I have really been married about four times. My first marriage happened mostly in a three floor walk up in Lafayette Park in St Louis. I lived there on Park Ave with my husband and our little boy in a wild and woolly city life. We went to every park with a slide or a pond that the City had on offer. We found ice cream stands in neighborhoods north to south. We ate breakfast at Shoney’s where Benjamin brought his little bear and we left more food on the floor than in any body’s stomach. We had big parties with Frank on his sax and Lee on the guitar. We met the guys when we were dating during those hot sexy days at the Oyster Bar where we’d gone every Saturday for blues and food from the Bayou. Once we traded them my old flute to play at one of our legendary parties. They were glad for the barter and spent the night and we all became friends who sang Papa’s on the Housetop to each other over Saturday’s French Toast. We were broke but happy. The three of us that made up our little family could while away a whole Saturday at Union Station on ten bucks. We’d watch the fudge guys sing and dance and put on their fudge show. They gave us enough free samples to make our teethe ache. And we’d play in the train store where one of us dreamed of being a conductor and the other two were along for the ride. It was a short marriage held together with left over flowers from the florist next door and a Panama hat from Marge at the Union Square kiosk.
But it wasn’t meant to last. Before long I was ensconced in marriage number two with a sexy guy who got on a bus every morning and left his wife and two kids behind to make bird feeders out of pine cones and peanut butter. We had just one car and even less money than before. We dug around in old purses for change for the dollar movie night and ate casseroles for supper with homemade popsicles for dessert. This old house was in a little town with schools said to be good, and there was a library just a couple of blocks away with free concerts in the summer. Our house was filled with books on homemade shelves and we read and caught fireflies before bed in July. We played at LeCalire Park where we fed the ducks our stale breads and popcorn and ate picnics on the quilt we carried from home. The daddy chased after the big one and coached him and his friends to winning season after winning season in soccer. He carried the little girl always wrapped in every pink ever made in her bike seat all around the county. Our windowsills were lined with pots of seeds and in summer our yard bloomed pink and orange and red and yellow. It was a riot of color haphazardly planted where either the little boy or baby girl picked the place.
We made love in a bed where kids piled on, but we fitted each other in and around. We also had Sophie and Molly and Emma and Henry, cats and dogs who we loved and who always loved us back, smack in the middle of that big bed surrounded with quilts hung like a sultan for a sweet cozy, almost or sometime, privacy.
Stuart came in those years too, and back then was the wild terrier who never saw an open door that didn’t entice him to run. That marriage was punctuated by annual vacations where we’d pile into the car with food and clothes and toys and drive 18 hours to their first beach we came to. Our daughter’s first word was beach and our little boy looked like a dolphin playing for hours in the surf. We bought groceries and ate yogurt and nuts next to cheese sandwiches, cereal and fruit, grabbing hand fulls of food between trips to the beach. We were sunny and happy and our kids were having childhoods raised on love. Pretty soon we were making better money and the schools stopped looking so good. We commuted with our big kids to St Louis for school and work. We found a hippy little rich kid school and scraped together the money to pay the tuition while we all lived in that cozy two bedroom one bathroom house. It was plenty worth it because our kids had lofts and couches in their classrooms with teachers who aimed for success with love and creativity. If we could have had our childhoods over it would have been there. We were pleased and proud.
Of course everything wasn’t always perfect. We could make up problems as well as the next guy, but whatever came along, we solved together. We were always on the same side. We believed in the power of our love and our marriage and saw the rubs that came our way as the blips and the goodness as the real stuff that mattered. ‘Over the course of a fifty year marriage this will have been a blip’, John said to me one sad day. I have carried that in my hip pocket ever since.
Before long there was a third baby. This little guy barely remembers that time in that loud little house with the sand box and tree house out back. It was our second life on a Park Street, That little baby boy though was already being carted on airplanes and learning about being a baby in offices all over the US. Mommy took him to work, because her old sunny life, with the guy who got on the bus was already fading. Business were bought and grown and sold. The parents were growing up along with the schools and so like the first marriage, this one was not made for life. It lasted ten sweet years before everyone packed up a truck one December and headed out for Marriage Number Three.
This time we all lived in a house on a broad fancy boulevard with a park right smack in the middle. (Apparently our lives were always defined by one park or another.) We had Easter Egg hunts in this one and ate Thai food around the corner and the biggest business we’d owned yet had its warehouse just a few blocks away. We got Eloise and were the only people we knew with a Berner to love. We were back to a city life in an old three story Victorian where jazz bands played at our parties and kids streamed in and out. These years there were more good schools and boards and elaborate vacations that lasted for weeks. We still found beaches, tropical. New England, and even European. Our finances had improved and we were the hip family of five who had Sunday brunch at sidewalk cafes around the city. We spent our evenings at basketball and soccer. And summers were spent by the pool with milkshakes and fries brought to the table by college servers who liked getting tan and diving in on their breaks. We loved these lives. The kids had great schools and the money was good. We had friends who read interesting books and could talk about politics instead of each other. This house was a beauty with walnut and oak. The boxed beams were mahogany and the built in bookshelves were filled with Gilchrist and Geoffery Rush. We read and hopped in our hot tub on cold winter nights and wondered about whatever might just come next. It was only five years though before the trips made us wonder. After every vacation we’d start planning another. The drive from the airport was always sad and depleting. There were Meineke Muffler shops next to the Thai and our kids were becoming mall rats in spite of ourselves. Even the parents were spending on silly Yurman and Ferragamo. This was not the life of the mind and soul we’d intended to teach. Our minds were all right but our souls had gone shopping.
So we began our fourth marriage in the Green Mountains of Vermont. We didn’t need a park since we were living in the original. Now instead of Thai or brunch in a cafe, we had croissants with our chickens on our own stone terrace beneath sunny blue skies handmade by God. The house was a restored old farmhouse with four glorious old porches. There was one just for the mom and her teenage girl. They sunned on the balcony with nail polish and magazines and talked about boys and learned about love. There was another made for parties and one night it held a concession stand filled with Dots and Snow Caps while Jurassic Park played on a sheet on the side of the house. Now the kids were almost grown and the talk was of love and careers. Our vacations were quick trips to the city for Christmas movies and ornaments, and longer weeks at the beach now just four hours away. Instead of the mall we walked by waterfalls and raised chickens. There were more good schools and now college was included. There were more Boards and always more books. And the little boy and little girl now all grown up even shared a summer job a a beach. They brought back friends and so did the adults. The youngest boy lived outside like a little Tom Sawyer. He learned the woods instead of the malls. Big friendships were made and the joy just continued. There was a hardship this time. Some worries added up up but the family stuck fast. These people hung together and had Christmas at home. Living in this beautiful place was not always like being on vacation, but even in the hard times it was close enough. The beauty was free and our pleasures piled up.
Six years and counting on this fourth marriage so far. We have sweet middle aged heat and I am still in love with this man I have married four times. Our love has created all this other love which ripples out from the marriage. And isn’t that after all the point? Isn’t love the reason for this whole other shebang? His are the feet I turn to at night and he is the one I always call when I know something funny. I don’t know what will come next, but one thing I know for sure. John is the Valentine I will always think of when hearts show up in the grocery stores and February 14th will always make me glad he is mine….