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Spring Gillard
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Survivors

I wrote this little piece for my parents on their 50th anniversary. They are celebrating their 58th this weekend. My brothers have since dropped their immunity necklaces, but mine remains firmly clasped. Eight years later, the question I pose still seems relevant: Is there any adventure more challenging than a marriage?

My parents are survivors. Their marriage has lasted 50 years. In this day and age, they deserve gold medals. So how did they overcome the odds? What are their secrets to survival?

They eloped. Mom was only 17 when she jumped out the bedroom window of her parents Kelowna farmhouse. She had a kettle in one hand and a blanket in the other as she ran off into the night with my 21 year old father. Do not underestimate the value of escaping all the muss, fuss, family feuds and dysfunctional alliances that go along with big weddings. I believe eloping helped start them off on the right foot. Of course, not everyone would agree with my theory.

“That scoundrel,” said my Grandpa. “All this time we thought he was playing with Tony and Ed (my Mom’s brothers) and he’s been raiding the henhouse,” said my Grama clucking her tongue. But she got her revenge by training her pet turkey, Peter to chase my Dad every time he came over. It took a while before my charming father won their hearts again, but he did. And so my parents began their great marriage adventure.

It was six years before their first big challenge came along. Me. I was the wild child, the trail blazer, born to break them in. It was my God-given duty to test them at every turn, get them into peak physical condition for the challenges ahead. Challenges that came in the form of two boys. (Oh brother, did they have it easy.) I’ve come to the conclusion that without us kids, my parents marriage never would have survived.

The Art of Self-Sacrifice

For my parents benefit, I got caught doing everything, smoking, drinking, dancing with wolves. One night I was out at a drive-in with one such wolf and got caught with my top down, that is the top on my convertible Scout. I’d just dropped my date off when it started to pour. I reached back and realized I’d left the top at home.

There I was at midnight, rain belting down, squinching along the highway; we lived about nine miles out of town then. Just when I thought I was going to drown or drive off the road, I saw flashing headlights coming towards me: my parents to the rescue. I got into the dry, warm car with Mom; Dad drove home in the Scout with only the sun visor as an umbrella. There is nothing like a first-born girl to teach you the art of self-sacrifice.

The Endurance Test

I may have introduced my parents to the concept of hanging in no matter what, but my brother Don perfected the endurance test. Don was a late bloomer. He had expensive taste and no visible means of support, well except my parents. As the oldest child and bossiest member of the Tribal Council, I advised my parents many times to use tough love with him. “Look it’s his fault if he lost all his coconuts. Cut him off, do not bail him out this time, you’re coddling him.” (You’ll be happy to know I’ve never had children.) They did not take my advice. Instead, they stood by him, like they stood by each other. Through thick and thin, sickness and in health, and many failed business ventures. Don now has a fabulous job as an art director using all the many talents he accrued over those trying years. Like raising kids, marriage is an endurance test too, with some rewards along the way.

Broad Skill Base

My parents acquired an impressive set of skills over the years, thanks to us. Even though they worked side by side in their own successful businesses – “ a logging company for many years, then a tire store, they could have done just about anything with the experience we gave them. In addition to a courier service or a bed and breakfast, they could have been movers. Yup, they moved all of us dozens of times, including several cross country jaunts. They were reliable, fast and just like any mover you would actually pay – “ made certain not everything arrived in one piece. One time, in an effort to save time and catch the last ferry my Dad insisted we hurl my prized possessions out the third floor window of my university residence to his waiting truck below. By observing my parents, I’ve come to believe that love is a skill, it takes practise and we gave them plenty of it.

Fuel for the Journey

My youngest brother, Todd presented a whole new challenge: How do you fill a bottomless pit? Fortunately, my mother was a fabulous, resourceful cook. She’s always had her own garden, she canned, pickled, baked and kept two fridges, two freezers and a cooler downstairs well stocked. She still packs legendary lunches for my Dad and Todd. I mean who could ever walk away from the smell of home-made bread or a fresh pie after a hard day’s work? If the old addage is true that the way to a man’s heart is through the stomach, then my mother’s cooking is definitely one of the secret ingredients in their successful marriage. Of course, my father’s amazing apple pancake breakfasts should also be honoured.

Team Building

No one can deny that my parents make a great team. They built our family cabin together, they golf and fish and travel together. But, hey don’t get me wrong, my parents marriage has not been all smooth skiing and happy hours. To this day there are times when they want to vote each other off the island. Yet despite their relationship struggles, in the end my parents always work it through. Their example has helped us kids weather the storms in our lives.

And to what do I attribute their ability to kiss and make up? My mother yodels. I know it sounds silly, but just think about it for a minute. If you’ve just had a really bad fight with your mate and suddenly one of you breaks into “I’m an old cowhand, from the Rio Grande”, complete with yodellaydeehoos, could you stay mad?

Keeping the Torch Lit

Ok, so they have companionship, but what kept the torch lit for them. What was the passionate ingredient?

Calona Red. Yup, after all these years, my folks will still cook up a nice meal, light the candles and crack open a bottle of the good stuff. Sure, there’s other little things that keep the flame burning. My father loves to surprise my mother with romantic gifts. He opens her car door, takes her arm as they walk, and the way he looks at her, still, when she gets all gussied up. And apparently the feeling is mutual. One time my Mom and I came out of a store and spotted my Dad across the parking lot. “He still gives me butterflies,” she said.

Reaching the Goal

My Mom’s parents stayed together, so did my Dad’s parents. You’d think with such golden examples, we “40 something” kids would be happily married now too. But we three have all donned the immunity necklace. Perhaps because none of us drink Calona Red. Still, we admire my parents’ achievement. I should say three great achievements. Together, they’ve raised, three creative, contributing members of society. Three kids who are not bank robbers, drug addicts, bullies or road ragers. Well, come to think of it, I’m not so sure about Todd on that last one.

And so, I’ve come to the conclusion that my parents could not have survived without us. I must say it feels good to be on a winning team. But the real test comes in the next 50 years. Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad! May the next 50 be as adventurous as the first.

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