Virtue & Mischief: The last thing I heard


A few interesting facts concerning the Year of our Lord, 1948: The average cost of a home in the United States that year was $7,700. The average salary was just shy of $3,000 per year. A gallon of gas would set you back 16 cents. The nation of Israel was formed, the Marshall Plan implemented, and Mahatma Gandhi was murdered. Life expectancy for an American citizen was 67 years in 1948. Unemployment was 3.9 percent. Harry Truman was President (and there was no Vice President), the summer Olympics were held in London, and it was the last year that the Cleveland Indians won the World Series (defeating the Boston Braves). Oh, and it was the year that my parents were married.

Clifford and Doris (Gaines) Swensen exchanged vows on June 6 that year in the Irving Avenue (Indianapolis, Indiana) Church of Christ, on a sweltering Sunday afternoon. Many of you can perform the math in your head (2018 minus 1948), but for those who cannot let me supply the difference: 70. 7-0. Seventy. Three score and 10. My life plus 13. My parents have been married for 70 years. Imagine that.

Seventy years of wedded bliss, struggle, joy, pain, confusion, frustration, ecstasy, defeat, mundanity, anxiety, excitement, and everything else that makes up life’s rich pageant. Seventy years together, for better and for worse. Seventy years together, in richer and poorer. Seventy years together, in sickness and in health. Lord knows, they’ve experienced some of each.

Their union has spanned 13 presidential administrations (four of which lasted for two terms). My father earned his Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees, taught thousands of students, and published over 100 scholarly articles (and two books) in that span. My mother stayed at home throughout and daily, selflessly executed all the functions a homemaker does – changing diapers, making beds, laundering clothes, cooking meals, and nurturing my four sisters and I in more ways than I can count, recall, or adequately describe. This pathetic paragraph does poor justice to their accomplishments and effort, but I hasten to add that while they were parenting Betsy, Susan, Lisa, Barbie and me (no easy task), they were also skillfully forging a professional career, keeping a home in reasonably good condition, fostering friendships and extended family relationships, serving extensively in our local church, and somehow cultivating an intimate relationship with each other. Now that I’ve been married nearly 20 years myself, I view this last item as something of a minor miracle. Well, okay, perhaps not so minor.

Some of you may be wondering, if the 25th is the “silver anniversary” and the 50th is the “golden anniversary,” what is the 70th? Good question. I wondered the same, and discovered it is the “platinum anniversary,” so designated because platinum (and reaching a 70th) is quite rare. Platinum is found in .01 parts per million in the earth’s crust. Seventieth anniversaries aren’t quite that uncommon, but they’re still pretty unique. Most estimates I came across stated that roughly 1 in 10,000 marriages make it to the 70 year mark. Rare enough, I’d say, that they’re worth celebrating in a special way.

So my oldest sister, Betsy, arranged for an informal gathering of family and friends in my parents’ retirement community a few weeks ago. The guests ranged in ages from a few months to 100 years. My siblings and their spouses were there, most of the grandchildren were able to attend, and all of the great grandchildren. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and an assortment of friends also made the journey to acknowledge my parents’ milestone. We enjoyed a sit-down dinner, a champagne toast, much laughter, music, and innumerable memories. Such a gathering tends also to silently underscore who is NOT there, in most cases men and women who are deceased, people we miss and continue to grieve.

Such is life, if you’re lucky enough to experience it for any significant period of time and with people you love. Luckier still are those of us who can echo my mother’s most profound reflection of her lengthy union with my father: “How blessed am I?” she pondered. “For 70 years the last thing I heard each evening was that I was loved.”

By Tim Swensen

Virtue & Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the column series Virtue and Mischief. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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