(An anniversary celebration awaits. Photo by Irene Lo Scerbo)
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. — Romans 15:7 (ESV)
Replies, in. Caterers, booked. Banquet tables, set. I’d scrubbed and vacuumed, washed and dried, polished and pressed everything in sight over the last two weeks until the house beamed its own welcome. Next? Design 32 personalized place cards. Ah, how chic they would look against their backdrop of luxurious damask, so clean and white and crisp.
But I felt limp as a dishrag.
Enough of this rushing about in the heat of the day! I abandoned my anniversary party preparations and headed outdoors to relax with my daughter and her girlfriend who lay sunning themselves on the deck while their offspring roamed the property squirting each other with water guns. “What’s it like,” the friend asked, “living with one guy for forty years?” She said forty as if I’d reached the outer limits of a love-life gone stale. “Don’t you get bored listening to the same old man-stories again and again?”
Dearest daughter rolled her eyes, a sure sign that she and our near-perfect son-in-law had sung the all too familiar Ho-hum, Honeymoon’s over Blues. I was bursting to proclaim that husbands can mellow with age, and that sometimes the plural of spouse is indeed spice. Wild shrieking children and the relentless honking of a car alarm on the front driveway quickly robbed me of my big chance to calm their wifely fears.
I would have told the girls that my Tony has changed over the years — from a smoker to a non-smoker, from a non-swimmer to a swim-the-length-of-the-pool kind of guy, from an occasional buyer of lottery tickets to a Friday-night player of slots.
That last change worried me.
Then, two things happened: an earthquake shook the southern Italian city of l’Aquila near the home of Tony’s young niece; not long after, a tour bus (with Tony and me in it) crossed the border into the U.S. — to take its Canadian passengers gambling.
Upon hearing a newscast about the disaster overseas, I frantically emailed Maria-Stella to ask if la famiglia a Roma was all right. Thankful and relieved they were safe, I told her I’d pray for those families who had not been spared. In a later message I complained to her about Tony’s winning spree at the casino — found myself confessing to her that, though I’d spent most of my holiday poolside, I had, for a short period, foolishly played the machines and lost what little money I’d brought along. Maria-Stella emailed back in her best English, “Do not worry! Zio Antonio may be a big winner, but you, Zia Irene, are lucky in love.”
She was right. Forty years ago I bet everything I had — all or nothing — on the man I chose to marry. He was my one big gamble. And what a payoff! Tony’s been hard-working, generous, faithful and caring — even when I was too foolish to realize it. Our kids reassure me, saying, “You’ve got to understand, Mom — with Dad, life is pretty basic: what you see is what you get.” In fact, Tony’s no-nonsense approach to loving resembles that of Mother Teresa who said we must love each other, not necessarily the entire world. Our Maker created us to do small things with great love.
Tony gave me our first-born who, with his toothless, drooly smile, taught me that love keeps growing in its capacity to include an other besides my man. Soon, two baby others joined in — girl-flavoured with God-given grace. Our kids were the first best three things that ever happened to their dad and me, and years later, when, with the help of our sons-in-law, we became G-parents to three little G-bodies, I claimed as my own, the cliché lyrics from Dean Martin’s “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You.”
Our 40th anniversary celebration boldly reinforced the truths of that old song, not just because the event was a success in all the usual ways with its elegant meal service, background music, and guests a-plenty. To be roasted by your own daughters, now that’s unforgettable. I never laughed so hard in all my life — at myself, and at my husband — as we are seen through the eyes of those who love us and whom we love back, however inefficiently.
While our girls jokingly portrayed us as The Odd Couple, they kindly hinted that Tony and I had found the right person in each other, and that we try to be the right person for each other. They put it this way: “Mom, you two are like Rocky Balboa and Adrian — remember the movie? Rocky said, ‘She’s got gaps, I got gaps. Together, we fill gaps.’ ”
My sparring partner and I have put on the gloves — often. We’ve also done plenty of gap-filling, as have our cheerleading family and friends. For keeping us in the ring and supporting us, we thank them. For adding oomph to the grey predictability of our married life, we applaud them.
One of the worst diseases is to be nobody to anybody. Tony has been, and still is, everybody to me; I know I am his precious somebody. And if God so wills it, I look forward to loving and being loved by many bodies for another 40 years.
Lo Scerbo lives and writes her life from Winnipeg, the place she calls home — for now.