Golden Wedding Anniversary

My parents had been married for nearly fifty years. I had done nothing for their 25th wedding anniversary, nor their 30th, nor 40th. It was insensitive of me. I confess. I have not been a very good daughter. And my mother was not going to let me get away with it again. I took her to lunch at Luby’s one day. There was a family with a baby sitting at the table next to us. When the baby began to cry I told Mama, “Oh golly I wish we had sat somewhere else!” She looked at me with a stern look in her eyes and said, “Let me tell you something! Children are lucky their parents don’t kill them!” I was shocked.

“Oh my!” I said. “Was I a bad child Mama?” “No!” she said very sweetly, suddenly changing her mood. “YOU were a perfect angel!” Then she looked at me very sternly again. “Because I put the fear of God in you!” I was amused. “That’s my Mama!” I thought to myself.

Mama went on to inform me that she and my Daddy had been married for nearly fifty years, and I had better give her a really big nice Golden Wedding Anniversary party when the time came, or else. And so it was. I have never been one to defy my mother, except for behind her back. It was a really good thing Mama told me she wanted to have a Golden Wedding Anniversary party, because it never would have occurred to me. I was mistakenly under the impression that she disliked my Daddy intensely, and the only reason she had stayed married to him all those years was because of me. I felt terribly guilty bearing the burden of her discontent when I was growing up. But I didn’t want my parents to get a divorce. I am not the only one who noticed my Mama seemed to hate being married to Daddy. My little niece Kitty Cat could see it when she was only six years old. She put her precious little hand on her lovely little hip and said, “Grandma, I don’t know why you don’t divorce that man! It’s obvious you can’t stand him.” Mama softened her tone toward Daddy a whole lot when Kitty Cat told her that. She even began to show some affection for him in her later years.

It was partly Daddy’s fault that Mama couldn’t stand him. She used to cry and beg him to say that he loved her. But he wouldn’t do it. He simply wasn’t in the mood. Besides, he thought it ought to be obvious.

When Mama wasn’t upset because Daddy wasn’t being affectionate enough to suit her, she was complaining because he expected her to turn her feelings on and off like a faucet, and she just couldn’t do it. Perhaps it would have been easier if Daddy could have said that he loved her. But why should he, when she was always verbally abusing him? With them it was always something. They had a bipolar relationship. Mama fought with Daddy daily and he ignored her. That made her even madder. I am not sure who enjoyed fighting the most. Despite all the animosity in our family, we usually ended up watching TV together, scratching each other’s backs, and having a tickle party before bedtime. One time Daddy even tickled me until I cried.

Having been informed in no uncertain terms, that Mama was expecting to have a great big Golden Wedding Anniversary Party, I began the planning far in advance. Little did I know that skeletons would be falling out of the closet along with a seven foot tall walking talking metallic robot. I kid you not. It was what Daddy wanted. For Mama, I ordered dozens and dozens of yellow roses because yellow is her favorite color. Daddy was the youngest of eleven and Mama had lots of friends. I sent out two hundred invitations and called cousin Etsy to see if there was anything she could do to help. I had made a list of everything that needed to be done before I called her, and was hoping she would volunteer for something. Instead of volunteering, Etsy began telling me what I needed to do, and how to do it, as if I was too stupid to know.

I politely explained to Etsy that I knew what needed to be done, and I knew how to do it all, but I simply didn’t have time to do everything myself. I was hoping for some help and my intention was to delegate responsibility. It was perfectly clear that Etsy wasn’t interested in that kind of helping. She is a chief, not an indian. Besides, she has her own life, children, and grandchildren to tend to, so I couldn’t blame her. But I could tell she wanted me to know something. Etsy has a way of dropping little hints when she has a secret that she is itching to tell. But she won’t say what it is unless you beg and plead and reason with her for a long time. So that is what I did.

Etsy is an Eastern Star. Her great great grandfather died at the Alamo. His name is engraved on the wall. When Etsy speaks, people listen. She’s a tiny little woman with a whole lot of power. What she had to say that day was very interesting.

Etsy was troubled about the way my Mama had treated me when I was a child. She felt sorry for me. By today’s standards, it would have been considered child abuse. Back then it was just the opposite. People considered it bad parenting to spare the rod and spoil the child. Of course, I already knew Mama was mean to me. That was no big news. I didn’t really care about that very much, except when it was happening. That is just the way my Mama was and I loved her anyway.

