She seemed unsure when I asked to what she attributed the success of her marriage, of her three sisters’ marriages, all of them marking 50 years this summer.
“I don’t know, we just didn’t have any thoughts, I guess,” she said, not even saying thoughts about what.
If divorce wasn’t something that crossed her mind, it didn’t cross her tongue, either.
Neither of her sisters had much to say either. How do you explain how your marriage survives if it has never occurred to you that it might not?
“Our faith, I guess, and our lifestyles,” one said, pointing to the health they all carry into their sunset years. One sister’s a farmer, running a dairy farm with her husband. Two taught elementary school until they retired.
All three were married the summer of 1963 and all three were celebrating their 50 years of marriage and I was given the story, making calls while the baby slept. Weddings weren’t big affairs then, not like today, they all told me. Simple weddings, cake and mints and punch receptions at the church. One sewed all the bridesmaids’ dresses, her own wedding dress and her twin sister’s, too.
They all met their husbands in the same 4-H extension group, the twin sisters started dating their men at the same university dance.
Now they can’t tell me how they reached 50 years, not when I phrase it that way. But then I ask for advice for young couples starting their own marriages, and the first question receives its answer.
“It’s not 50-50,” one tells me. Sometimes you have to give more, other times the other will.
“Make sure you share common interests and goals,” another says. Farming is hard work but both of them love watching calves be born and crops break through the dirt.
“Remember your vows, you’re going to need them,” the third says. “Life isn’t simple.”
None of them talk about the hard times, the ones where they had to give more than their share to make the marriage work or the times they clung to their vows because the love just wasn’t there.
But if you look around the edges of their answers you can see glimpses. And you can see what made those marriages last.
“Vows mean something to us,” one sister explained, almost a shrug in her voice, because is that really the secret to 50 years?