READY OR NOT: On nurturing a marriage and half-dead plant life

Mary Ready

Six years ago this month, I wrote about my 45th wedding anniversary which happened to coincide with the date of the column’s publication. At the end, I wrote “I’ll let you know if we last another five years and celebrate our Golden Anniversary on May 22, 2015.”

Well, we didn’t make it.

I didn’t let you know last year, as promised, because I was celebrating my 50th anniversary alone.

My beloved best friend and husband of many years died after 48 years, leaving me many good memories along with a few regrets for the times I was impatient, critical, and selfish with him.

All those years with a man with whom I had nothing in common. As different as daylight and dark. He was daylight; I was dark. But, somehow, we “worked.”

Last year, I ate bunless hotdogs, beans, and diet Pepsi just as Frank and I had done for 48 years in observance of our wedding night supper when we left on a honeymoon camping trip, forgetting the groceries and having to buy food at a gas station in the middle of nowhere.

This year, I decided it was time to let that 50 year tradition go and had Chinese food and a glass of wine for my 51st anniversary supper. I think Frank would understand.

A half century ago, I was just getting used to being married to a man who was married to the sea and to a charter boat, never expecting to lose him to the ravages of diabetes and heart disease. I never imagined we’d become foster parents to troubled teens, high school teachers for over 30 years and substitute family for international students. Most of all, on May 22, 1965, I never gave a thought to being an AARP member, getting senior discounts, or presenting a Medicare card at frequent doctor visits. The term “growing old together” hadn’t become a reality until many years down the matrimonial road.

If I could turn back time, I’d be happier to see him coming home smelling like diesel, with his clothes ruined by fish guts and engine room grease and not fuss about it.

Put let me leave that topic and talk about dying foliage.

I’ll get back to the marriage theme in a bit.

A friend challenged me to revive a sick gardenia. Originally healthy, happy, and perfumed in white flowers, it became infested with parasites sucking the juices out of the leaves and killing the tender buds. New growth was smothered in slime before it could prosper. Worse, the plant was root-bound, packed into not one, but three overlapping pots. None of the pots had drain holes, so the poor thing was drowning in water. It was also starving from lack of good soil, plant food, and sunshine.

I began surgery immediately. I took the plant out of its pots, drilled holes in the bottom of the larg-est one, filled it with good potting mix, and then placed the plant back in the pot. I trimmed away the dead leaves and sprayed it with insecticide. After a month, the gardenia had a new lease on life with tiny buds about to bloom into fragrant white flowers.

A marriage begins in the same way. Healthy and happy, green with new life and white with the sweet scent of love. But then appear the parasites of selfishness, insecurity, resentment, distrust, criticism, anger, jealousy, maybe even paranoia and infidelity. The bugs that suck the life out of the green leaves of a marriage are legion. With no room to breathe and grow, one of the spouses (or maybe both) will feel smothered and confined. And lacking a way to drain off the downpour of life’s challenges, their love will drown as surely as an over-watered plant. Like that gardenia, a marriage needs tending. The yellow leaves of stagnation need to be clipped off and the bugs of destruction killed. Marriage must also be rooted in the good soil of kindness and encouragement and soaked in the sunshine of true and open communication. It needs to be fed on the food of mutual respect, good humor, patience, and unselfishness. Without constant care, a marriage will never bloom into a lifetime relationship.

And don’t count on tomorrow to apologize, forgive, or make things right. You may only have now.

Unless God has other plans for the married couple, a Golden Anniversary supper together will happen as long as the relationship is tended like the lovely, living thing it is.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.