The decaying envelope peeked innocently out from under a bundle of memories my mother had carried around the world. As the envelope crinkled and broke in my hand, I had no way of knowing that I was about to uncover a secret that had been kept for over 50 years -- a secret that my mother had kept until her death.
The greeting card that emerged was decorated by the image of a boy and a girl engaged in a loving kiss, their forms outlined by a heart-shaped frame. I started to place it with all the others going to the trash that day, and then my curiosity was ignited.
The girl, it appeared, had originally had blond hair but someone had colored over it with pencil -- turning the blond hair to black. Intrigued, I opened the card and found a message which only deepened the mystery. There, in my father's familiar scrawl, I read the words "Only wanted to let you know that I am not interested in blondes anymore, sweetheart".
To say I was stunned is an understatement; I held in my hand my father's confession to what appeared a very serious indiscretion. Taking the only course of action I knew, I called my uncle to get some answers.
It seems that during the winter before they were married, Dad had been caught flirting with the blond-haired waitress of a local diner. My mother had promptly cut off her relationship with my dad for two months. Then, somehow, my father had gotten Mom to forgive him. Evidently, the Valentine's card had been part of the forgiving process, and true love had prevailed.
This was the first of many little "lover's quarrels" that my Mom and Dad engaged in over the years. But on the day my father died, my mother still lost part of her soul and in the months that followed she suffered unimaginable agony, apparent to all who knew her.
Underneath the arguments and spats which my brothers and I witnessed was a bond of love which could not be broken in life or death. For the rest of her life, anytime I would remark that she should get out and meet new people, her brusque answer was "I was married to your father; that's all I need."
Soap operas and TV movies portray a belief that honesty and love cannot coexist; that one cannot be honest about personal viewpoint and keep romances going. It is significant to note that neither of these entertainments lasts more than two hours. That which attracts us to another person is often that which is in direct opposition to what we ourselves possess. We find this one fact embodied in such phrases as "variety is the spice of life" and "opposites attract."
I cannot count the number of times I have met couples who seemed totally at opposite ends of some political, social or personality scale, yet have been happily married for decades. The very differences of opinion which cause our minor altercations with each other are also the diversity which makes us value the company of that other person.
A great marriage is not two "perfect" people finding each other. It is two flawed humans realizing that they can create a beautiful existence in spite of their individual imperfections. Honesty, therefore, must be the turning point upon which relationships flourish or dwindle
If we allow our spouse to voice their opinion in an atmosphere of tolerance and open interest, the exchange can form one of the strongest ingredients of that unique adhesive we call love. But to deny that voice is failure to recognize the humanity of our partner; it is inviting a stagnant existence which neither will be able to tolerate for very long.
When I was a child, my mother would read me bedtime stories in which the prince and princess always rode off into the sunset to live a perfect marriage of romance, totally in agreement with each other throughout eternity. As an adult, I now recognize that storybook romance exists only in fairy tales because they are based not on reality, but a fairy-tale world. In the real world, we must recognize our differences and build relations on them or continuously search for that mythical creature which exists only in our dreams.
In the words of Alan Patrick Herbert, "The conception of two people living together for 25 years without having a cross word suggests a lack of spirit only to be admired in sheep."
(Dennis Jones is a Martinez resident.)
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