Built to last

Today, my parents are celebrating their 30th and 50th anniversary.

Yup, you read that right. 30th and 50th. And no, they weren’t divorced. Rather, this is a story of a partnership, and how two people can grow up, grow apart, and come back together.

The story begins with a blind date in mid-June of 1962. My mother’s best friend wanted to go on a date with her older boyfriend, and [perhaps wisely] said friend’s mother agreed only on the condition that she take my mother along…which meant my mother needed a date too. So the two girls went knocking on doors in the neighborhood–as you could apparently do in 1962. They knocked on one door, looking for their classmate Harry, but Harry’s mother answered the door instead. “No, Harry isn’t here, but our neighbor’s son, Ricky, is in the backyard fixing the lawnmower.” At their very first meeting, my dad was covered up to his elbows in lawnmower grease and jokingly stuck out his hand to shake my mother’s.

Their “blind” date (before which my father spent several hours scrubbing his hands clean) was the first of many to come. He showed up to her door with a handful of dandelions–he insists it was a joke; she thinks he just forgot to buy flowers–and from 1962 until shortly after my mom graduated college in 1969, they were like peas and carrots (to borrow Forrest Gump’s phrase.) She weathered the “Lake George test” – a generations-old way we Alexandersons have gauged whether our close friends and significant others could hack the lake lifestyle. The test has gotten significantly milder over the years, I understand. My poor mother had to contend with short-sheeted beds, frogs in her shoes, boat frisbee, putting up with the affectionate nickname “Dum Dum”, and going from zero to sailboat racing with minimal training and even less accuracy (for the longest time, she thought there was something called an “idiot wire” and a “jerk string” on a sailboat.)

My mom has always given me the advice: You cannot be truly happy in a partnership with someone else until you are ok being on your own. And in the early 70s, she followed her own advice. A few dance classes in college showed her that she wanted to be something more than an English teacher in Branchburg township. So she turned down said job, ended her relationship with my dad, and set off to New York City, where she had been accepted to Columbia University. She spent the next few years studying baroque and modern dance, studying, working as a secretary, and finding her way. My dad, in the meanwhile, finished his MBA, spent some time in the army, and started his own company, Voice Identification.

It is amazing how people grow apart and come back together again. In this case, my parents have a brown star boat named Vänta Här (wait here) and my mom’s younger brother to thank. When my dad and his friend, Tom, moved into a house in Mountainside and later bought a house in Plainfield, they took on a third roommate to help with the bills…that person happened to be my mom’s younger brother, Greg. While they were peripherally put in touch again through this new connection, my parents did not get back together immediately. One evening, my mother called the house offering Greg a ticket to her dance performance; he couldn’t go, but my dad did. Sometime after the performance (could have been hours, days…) my dad casually mentioned that he was contemplating buying a star boat and was looking for a crew. My mom agreed to crew, but only if she could get her own membership at the Lake George Club – the yacht club where four generations of Alexandersons have raced sailboats.

They turned out to be quite a team on the sailboat, and not long after, in 1982, decided to become a more official “team” – twenty years to the day after their first date. As Cathy Everett, a close family friend (I cannot possibly begin to describe how special she is to us), reminds me frequently, no two people were better suited for dealing with their little medical nightmare, yours truly. I cannot begin to describe how well those two worked together to keep me going that year; sorry to be sappy, but it definitely reminds me that I am one of the lucky ones.

So, happy 30th and 50th anniversary, Mom & Dad. May there be many more double-versaries in the future.