Dear Ellie — You’re looking really happy these days, busily exploring the world around you. Recently, when Opa and I were talking to you on FaceTime, your little face lit up at the sight of us — we thought.
Turns out, you just wanted your mother’s phone so you could eat it, but who cares? Grandparents live for moments like this.
Opa and I just got back from an incredible visit to Houston. It was a surprise 40th anniversary party for your great-uncle Ward and great-aunt Susan.
Ward is Opa’s younger brother. They are very, very similar. Sometimes, when I’m around Ward and hear him screaming back at the TV about something political, I swear I could shut my eyes and not know which brother I’m listening to.
But Ward is a middle child. He has a sweetness and kindness to him that most oldest children — like Opa and me — don’t quite have. He is one of the dearest people I’ve ever met, and I love him more like a brother than a brother-in-law.
(Men are unpredictable creatures when it comes to emotion, as you’ll learn. When Ward, with his internet credentials, married your parents, we all worried he’d be too overcome with emotion to get through the service. Instead, it was Opa who was so blinded with tears, he could hardly make it down the aisle.)
Susan is smart, funny, and as neurotic as I am. She and I are also similar in not coming from happy families. I think that’s one reason that she’s so fiercely loyal to the family she married into, to Ward, their two sons and daughters-in-law, and their three grandchildren. She’d do anything for any of us.
(Susan didn’t officiate at your parents’ wedding, but she did play a key role in it. She went shopping for wedding dresses with your mother and me, since she’s the only one in the family who knows beans about fashion.)
Funny to think of Ward and Susan’s wedding, which was big and festive and in New Orleans all those years ago. I could spend time talking about how young and gorgeous they both were (which they were, believe me). But weddings have never interested me nearly as much as marriages.
A wedding, however colorful and lavish, is the blink of an eye. A marriage — especially a long one — is a novel, a series of novels, a whole bookstore. Weddings are formal and choreographed, long marriages are kaleidoscopic and unpredictable and as messy as life can be. Weddings are professions and promises of love, marriages are about the durability and stubbornness of love through thousands of days and nights, cold sores and head colds and head lice and burned dinners.
And that’s what we saw at Ward and Susan’s party: photos and a video of their long years together, the business they built, their sons, their daughters-in-law, their grandkids, their friends, their menagerie of loud, badly adjusted dogs (Susan is an animal nut. We have tried to save her many times, but no luck).
The whole evening, I marveled about their lives together, the sheer richness of it, and how much they are loved.
It’s so funny to write you about this, Ellie. Here you are, at the very beginning of your life. You don’t spend much time thinking about the past, do you? (What past? Being in utero?) And neither do we, at our age, even though our pasts now span many decades.
But it’s lovely to look back, now and then, and celebrate the wonderful experiences we’ve had on this earth. Happy 40th, Ward and Susan! We’re so fortunate to have shared so much with you.
Love you, Coco
(Copyright 2016 by Ruth Pennebaker)