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Valentine’s Day: February

“Marriage is more than four bare legs in a bed.” ~Hoshang N Akhtar

Not long ago some of us seniors were feting an old man on his centennial birthday. He was still nimble-minded enough to think rationally and strong enough to walk (without a walker), drive his own car, play piano and sing, even provide the evening entertainment. But inevitably, because memory occasionally fails even the fittest of us, it turned out to be the kind of stuff my mother used to laugh about when she and my dad went to their monthly luncheons for retired ministers. He and his blunders had us all in stitches.

After the cake and the cards, another old man (a nonagenarian) was interviewing him for a keepsake video. The older old man kept calling the younger old man “boy” (both were Caucasian).

The younger said to the older, “I’m about to catch up with you. I’m getting there.”

The older replied, “That’ll never happen,” meaning, of course, that he’d always be a decade older.

The older man, born when Wilson was President, either couldn’t recall his earliest memory or couldn’t understand what the younger man was saying. But he did remember his first car: a 1926 Model T Ford. Said it cost $30. He paid $5 down and $5 a month till it was paid for.

Later he upgraded to a Model A Ford. That was the car in which he was married.

“You were married in that car?”

Yes. His sweetheart was shy, so when she saw the line at the marriage license counter and all those people gawking, she wanted to back out. Instead they talked the judge into going out to the car and marrying them there in private.

This reminded the younger man of his first car and his wedding. He’d bought a 1941 straight-8 Buick from his dad for $100 (the family car). It was the car in which he and his wife had honeymooned.

“You honeymooned in that car?”

Everyone was laughing. Even his wife. He thought a bit; maybe he didn’t catch the humor. “Well, that was the car we drove on our honeymoon.”

I was not as old or as slow as this pair, but I too remembered $40, $50, and $75 cars and wages so low that a cowboy’s $1 a day would’ve been a raise. We didn’t worry about down payment on a house, college fund, the stock market, income tax, dividend reinvestment, portfolios, last will and testament, or prepaid burial plots. Our biggest concerns were whether the groceries would last between paychecks, whether we’d be able to pay the rent this month, whether we’d be able to buy the next round of heating oil, whether the gas in the car’s fuel tank (19 cents a gallon) would last the work week, and whether the job would hold.

A friend of my parents, acting as loco parentis and mentor, told us we needed to establish credit so that if we got hard up and needed money (as in Places in the Heart), a banker would trust us with a loan. So we bought a used TV—on time. $10 down and $10 a month. Then a reconditioned sewing machine with a new cabinet. $5 down and $5 a month. That was the way we established credit.

Not many years afterward, as our mentor had prophesied, we found ourselves in a tight spot. In those days the bank, except for the vault, was one, big, open room. President and vice president both had desks there alongside their clerks. We took a seat in front of a man sitting at a desk and, within sight of anyone who wanted to watch, requested a loan. Like a beggar. He talked to us, asked questions, wanted to know what we needed the money for and what we had for collateral. The only possession I could think of that had any value was my musical instrument. He wrote up a paper and said if we didn’t make the payments, the bank could take my accordion. But we got the money (and paid it back over time).

It was experiences like these that taught our generation the value of nickels, dimes, and quarters. I remember buying mealy peas for 4 cents a can, when I could’ve had better for 5 cents a can, simply because it saved a penny. After all, “a penny saved is a penny earned” (Ben Franklin).

It was also experiences like these that taught our generation the value of each other. “True love doesn’t happen right away; it’s an ever-growing process. It develops after you’ve gone through many ups and downs, when you’ve suffered together, cried together, laughed together” (Ricardo Montalban). Perhaps that is the reason that nonagenarian and his wife have been married over sixty years.

Perhaps that is the reason they call our sunset years the golden years, because after all those hard times of scrimping and scraping and doing without, finally some of us have a little disposable income.

“Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years.” ~Simone Signoret

Copyright © 2015 Alexandra Lee

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