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A Delayed Greeting Card Opened Her Eyes to the Blessings of Marriage

Why was she so let down by her 41st wedding anniversary?

Pat Dyson and husband Jeff; photo by Robert Seale
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I woke up smiling. On this day, 41 years ago, my husband, Jeff, and I promised to love and cherish each other till death do us part. It was our forty-first wedding anniversary!

Who could forget our wonderful fortieth anniversary celebration last year? The fortieth is the ruby anniversary. Our four children and eight grandchildren gathered at our favorite Italian restaurant. Delicious food, funny and affectionate toasts, a scrumptious cake. Jeff gave me a ruby drop necklace. Just magical.

This morning, I reached for my sweet man to give him an anniversary kiss. He was already out of bed. I smelled coffee. Of course! He was bringing me coffee in bed. I settled back on the pillows and waited.

And waited.

I heard kitchen noises, but they didn’t sound like a china cup and saucer being arranged on a tray next to a croissant and a vase containing a single red rosebud.

I got up and went to the kitchen, just in time for Jeff to brush past me, giving me a quick kiss that landed somewhere between my nose and my eye.

“Gotta run, babe. Big project. Might be late tonight. Happy anniversary!”

With that, my man headed for the other love of his life—his hardware business. Our family owned a regional hardware chain. Our son ran the business now, but Jeff still went to work every day.

I suppose I should be grateful he remembered our anniversary at all. Celebrations were not Jeff’s strong suit. He splurged when it counted, like that ruby necklace. Most of the time, he was a hardware man.

Besides, who cared about a forty-first anniversary? A totally unremarkable number. I poured myself a cup of (now cold) coffee and idly googled “forty-first wedding anniversary.”

That was a mistake. There was no official symbol. Some people said it was land…as in reserving a burial plot?

There was no traditional gift, no flower, no official color. Suggestions for celebrating included “downsizing your home” and “planning for retirement.” Really?

I consoled myself by thinking of past anniversaries. Our tenth anniversary (tin), we were chasing toddlers, changing diapers. We celebrated by reheating cold pizza in tinfoil.

Ten years later, Jeff borrowed a motorboat and took me on a river cruise, complete with picnic lunch. We spent the night at a hotel on the water, and Jeff gave me a pair of earrings with emeralds—the gemstone for twentieth anniversaries.

For our pearl anniversary (30), we returned to San Antonio, where we’d spent our honeymoon. We stayed in the same hotel and ate at the same restaurant where we’d eaten our first meal together as man and wife. Once again, Jeff went all out on a gift, a strand of cultured pearls.

I resigned myself to nothing special at all happening on this anniversary. I answered emails and organized items for an upcoming church garage sale. I kept my phone nearby in case one of the kids or someone else called to say congratulations.

No one did. I couldn’t blame them. Like I said, who cares about a forty-first anniversary?

Jeff and I were married on June 14, 1981. That whole first year, Jeff and I gave each other a gift on the fourteenth of each month. So romantic! That stopped when the babies arrived.

I thought about the decades that followed. The joys of family life but also the hardships. Our third child, Blake, died of meningitis when he was three years old. The pain of that loss never went away. Just a few years ago, it was compounded when our daughter-in-law Erin had complications during childbirth and our grandson Welles was stillborn.

Owning a business is hard. Jeff worked constantly, and money was always an issue. We didn’t take expensive vacations or indulge in big purchases. We made our own fun here in our suburban neighborhood.

We nursed parents through old age. Wrangled two teen boys and two teen girls. There were plenty of times when we felt like yoked mules, just trudging along. We had our faith, and we had each other. That sustained us.

Maybe the time for wedding anniversary celebrations was behind Jeff and me. The fortieth was wonderful, and it was up to the good Lord whether we made it to 50. Probably I should let it go.

I went out to fetch the mail, still hoping at the back of my mind that someone had sent us a card.

There was a card! It was from a dear friend in West Virginia. I decided to wait till Jeff got home to open it.

Jeff dragged in the door after dark, tired after a long day. I hadn’t come up with dinner yet, so we sat down and opened the card.

It was beautiful. On the front was a picture of a gift box bursting with flowers, a bottle of champagne and two heart-shaped balloons. Inside was an intricate pop-up of a vintage bicycle, loaded with more flowers and heart balloons.

“Thinking of you!” my friend had written inside.

“I love it,” said Jeff. “Our first date was on bicycles, remember?”

“We rode to Federico’s for Mexican food,” I said. “I thought there would be mariachi music. Instead, Manuel serenaded us with ‘Me and Bobby McGee.’”

“And I bought you a rose,” said Jeff.

“We rode back to my house, and you sat in the yellow rocker and told me your life story. Then I told you mine.”

“That did it for me,” said Jeff. “I was in love.”

“Took me a little longer,” I joked.

“Federico’s closed a long time ago, didn’t it?” Jeff mused.

“I think it’s a laundromat now.”

“Wish we could relive that first date,” said Jeff.

“We can still go out for Mexican food,” I said.

Elena’s, one of our favorites, was packed. We waited 15 minutes before getting a table—by the bathrooms. Crowd chatter was so loud, we could barely hear each other. And no candle in sight.

Jeff reached across the table for my hand, and our eyes met. Just magical.

“What’s been the best part of these past 41 years?” I asked.

“Your cooking,” said Jeff, and we laughed. I’m a terrible cook.

“Your turn,” he said.

“Your predictability,” I answered more seriously. “You’re always the same. I never have to wonder about your mood or how you will be.”

“Sounds dull,” said Jeff.

“The opposite,” I said. “You’re steadfast. I can always count on you, no matter what.”

“I got you a card, but I didn’t get a chance to write in it yet,” said Jeff.

“Same here,” I said. “I was feeling let down that this year’s not special like last year.”

“Feels pretty special to me,” Jeff said. “I can’t imagine living these last 41 years with anyone but you.”

Those words, and everything they represented, were the gift I had been waiting for. God had blessed Jeff and me with a good life together. Our marriage itself was the celebration.

The next day, I called up my friend to thank her for the lovely anniversary card that she’d sent.

“Anniversary card?” she said. “It was just a ‘thinking of you’ card. You know how I like to send cards. I mailed it weeks ago. It must have gotten lost.”

“Lost?” I said. “Nope. It arrived right on time.”

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