What Does Love Look Like?

The old barn had never been so festive. It was filled with decorated tables and little accent lights. Adorning the walls were country decor and standing below the art stood the caterers ready to serve the guests at their appointed time. But right now the center of attention rested solely on the beautiful bride slowly walking down the aisle with her daddy. As they drew near the rustic stage, the groom stepped down and took her hand in his. But not before the father kissed his daughter on the cheek as if to say to the nervous groom, “I’m releasing her to you.” It was the final moment a father and daughter would share the same last name. It had been Frey for 25 years but today, the bride would become a Harrison.

The young woman who now stood before me was like a second daughter to my wife and me. She is the best friend of our own daughter and early on had asked me to perform her wedding one day. That day had finally arrived this Memorial Day weekend.

The best part of performing a wedding ceremony is you get the best seat in the house, literally. You see what the groom sees; a breathtaking bride radiating confidence, excitement, and adoring love. Sometimes I feel embarrassed that I am imposing on such a sacred an intimate moment. As if this pairing of hearts would best be viewed from a distance with a shaft of filtered light casting its glow only on them. An audience of two just for God.

Yet as I looked upon the bride, I saw love at it’s finest. There was no hesitation with the vows, each promised to be faithful through sickness and health, good and bad. I have performed countless weddings, but this one gave me great confidence. I know it will last. They came to this little country barn prepared. They carried three things in their heart: God, love, and trust. The three strands that makes any relationship strong and lasting.

I kept my message brief but offered this counsel. Never stop dating each other, always make each other laugh at least once a day, and always strive to affirm and respect each other daily.

I wish you could have been where I stood Sunday. For I was in the presence of God. In a little barn in central Tennessee a couple pledged their undying love to each other in front of family and friends. My eyes conveyed what my heart could not. I shed a few tears because for a brief moment, everything in the world was alright and I’d forgotten what that felt like. No wonder my heart was happy.

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Please Dress Me

This week I am performing a wedding. Tennessee state law says before a couple weds, they’re encouraged to seek a minimum of four hours of premarital counseling. Four hours of counseling to prepare you for marriage? That’s like watching four epsiodes of Perry Mason then thinking your’re fully prepared to take the bar exam.

Despite 31 years of marriage, my wife doesn’t believe I’m capable of dressing myself. I have learned that for every year of marriage,a wife develops the notion that her man is either a helpless child or a simpleton. Men, when was the last time your wife came out of the walk-in closet and you said, “Oh no, that won’t do, go back in and change into another shirt, it’s the wrong color?” No man would ever dare to make such a statement, unless they were prepared to nap with Fido in the backyard.

Yet the other day I came out of the same closet, and my wife told me, “No, wrong color, go back in and change into the other shirt!” In a separate incident, as I was dressing, she started to button the very shirt I was putting on. It was at this point I felt like standing on a chair, raising my hands in the air, and exclaiming like any four year old would, “SO BIG NOW!”

Marriage books don’t teach you these kind of evolutionary things. The mother-son relationship evolves over the years until one day you realize your wife has slowly become your kindergarten teacher.

Don’t believe me, how often do you start a sentence with, “Honey can I…?” “Would you mind if I….”
A man stood at the pearly gates of heaven and on each side of the entrance was a sign. One said, “For all the men who have been ruled by their wive’s.” The line stretched into infinity through the clouds. The other sign stated, “For all the men who have ruled their wive’s.” One man stood alone in line. St Peter walks up to the gentleman and inquires, “Sir, why are you in this line?” To which the lone man responds, “I don’t know, my wife told me too!”

This week I’m going to become the man of the house again. I am going to stake my claim. I have resolve. Of course it’s only if my wife says I can.

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The Good Old Days, Weren’t They Horrible

As I visit my children in their homes, I get flashbacks to when my wife and I were just getting started in life. It’s only human nature to reflect on the past and wipe away the worst of times and replace it only with happy thoughts. I can’t be fooled.

As I played with my granddaughter recently, she smelled of lavender and baby powder, but I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. Babies don’t always smell so minty fresh. I recall early on in our marriage when we were having difficulty balancing our check book. We trotted down to the bank with our newborn son in our arms and met with a bank official. My wife had just fed our son a bottle of milk, apparently the size of Mt. Rushmore according to what happened next. For moments after placing him in my arms, he became the equivalent of a spewing fire hose.

Down the inside of my shirt filling my pockets and even making its’ entry into my jockeys, the lava flow of milk ran unabated. I had now been fully baptized with a combination milk and cottage cheese mixture and I was no where near a bathroom. In fact I was followed out to the car by 28 cats thinking I was their meal ticket.

It was this thought in mind when my wife cooed over how precious and delightful our granddaughter was as she played at her feet. I saw that nostalgic moment creeping in and I was having none of it. As much as I love our new bundle of joy, I cannot be lulled into nostalgia. I love handing them back when mishaps (nature and otherwise) occur.

