You might wonder why I chose Mendelssohn’s music from A Midsummer’s Night Dream for today’s post. The reason is simple: that’s where the “Wedding March” comes from. You know, the one that is played at almost every wedding. Here’s a link to the Overture, which is delightful. The beginning violins always makes me think of the faeries running around in Shakespeare’s play.
It reminds me of my parents, who were married for 68 years. My mom passed away in 2008 , and dad passed away three year ago around this time at the age of 96.
In 1999, my siblings and I hosted a dinner at a local restaurant in Mishawaka, Indiana for my parents on their 60th wedding anniversary. Sixty. Six. Zero! Can you imagine? Nowadays with a national divorce rate of one in two, it’s astounding when you meet someone who stuck with it for the long haul.
I believe I know the secret to their success. It was their shared interest in dancing. They met back in the late 1930s at a dance hall which stood on the shore of Hudson Lake, which lies west of South Bend near the town of La Porte. The dance hall was close to the South Shore commuter train line that ran from South Bend all the way to Chicago. My father used to go with his friend, Johnny Peci, and try to find cute girls to dance with. Dad once told me that when he met my mom, they were so taken with each other that they never went into the dance hall that night. Instead they stayed out necking in the rumble seat of Johnny’s car.
When I was in high school, my parents started taking square dancing lessons, which became the focal point of their social life for over twenty five years. Mom used to make her own western-style dresses that flared way out from a special under-lining. Dad started wearing western shirts with turquoise cuffs and buttons and bolo ties. They had always loved camping and bought a series of recreational vehicles–campers, motor homes, and trailers–which they pulled all over the country every year to attend square dance conventions. Dad had always loved the Southwest from the western movies and pulp fiction he had grown up on, and they eventually ended up moving to Tucson back in the early 1980s.
I actually liked them taking lessons. During my sophomore through junior years of high school, they spent nearly every Thursday evening at their square dance lessons. I would do my homework and then feel like I had the whole house to myself. Sometimes I would sneak a beer, or drive to the local book store and look at girlie magazines, or just call friends (sometimes girlfriends) on the phone without having anyone looking over my shoulder.
My parents were always a very active couple. They loved camping, but also the water, and at one time we also had three canoes, a small used speedboat for water skiing, and another row boat for fishing. Most of the year we’d be canoeing somewhere or other, and in the summer we’d go down to the river and hot dog on water skis. When my oldest brother Al moved to Denver, Colorado in 1965, that gave us the excuse to make yearly excursions out west and into the Rocky Mountains where we would camp, fish, and backpack. These activities brought us close together as a family. It gave us a cooperative activity which brought us a lot of happiness and that is an important foundation for instilling a sense of emotional well being in children.
My parents danced well into their 80s. When they were 82, I went to my niece’s wedding in Colorado. My mother and father danced just about every song the band played-from Polka to Rock. I left the next day and later that afternoon, my mother fell down and broke her hip. She had to undergo replacement surgery and stay in the hospital undergoing therapy for several weeks. My father called and told us how lonely he was. He said he got a pair of my mother’s pajamas and held onto them, like a security blanket, when he went to sleep at night. That was such a touching image. She recovered, though she started developing signs of Alzheimer’s after that, and she continued to swim and dance. The last time I saw my parents dance together was in 2006, at another niece’s wedding, two years before my mom died. Even though she had dementia and it was hard to communicate with her, when she got on the dance floor with dad, they looked lovingly into each other’s eyes. They could have been back at Hudson Lake, falling in love again.