Bright eyes twinkling, an engineer and a schoolteacher who met at Purdue tied the knot fifty years ago. If one could hitch a ride with Doc Brown in the DeLorean and fill them in, I’m certain their young selves could not fathom what their lives would encounter. The beauty and joy they would relish. The tragedies and loss they would grieve. All they knew at that moment was that they were choosing to walk hand in hand. I bet they envisioned something simple and beautiful. While their journey hasn’t been straightforward, they intentionally surrounded themselves with beauty, and I believe that has made all the difference. Fifty years later, they remain side by side.
As you enter Rocky Mountain National Park, you’ll see my parents faces on the Visitor Center wall because a few years ago some park rangers decided they might as well be permanent fixtures. Sometimes they drive up the canyon roads to the park just to view the peaks and wildlife from the car. More commonly he fishes while she reads by a river or hikes. He ties flies on his line and reels in a rainbow, she admires columbine, talks to the chipmunks and scans for deer.
At Yellowstone, there’s an entire wall of the Old Faithful Inn highlighting my parent’s patronage. They’re the honorary second and third Old Faithfuls. My dad also earned an official Bison Disappointer medal, responsible for saving countless naive tourists from certain mauling. “This isn’t a zoo, folks. Don’t try to feed the buffalo. Get back in your car.” The frustrated bison always direct a deep snort Dad’s way.
I don’t think a year of my childhood passed without a trip to Yellowstone. If one did, they probably made up for it the next year by visiting twice! I easily averaged once a month to Rocky Mountain National Park. My brother, sister and I can spot wildlife like a doctor spots measles. Mom’s persistent, “Keep your eyes peeled, kids!” embedded deep urges to look for animals wherever we went. It’s now buried in our subconscious, with us forever.
When I reflect on what my parents have experienced during their shared five decades (the parts I’m aware of, at least), I am struck by their resilience. While their foundation of steady employment and stable finances rarely cracked, the winds certainly blew hard at their home. Sometimes at hurricane force. There have been tragic losses, and the gut-wrenching pain of watching parents get ill and pass. The loss of siblings, friends, friends’ children, children’s friends. Such forces either take a house down or the residents keep nailing up plywood, protecting themselves in the basement, storing up food. My parents are bad-ASS*. Their house might as well be a bomb shelter. (*My mom really loves that I wrote that even though she may not admit it.)
Thankfully, there have been countless celebratory, playful moments, too. Two times they received the amazing phone call that they were going to be adoptive parents and finally got to bring home the babies they’d desired for years. I remember a house filled with (what now I imagine was drunken) laughter and goofy lobster hats on my mom’s 40th birthday, especially as the lobsters were placed into the pot. I’m pretty certain there was head-banging at their 25th anniversary party from a certain Member-of-the-Pair-Who-Refuses-to-Dance. There were decades of holidays filled with uninhibited merriment coming from the mysterious Adult Table beyond the wall, while the kids sat at the Kids’ Table hanging spoons off their noses and shooting peas out of their noses (well, that part didn’t last decades). There were birthday dinners overflowing with The Broker shrimp, orders of fill-ette mig-non, fettucini alfredo and cherries jubilee.
Ultimately, though, my parents aren’t lavish. They are quite content with simplicity. They live quietly, with integrity, and are quick to lend a hand. Dad loves to woodwork, building beautiful furniture. Mom loves to garden, creating gorgeous flower beds. They take walks together to visit the owls that live in a nearby park. They hike. They vacation at national parks, eating sandwiches from their cooler along the way. The rhythm of their life lends to a different kind of celebration, one that I fully respect. Today they are together in the mountains and I think it’s a perfect fit.
Some build marriages around roses and chocolates. My parents built theirs around wildflowers and rivers. In so many ways, the mountains hold them together. They wander and admire together. They know the secluded paths of the parks, the most stunning waterfalls, the favorite animal hangouts, the prime fishing holes, the wildflowers by name. I am thankful they have Rocky Mountain refuges, places that have allowed them both to escape the winds and to nourish their friendship.
Happy 50th Anniversary, Mom and Dad! May your remaining years together continue to be filled with browns, rainbows, elephants ears, lupine, elk, moose and bison. And a hearty dose of silly rabbits ears, too.