Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lessons from an Eccentric

I can still remember riding in Marty’s parent’s big, grey Lincoln Town car that night. It was way back in the 20th century, the 70’s to be exact. It was a warm summer night in the panhandle of Texas and we were telling Marty’s parents, Arty and Jean, we were planning on getting married the following January. It was a horrifying, anxiety-ridden, sweat provoking experience for a young man who up till now had never accomplished or done anything of consequence. Marty and I were both still relative babes.

Marty’s Father, Arty, was this sort of John Wayne’sque, big, burly, rough, self-made, agricultural entrepreneur. The whole situation was completely intimidating for a long-haired do-nothing who really wanted to marry the man’s one and only baby daughter. My most fervent desire was to simply get past this entire conversation. We were in the back of this huge car, the west Texas night air still warm but cooling as the sun had set. Arty had the air conditioning in the car running full blast but I was still really hot. As I recall little beads of sweat were running down the middle of my back sticking my shirt to my back and my back to the leather of the back seat.

Marty’s Mom, Jean, was your pretty typical farmer’s wife, though not nearly as quiet and unassuming as she often pretended. Jean was a very passive-aggressive, independent woman and she was more than just a little bit of what we can politely call, eccentric. She could say and sometimes do the oddest things and woe unto the wait staff that didn’t keep her coffee cup filled. She had recently, at the insistence of Arty, quit smoking and she was forever chewing Nicorette gum and I think privately cursing Arty for putting her through this perpetual nicotine withdrawal. She was not a woman to be trifled with.

Just as we were going over a set of railroad tracks I sort of stumbled and blurted out that Marty and I wanted to get married; it’s funny what you remember and funny what you forget, I don’t remember my exact words but I remember slowing over the railroad tracks. Arty slowed the car just enough to gently roll over the tracks and kind of growled, “I’m not that surprised, I think that will be okay.” I remember feeling a small sense of relief. At least he let me stay in the car, when he slowed for the tracks I thought he might toss me on the pavement.

Arty growled and harrumphed a couple more times as we kept riding in the car toward Rita Blanca Lake, the only body of water within 100 miles. I figured I would be okay if he tried to drown me, the lake wasn’t that deep and I figured I could swim better than some old farmer.

Jean, who had been stone quite, finally turned and looked at Marty and I as we sat in the back seat. She sort of looked me up and down, then turned to Marty and speaking to both of us said, “That’s fine with me as long as you both say you can love and accept each other just as you are today, right now. You both need to know neither of you will ever change that much, you will not be able to change each other; you will not be able to fix each other. Can you say that?”

I was a bit stupefied. The person who was clearly the flakiest person in the car had very succinctly offered this very insightful, wonderfully simple advice; she intuitively provided the sage wisdom of one who has been there and known a successful and enduring marriage. Jean was clearly right, Jean was dead on, beyond making a commitment to get married, Marty and I had to make a commitment of acceptance of each other as we were right then, not what we dreamed we might become.

It was too simple, we couldn’t promise to love, honor and cherish until we died thinking, “oh I like most of her, and I can fix the rest over the years.” It just doesn’t work that way. We do grow, we do change, we do evolve, but as Jean said, we needed to be able to love and accept each other as were right then, at that moment because at our core, we are what we are and you can’t count on people changing to meet your ideas of perfection.

Me, I have always been full of advice, confident in my ignorance, borderline bombastic in my pontification. I do like to listen to myself expound from time-to-time. If I have said, “You need to” once I’ve said it a thousand times, I cringe every time I hear myself say it, but I know a lot of good stuff and other people need to listen.

I can honestly say the best advice I give, even when not asked, is what Jean told Marty and I so many years ago. That evening a reasonably frightened young man and his prospective bride heard wise words that we have tried to heed for over 30 years, because after all, as we change, as we evolve, we still need to accept who we are, right then.

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