Getting my butt blistered for taking my own diaper off and playing with my own poop while Mama was taking a nap paled in comparison to Etsy’s next revelation. When she alluded to the possibility of other things that I needed to know, I suspected she wanted to tell me about the affair my Mama had when I was child. Making a wild guess I told Etsy I knew about the affair, because Mama told me in an excruciating mother daughter conversation right before I got married. She told me about it so I wouldn’t make the same mistake because so many people got hurt by it. But that is all she would say. “Do you know what happened?” I inquired.

Etsy was relieved to know that she wasn’t revealing a secret. She quickly began to fill me in on the details, which I had been curious about for thirty-four years. The news did not surprise me, but her version of it did. Etsy said Mama was planning to leave my Daddy. But my Grandaddy, Mama’s Daddy, told her that she would no longer be considered part of the family if she divorced my father. So she chose to stop seeing her lover to keep the family together. Etsy also said the man my Mama had the affair with got very depressed when she wouldn’t leave my Daddy for him. And a couple of years later he committed suicide by jumping off of Mansfield Dam. Mama got really upset when she found out her former lover was dead. Daddy thought Mama was over him and he got very upset when he realized she wasn’t. Then my parents came close to getting a divorce again.

I suddenly understood why I always had a sense that my Mama thought she was doing me a favor by putting up with my Daddy when I was growing up, and I should appreciate it more. I resented her for that and wanted to go live with my Grandparents. I grew up secretly planning to do so if my parents ever got a divorce, which frequently seemed imminent. When Etsy told me her version of what happened, I finally felt a tremendous amount of love and appreciation for the sacrifice my Mama made to keep the family together. No wonder she was so angry and bitter all those years. I felt compelled to thank her. Since she had already told me about the affair when I got married, I didn’t think she would mind knowing Etsy had filled me in on the details.

In addition to my compelling urge to thank my Mama for her sacrifice, I was also very eager to learn as much as I could about the man she loved. But the only thing Etsy knew about him was that he committed suicide over Mama. I knew that would be a very delicate subject, and it would be important to proceed cautiously. The first thing I did was tell Mama that I really wanted her to know how much I appreciated all she had sacrificed to keep our family together.

“What are you talking about?” She said.
“Etsy told me you decided to stay married to Daddy because Grandaddy threatened to ex-communicate you from the family if you got a divorce.” I explained.
“That is not what happened!” Mama snapped with an acrid tone in her voice.
“Well what did happen?” I asked.
“I was planning to leave your Daddy for him. But he wouldn’t leave his family for me!” Mama said, bursting into tears.

Grandaddy’s ultimatum was not the reason Mama stayed. The truck driver she was in love with was a married man. He was twenty years older than her. He had a wife and three children. He thought they should both stay married and keep seeing each other. Without him to support her, Mama was stuck with my Daddy, because she didn’t have a job. Curious as to whether she was planning to take me with her when she was planning to leave my Daddy, I summoned the courage to ask.

“No!” Mama said. “I was going to leave you with your Daddy and let him take care of you! He never helped out around the house. He had no idea how hard it was to take care of a child. I wanted him to know just how much work it was!” Then she burst into tears and apologized profusely because she didn’t want to hurt me. I felt a strange mixture of emotions. The first thing I felt was relief to know that my Daddy would have been the one raising me instead of her. I also felt tremendously sad and disappointed to learn her intention was to abandon me. Still numb from the shock of it all, I asked Mama to tell me about the suicide.

“What suicide?” She said.
“Etsy said your lover got depressed because you wouldn’t leave Daddy, so he jumped off Mansfield Dam and killed himself!” I explained.
“That is not true!” Mama said.
“Well what happened then?” I asked.
She paused for a moment and said, “He’s still alive!”
“Well he must be over 90 years old!” I said. “Are you sure he’s alive?”
“Yes. He is alive!” She adamantly declared.
“Where does he live?” I asked.
“I don’t know. But he’s alive! And I am furious at Etsy for telling you about this! How dare she? That was forty eight years ago! It doesn’t even matter any more! Why did she have to bring it up?”