Some time ago we lost our beloved dog Goldie and my wife has been opining for another. But I remember the whole experience. Between the licks and the barking I recall the interminable walks in the cold rain. It was on these jaunts where Goldie would spent eternity looking for the one pine needle she failed to christen on our last endeavor three hours before. Or the times I was tempted to change her name to Egypt because she left a pyramid in every room.

No I’m far wiser now. While sitting in the living room the other day my wife became wistful and sentimental. She said I miss reaching down beside me and patting her fur as she slept by my feet. I simply responded, “Why don’t you just skip shaving your right leg for a month and then you can pet all the fur all you want. The good news is you don’t shed and you can stay in on rainy days.”

We have marriage counseling scheduled next Thursday or I think that’s what she said. I wonder if our counselor will be the nostalgic type too?

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Retracing My Life’s Footprints

My trip home this past week took me to two significant places earlier in my life. The first I had only visited twice in the past twenty-five years; the area was hallowed ground. It was the final resting place of my maternal grandparents in Methuen, Massachusetts. I remember well the first time I had visited here, it was when we all had laid to rest my Italian grandfather, Anthony.

He was a lover of the outdoors. He spent the majority of his life laboring in an iron foundry. Working out in the yard even if it was 90 degrees was refreshing to him. Later in life when his health kept him from doing his beloved yard work, he’d sit at the porch window and frequently rap the window with his cane. He was a bird lover, but he hated it when they did their business on the window sills of the porch. There was nothing worse, at least he thought, than to see bird droppings all over the window casings by the bordering hedge. More than once we’d find him yelling at the window and scaring those pesky birds with his loud tapping on the window panes.

After his passing in December 1990, we had a granite marker engraved with his name on it. It was to be delivered and set in it’s customary place four months later in the coming Spring. My mother and grandmother were most anxious to visit and make sure the spelling was correct. After all, his last name Lumenello we’d seen spelled incorrectly over and over before.

I learned a truth from his passing, you can still find a bit of whimsy and humor in just about anything; even a cemetery. It was the first visit since the funeral by my mother and grandmother. My mom had gotten out of the car first and approached his headstone before my grandmother. As she stood looking at it, all she could exclaim was, “Good Lord!” My grandmother who walked a little slower yelled to her, “What? Did they spell his name wrong?” To which my mother answered back, “No, wait till you see this!”

As they stood at the foot of the marker they were stunned. Despite hundreds of other tombstones from which to choose, the birds had chosen just one to bombard; my grandfather’s. The tombstone was so marked with bird droppings, you could barely read his name. It looked as if someone had poured out a can of white and gray paint all over it. The birds had exacted their final revenge, apparently for his incessant tapping on the porch window the last few years of his life. My mother and grandmother got a fit of laughing in an otherwise dreary day. I believe my grandfather would have found it just as amusing as they did.

Now leaving the cemetery behind us, my parents and I traveled north into the White Mountains. We traveled through the town of Gorham and eventually found ourselves arriving at an old country road in the Shelburne Birches. As we made a left off Route 2 and entered the North Road, it looked almost the same except for a few subtle changes. All around me I could see the remnants of my childhood. Behind me was a vacant field that once housed seven homes for the employees of the Portland Pipeline. The pipeline was a vital conduit in getting crude oil from ships in Portland Maine’s harbor to refineries in Quebec, Canada. My paternal grandfather was foreman for the company. Now looking at the empty expanse of land where my grandparents house once stood, I was left alone in my thoughts.

It was the street in front of their house where I rode bikes with my cousins forty years ago. The ancient stone house, the only original structure still standing at the corner of the field was surprisingly restored and now was for sale. The corner of North Road and Route 2 also bore memories of the worse kind. For it was here at this spot that my grandmother and a neighbor friend were killed in a car accident as they were coming home from Christmas shopping.

I then drove about a mile down the road past my grandparents stone house. It remains the only home in the county built exclusively from river stones from the bank of the Androscoggin River. My grandfather took pride in his handwork bragging it was built to be fire proof. I had no doubt. Now empty and vacant, the unkempt home left me feeling the same way, empty. The days trip ended the way the previous day’s events began, at a cemetery.

As I stood at my grandparent’s grave site I marveled that if they were alive today, they’d be over 106 years old. It seemed only yesterday I had them in my life. The trip home to Tennessee gave me much to think about. I’ve taken a few moments to reflect on how fast time really has gone by. Though I want to see the humor in everything, some things are plainly sobering. American Poet John Godfrey Saxe penned these words in the late 1800’s that sums up my feelings from this trip to my boyhood home:

“I’m growing fonder of my staff; I’m growing dimmer in my eyes;
I’m growing fainter in my laugh; I’m growing deeper in my sighs;
I’m growing careless of my dress; I’m growing frugal of my gold;
I’m growing wise; I’m growing–yes,–I’m growing old.”

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