As the staff from the Iron Door rounded the corner, single candles flickered in two of the desserts they carried to our table.
There should have been 56, but how do you put that many candles on the scoop of vanilla ice cream that my dad had ordered or the apple crisp that my mom had selected?
My parents celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary last weekend, a feat that I truly admire and envy.
My daughter, who was celebrating her 26th birthday that evening, gave my parents an anniversary card with an inscription telling them that their relationship was an inspiration to her and her husband of two years.
My mom and dad would be the first to admit that it hasn’t always been easy. When I began dating, my mom shared the words of wisdom that her own mother had passed on to her: Marry a man who is 10 years older than you are. My grandmother told my mother that the man would already have “sowed his wild oats” and she “would always look young to him.” Mom was 19 when she married my 29-year-old dad. She listened to her mother.
My mom had her own words of wisdom: Sleep in a double bed. She reasoned that it was hard to stay angry with your spouse when you were lying that close together. She took her own advice and it apparently worked. (It also explains why my parents have six children, three of them arriving during their first three years of marriage.)
It may seem rather simplistic, but there is some logic to the idea. My mother said the problem with couples today is that they sleep in king-size beds. I wish I had listened to my mother.
But I think the key to my parents’ strong marriage isn’t their age difference or their bed, it is their selflessness. They put their children and the family unit first. Talk to my dad for more than a minute and he will tell you that.
“We have a good family,” he will say, with a smile and sometimes a tear. We do, because of him and my mom.
My dad, who will turn 85 this November, lives for his family. The only gift he ever wants (besides a good tool) is having all of us gathered under one roof. And, preferably, that we spend the night so he doesn’t worry about us driving home, even though we repeatedly point out that’s why cars have headlights.
Sometimes my dad just sits and smiles amid the chaos that six children and seven grandchildren can create when we all get together.
Meanwhile my mom is the driving force behind the gatherings — cooking up our favorite foods, creating magical holidays and serving as our biggest cheerleader. It isn’t easy to marry into this family, because her children can do no wrong.
On the surface, my parents might not seem to have much in common. My dad would rather stay home. He sees no need to go out to dinner when my mom is such a good cook. My mom, on the other hand, loves to dine out.
My dad is content to putter around their Graeagle and Napa homes, while my mom loves to travel.
My dad is a morning person, up at dawn. My mom goes to bed in the wee hours of the morning and likes to sleep in.
My dad watches the news three times a day and favors “Everybody Loves Raymond” and Westerns.
My mom is drawn to HGTV and reality series.
But they are united from 56 years of sharing the main thing that they have in common: their children.
Growing up, dad coached our sports teams. Our side yard became alternately a football field, a baseball diamond or a volleyball court depending on the season. There was a year-round basketball court. He came home from work at 5 and we had dinner at 5:30. Then it was family time, whether it was spent outside playing or gathered around the kitchen table doing homework.