A few days before the twenty-fifth anniversary of our first date I told Beth, “I made a horrible mistake with your presents.”
“Did you get someone else’s name engraved on them?” Beth asked.
“Not that bad,” I admitted.
It was at the bookstore in Rehoboth where I was looking for an anniversary card that I realized my mistake. I’d picked gifts on a gold theme—a gold West Virginia University t-shirt, yellow or golden foods from a gourmet catalog (virgin olive oil, sun-dried garlic spread, artisan cheddar cheese, dulce de leche sauce, and tupelo honey). Then I made a play list called “25 Songs for 25 Years.” The last three songs had the word “gold” or “golden” in the titles. I was about to pluck the card with the golden Buddha off the rack, thinking it was the perfect card to tie everything together, when I saw another card below it with the word “LOVE” in silver letters and I remembered… twenty-five isn’t the golden anniversary, that’s fifty. Twenty-five is silver. I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach but except for the play list, it was too late to change anything. Everything was ordered and we were getting home from the beach the day before our anniversary.
The gifts weren’t bad in themselves. Beth is a loyal West Virginian and also a big fan of good olive oil, cheese and garlic. If I’d made selections without regard to color, however, there would have been some chocolate among the sweets. The tupelo honey was a sentimental pick because early in our relationship, I left a cassette tape of Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey on the dashboard of a hot car and it warped. Beth unscrewed it to extract the loop of tape and enclosed it in a new case. The tape played as good as new and it was around then I started to think she might be a keeper.
So I put “Tupelo Honey” (along with “I Love You More than Cheese”– a song from one of the kids’ CDs) on the play list. When we got home from the beach I edited the gold songs out of the play list. I’d hoped to replace them with at least one song with silver in the title, but I all I could find in our music library was Christmas music (“Silver Bells, “Silver and Gold,” etc.) plus a song that was too downbeat to include, so I abandoned the silver theme all together. I felt bad about the whole mix-up as I’ve been giving anniversary gifts based on the traditional materials every since our fourth anniversary when I did years one to four all together and then proposed. If you know me, you know I do like ceremony and tradition.
Beth praised me for being flexible and not sending everything back, but I have not actually let go as much as she thinks I have. I’m thinking of shifting the whole time line four and a half years forward and having a silver do-over on the twenty-fifth anniversary of our commitment ceremony. They are supposed to be wedding anniversary presents anyway. I kind of jumped the gun when I got started. Meanwhile, I wrote on the card she should consider these presents a down payment on her fiftieth anniversary presents.
Interestingly, though I’m usually the one giving traditional anniversary gifts, Beth had considered getting me something made of silver. But as neither of us is much for jewelry or expensive decorative items, she abandoned the idea. (I’d gone through a similar thought process with gold before buying the gifts I did.) Instead she got me a very cool photograph that has been transferred to paint and canvas. It’s of the Rehoboth boardwalk covered in snow. There’s a single woman with an umbrella walking toward the beach. She said it reminded her of me, heading to the beach in all conditions. Except for spots of dark blue and orange in the woman’s clothes, her umbrella and the iconic Dolles candy store sign, the image is all whites and silvery grays and blue-grays— the snow, the overcast sky, the roofs and trim on the buildings. The frame is gray, too.
We had no particular plans for the day, other than exchanging gifts and the usual post-vacation laundry, grocery shopping, etc. The timing of the anniversary, coming right after a trip, was less than ideal. We’d considered going away for a weekend later in the summer or even the fall, but plans never got off the ground. Then I remembered that blueberry season was close to over and we had not gone berry picking yet this summer. I ran the idea past Beth and we decided it could be a fun family outing.
So that afternoon after a lunch consisting largely of farmers’ market produce, including my first really perfect peach of the summer, we headed out for the blueberry and blackberry fields at Butler’s Orchard (http://www.butlersorchard.com/). The web site warned of “sparse” blueberries, but we found all we needed and they were perfectly ripe—big, powdery blue and tasty. The blackberries were big, too, and dark, and sweet-tart and juicy. It was nice to be outside, even on a hot day. We went to the flower field and cut fresh flowers for two bouquets (each of the children made one) and we stopped by the farm store for cookies, caramel corn, pasta and strawberry-lemonade slushies.
That evening, Beth made barbequed tofu and fried okra for dinner, which Noah proclaimed “iconic and exemplary.” June thought we ought to have an anniversary party so we played Sleeping Queens on the porch while a light rain fell. It was a nice end to a very pleasant summer day.
Neither of the kids had camp the week that followed, so I kept them busy with chores. June helped me clean some grimy fans so we could put them in the kitchen and study windows and she picked up toys. Noah vacuumed and weeded. I worked in the garden pulling up the first tomato plant to succumb to early blight and pruning the rest, and transplanting broccoli seedlings from pots into the garden. Both kids worked on their summer math packets (June finished hers and Noah has only a page left of his). June had three play dates and Noah had a drum lesson. I took June to story time at the Co-op and both kids to the library where June participated in Spanish Circle time and we checked out a huge pile of books. I worked two afternoons while a babysitter watched the kids.
This morning we took a creek walk and in addition to the usual water bugs and little fish, we saw a small painted turtle, a young buck deer and a raccoon print in the mud. The kids were in their bathing suits and there were pools big enough for them to swim so we paused often along the way. I sat on rocks and logs watching them and soaking my feet in the water.
This afternoon I got some really strange news. Someone from a new reality television show found my blog and tracked down Beth, calling her at work to ask if we’d like to be featured. I think the last thing either of us would want is someone following us around with cameras all the time, but it’s nice someone thought we were interesting enough to be on television. Twenty-five years into this romance, we’ve had our ups and downs but we’ve made a life, not a perfect life but a good one. I hope there’s another twenty-five years, and that when that anniversary rolls around, I get the presents right.