Too dazed and confused to ask any more questions, I didn’t want Mama to be mad at Etsy for telling. I spend the rest of our conversation assuring her that “I was the one who brought it up and pulled every word out of her. She wouldn’t have said anything to me, if I hadn’t assured her that it would be okay for us to talk about it. I thought it would be okay since I already knew about the affair. I just wanted to know the details. That was all.” I explained. I drove home in shock and immediately called my best friend to tell her what happened. Twink gasped and the words that immediately tumbled out of her mouth were, “Your Daddy pushed that truck driver off Mansfield Dam and killed him!”

When Twink said that a phantom memory that had haunted me for years flashed into my mind. It was a very distinct memory of being in the car with my Daddy and his older brother Oscar. I was standing in between them. It was late at night. We were driving down Highway 620. It was just a two lane road back then. The highs were so high, and the lows were so low, it felt much like being on a roller coaster to go for a drive out in the hill country when I was a child. The scenery was absolutely beautiful. We were driving to Mansfield Dam. “This is the promised land!” Daddy said. And that was all. They were completely silent for the rest of the drive. There was a calm quiet peacefulness in the car.

That memory had been haunting me for years. Every time the memory of Daddy saying “This is the promised land” came back to me, I always wondered why Daddy and Uncle Oscar took me to Mansfield Dam with them at night. I even asked my Daddy about it one time. He had no recollection of him and Uncle Oscar ever taking me out to Mansfield Dam.

As Twink’s declaration settled into my consciousness, my mind began to whirl with all kinds of thoughts. It was impossible to refrain from imagining the rest of the story. Mama refused to quit seeing her lover and the affair continued. Daddy found out and was furious. He would not abide by that. Daddy was being courted by the Masons at the time. He discussed the situation with some of them at a meeting. They all said they would kill the man. It would be a crime of passion. Crimes of passion are excusable.

Daddy called Mama’s lover on the phone and told him to stay away from his wife. Mama’s lover refused. Daddy challenged him to meet at Mansfield Dam and they would settle it once and for all. Daddy took me and Uncle Oscar along with him. He wanted that man to see me and know who he was hurting. He took me out of the car and showed me to Mama’s lover. “Look at her! Do you see how beautiful she is? This is my daughter. You are destroying her life!” The man adamantly declared that he loved my Mama and he would never stop seeing her.

Daddy handed me to Uncle Oscar and they started fighting. When it was over we got in the car and left. On our way home we stopped at a phone booth. Uncle Oscar called the police and told them he was fishing out at Lake Travis and saw a man jump off of Mansfield Dam. The next day the police found his body.

It wasn’t long before my Daddy lost his brother Hugh. The police ruled it an accidental suicide. Uncle Hugh supposedly accidentally shot himself in the stomach while he was cleaning his shot gun. But that isn’t what happened. It was an eye for an eye murder. Mama’s lover was a Mason. You can’t kill a Mason without sacrificing one of your own. After Uncle Hugh died, Daddy decided he didn’t want to be a Mason any more. And if there is such thing as reincarnation, Uncle Hugh came back into our family as my little brother. They look exactly alike. All of this is nothing more than conjecture, of course. I really have no idea what happened. All I can remember is riding out to Mansfield Dam with Daddy and Uncle Oscar, and Daddy saying “This is the promised land!”

But Twink’s hunch gave me a reason to wonder... If my Daddy really did push Mama’s lover off of Mansfield Dam, then his children had to grow up without a father. And there is no telling what kind of hardship and poverty they went through. The bible verse about the sins of the fathers being re-visited upon the sons for seven generations came to mind. So I said a prayer for the truck driver’s family. And I swear I could feel the energy shift, a mild sense of relief, and a very subtle lightness of being. Perhaps it was just my imagination.

But the Golden Wedding Anniversary party is not just conjecture. I can remember all of that very clearly. Mama wanted to have a great big party with lots of pretty invitations. Daddy wanted to have a seven foot robot remarry them. Etsy was adamantly opposed to the Robot. She did not want Mama to suffer that kind of indignity after all she had been through. Much to Etsy’s dismay, I managed to hire the robot without upsetting Mama.

