil and she was not quite sure about that. They broke up, and she was miserable without him. Finally she took her miserable self and parked it in the lobby of his office building and waited, elevator after elevator, for him to come down. And at last he did. And they picked up again.

Hearing this story was one of the most tender moments with my mother after Dad died. I picture her, around the age my kids are now, choosing not be miserable.

Even though Mom signed on for living in Brazil and had a baby there, Dad was the one to decide they should return to the U.S. He landed an engineering job in Chicago that was the financial pillar of my childhood—and his entire career. Six more kids were born in a hospital in Oak Park, Illinois.

At Anniversary 17 I would have just turned 11, and I girlishly said, “Seventeen years! And have they all been wonderfully happy?”

“Most of them.” Mom reached past me to pull another garment from the laundry basket to fold and glanced at my latest baby sister on the living room floor.

What do you mean, most of them? I wanted to ask. Weren’t my parents happy? Was family trauma just around the corner?

Now I look back at that moment and see it as the first lesson in the realities of marriage. Not every moment, not even every year, is happy.

My happy, secure childhood continued. There are a few family stories that raise blood pressure in the retelling even now. But to me they are nothing compared to the evenings my parents washed dishes together and I could hear their murmured exchanges about what went on at the office from one parent and what went on at home from the other. Both were interested in both.

And seven kids managed to grow up into reasonably well adjusted adults who launched and married and began producing the next generation. Now the oldest great-grandchild is a high school senior and number 15, the youngest—so far—is preparing to be born and regale us all in October.

And all that would not have happened if my mother had not decided she was too miserable to be without the man from Brazil.

Rest in peace, Dad. We’re still remembering and celebrating both you and Mom.