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They Renewed Their Vows for Their 40th Anniversary

He wanted a small celebration; she had other ideas. Shouldn’t they have resolved all their differences by now?

Mike and Peggy Frezon; photo courtesy Peggy Frezon
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My husband and I roamed the party store. Well, I roamed, lingering over glitzy garlands and balloons of every shape. Mike made a beeline for the paper goods. “Don’t forget, we’re only here to look for dessert plates and napkins,” he said.

A large cardboard 40 caught my eye. It was plain white. Sophisticated. “Wouldn’t this look nice beside the table?” I asked.

Mike made a face. “Yikes!” he said.

What was the big deal? I hadn’t even suggested the glittery one.

A few months earlier, I’d brought up the idea of a vow renewal to mark our fortieth anniversary. To my surprise, Mike was on board. He hated any fuss, but we both agreed that our long, happy marriage deserved to be honored. “Something small,” he’d immediately added. “Just the people at church.” We belonged to a tight-knit home church.

“And the kids…” I’d said. That meant grandkids too. And our mothers.

A few days later, I’d suggested inviting a few friends. “Merry and Russell. Steve and Sharon. Wouldn’t it be nice to include them? And Cathy and…”

“I thought we were going to keep it small,” Mike said, frowning.

“That’s what you thought,” I muttered under my breath. Every one of our 39 anniversary celebrations had been small and simple. A bouquet, a special dinner out. Just this once, wouldn’t it be fun to go big?

Mike and I had met at Syracuse University and married right out of college. Our wedding, at my hometown church, was followed by a low-key reception at a small banquet hall. Looking back, I wished we’d included more personal touches. But we were the first of our friends to get married and had no idea how to plan a wedding. Mike had left the details up to me.

One thing Mike cared about was our vows. He was adamant that we say, “I pledge thee my troth” and “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” I’d never heard those words before. What the heck was a troth anyway? But, okay, if it meant that much to him.

Mike and I didn’t have much money, but we were happy. I was an academic test writer for the SATs. He was the news director of a radio station. In our free time, we walked our dog and cuddled up to solve the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. Four years later, we started our family—a daughter, then a son.

Now our kids were grown. Mike was retired, and I wrote freelance. We still did everything together.

We left the party store with navy blue dessert plates and napkins, each adorned with the word love in rose gold. Was serving cake enough? “What would you think about serving lunch too?” I asked Mike. “We could have quiche. Or wraps. Maybe some music. We could string little white lights.” My imagination took off with romantic details. But with each idea, Mike’s brow furrowed deeper. I stopped mid-sentence. “What?”

“What happened to simple?”

I didn’t say what I was thinking: I’m sick of simple. Here we were, planning an event to celebrate four decades of wedded bliss, but suddenly our expectations seemed miles apart.

Really, I knew Mike and I had different ways of handling things. I liked to talk things through—repeatedly; he liked to think things through on his own. I liked hustle and bustle. One summer, I had wanted each of our kids to invite a friend along for our vacation to the lake. Mike had squashed that idea; he wanted peace and quiet.

We’d also come to our faith in different ways. It took me a while: I studied, analyzed, pored over books. Mike found his faith in one bold instant. He still lived that way, no worrying, no second-guessing, no overanalyzing.

Shouldn’t we have resolved all these differences by now? I wondered. Shouldn’t we be more like Mike’s parents? They’d been my model for a perfect married couple—together for 62 years, a tight unit acting in accord.

That night our church leader called. “Tim wants to know what kind of vows we want,” Mike said.

Another decision. Could we agree? I said a silent prayer and sat on the sofa beside Mike. God, help us plan a meaningful celebration of the marriage that you’ve blessed us with.

Mike looked up vow renewal wording and read a few examples out loud. Contemporary? Personalized? Poetic?

“Traditional.” We both said at once. Now that wasn’t so hard.

Mike typed the words we preferred into an email for Tim. “To have and to hold from this day forward. For better or worse…”

There had been plenty of “for better.” Our children, vacations on the lake, playing with our grandchildren. There’d been “for worse” too. Saying goodbye to beloved pets. Losing jobs. Losing parents.

And what about all the in-between days? I thought about how we solved crossword puzzles. Mike was the master of pop culture and history, while I knew literature and biology. Together we were unstoppable. Our differences actually balanced each other out.

“For richer, for poorer,” Mike typed.

“I guess we’re still waiting for our richer days to come,” I said with a smile. “But I remember our poorer. That tiny one-room apartment in Albany. The secondhand table with the wobbly leg.”

“Our old blue car with the engine that blew up,” Mike said.

It wasn’t our differences that mattered; it was our compromises. To replace that clunker, I wanted something with a sportier look. Mike wanted a dependable model. We settled on a Subaru wagon. We had so many adventures in that car.

Mike returned to his email. “For sickness, for health.”

The sicknesses had shaken us. Seven years earlier, Mike had episodes of blood clots in his lungs. One time, he was on a ventilator for weeks; I sat at his bedside every day. Once, when I came to his hospital room, he wasn’t there. He’d left this note: “They’re taking me for a test. I’m not sure where I’m going, but wherever I am, I’ll be thinking of you.” I still had that note.

“What about ‘I pledge thee my troth?’” I asked, ready to compromise.

“Nah,” he said. “I think we can do without it this time.”

“What would your parents have done?” I asked.

“Mom talked about everything, and Dad was so quiet. They had their moments too,” Mike said. His parents weren’t perfect. Neither were we—just perfect for each other.

Mike typed the last line. “To love and to cherish ’til death do us part.” He took my hand in his.

We kept the guest list small. No glittery 40, no balloons. I arranged a few mason jars of wildflowers. Our daughter took care of the cake and found just the right topper—plain wooden figures of a man and woman with two golden retrievers.

The service was brief; every word, meaningful. I welled up with tears as I held hands with Mike. “I do,” we said, beaming at our loved ones.

Just as we leaned in for a kiss, a confetti cannon popped. Bits of colorful tissue paper sprinkled around us like little blessings. We laughed. Even after 40 years, there can still be a few happy surprises in any good marriage.

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