When I first started planning the party Daddy suggested that I call Brother Helfinger, the preacher who married him and Mama, the same one who also dedicated me to God, and ask him if he would come and renew their wedding vows. Although Brother Helfinger very much wanted to do it, he was old and frail and living in Florida. At first we got all excited and thought he would be coming. We told everybody that Brother Helfinger was coming to remarry my parents. But the more we discussed the details of how to get him here, the less it seemed like a good idea given his state of health. Meanwhile Mama secretly told me that she hoped Brother Helfinger didn’t come, because she didn’t want to remarry my Daddy. One day Daddy and I were discussing what should be done if Brother Helfinger couldn’t come and renew the marriage vows after all. Daddy said, “I know this guy with a Robot suit! Let’s get him to come and do the wedding vows!”

I was both amused and horrified by the idea. I was really scared that Mama would be offended. So I called Etsy and told her what Daddy wanted to do. Etsy was even more horrified by the idea than me. “NO!” She said. “Do NOT hire a robot to renew their marriage vows! Your mother has been through enough.” I assured Etsy that I didn’t think it was a good idea either, and promised that I wasn’t going to call the guy. But Daddy was very serious about it, and he persisted. A few days later he called me wanting to know if I had hired the robot guy yet. I told him I didn’t think Mama would like for a robot to do the marriage vows, and maybe we ought to just skip that part. He said, “Well let’s ask her then!” So we did. Much to my surprise, she liked the idea!

Mama never doubted my Daddy’s love for her even though she kept begging him to say it. She just couldn’t love him back as much as he loved her because Daddy didn’t have the intimacy skills to turn her on the way her lover did. Even though Daddy couldn’t satisfy Mama in bed, she loved him anyway. She loved him like a friend and a brother and a son all rolled into one. She just wasn’t in love with him the way a woman needs to be in love her husband, in order to have a happy marriage. She was always frustrated and complaining because Daddy wouldn’t talk to her. The man she loved could talk to her about anything. She told me so. That is why she loved him so much. That is why she was willing to sacrifice the family to be with him. He talked to her.

When I found out Mama liked the robot idea, I immediately hired the thing. Then we all three decided, without even talking about it, to let everybody continue believing Brother Helfinger was coming. None of us mentioned there was going to be a change of plans. Etsy was the only one who even knew that Daddy wanted to hire a robot, and she strictly forbade it. The only guests who knew that a robot was coming were two psychologist friends of mine, who agreed to come because I thought I might need support.

So we had a great big Golden Wedding Anniversary party for my parents with a cake and yellow roses and a robot. The robot guy showed up early with a trunk the size of a casket. We hid him it the back room of the reception hall and told him to take his time getting dressed and wait for his cue to come out.

All of the guests were gussied up in their Sunday best, having a good time, trying to figure out where Brother Helfinger was, asking each other if he had arrived yet. Eventually everybody was seated, waiting for the big event, and Daddy beckoned for the Silver Giant to appear. The man in the robot suit punched a button on his costume and a whole bunch of loud siren-like music started playing. Then the tin man came waddling out of his den. Mama and Daddy were standing there as straight faced as the day they got married the first time. They waited somberly as Roboto slowly made his cumbersome way to the designated wedding area. To say the guests were dumbstruck is an understatement. Etsy rushed over to me demanding to know why I dared to defy her and hire the robot.

“I told you NOT to let your Daddy hire that robot!” She declared, wagging her finger in my face.
“It’s what they wanted!” I explained. “Mama doesn’t mind! Look! She’s having a good time!”

Etsy couldn’t deny that Mama was having a good time. Both of my psychologist friends were smiling like cheshire cats. They had come to see the show and it was a good one. But the situation quickly began to devolve when my parents were supposed to repeat after the robot and say their wedding vows. His voice modulation device was designed to distort his voice and make it sound like he was a lost in space. There was a whole bunch of whizzing, whirring, lights and weird noises. They were drowning out everything he said. It was impossible for my parents to decipher what he was saying. My sweet and wonderful mother and father, who so dearly loved each other, didn’t know how to respond or when to say “I do!”

Daddy looked at Mom and said, "Can you understand him?"
"Not a word!" She said.
Daddy looked at the robot and said, “Aw hell! We can't understand you. Let’s just forget it! Why don't you go play with the kids!”

The wedding vow renewal ceremony was a flop, but the Golden Anniversary party was a hit.

No comments: