A few weeks ago Richard and I celebrated twenty eight years of marriage. I began the day in my usual fashion, out on the lanai having my quiet time with God. My husband was inside having his quiet time too, and through the open door I could feel the connection as we each experienced our own unique relationship with God. As I read my various daily reflections, the meaning of that day slowly sank in.
We had known each other for almost twenty nine years. I met Richard towards the end of July 1983, and we married on 24 March 1984. It was a bit of a scary time for me. I had been married once before for almost ten very unhappy years and it had been ten years since I had separated and consequently divorced that man. I had lived much of that previous marriage emotionally alone, and had become very independent and self-sufficient in the ensuing ten years. Oh, and did I mention that Richard is almost twenty years my junior??
I thought back to that time after Richard asked me to marry him and remembered how much praying and self-questioning I went through. I had also insisted that we speak with the priest and go through counseling, and then I went on a retreat to distance myself from the relationship for forty eight hours, just to have some clarity and see if I had any different thoughts and feelings about the situation. After doing everything I thought I should do to be sure of how I felt, we went ahead and married.
I sat there on the twenty fourth of March this year with a very full heart as I traveled back in time, and the prevailing thought was “where had all those twenty eight years gone?”. The words from a well-known Christian song came to mind: “in the blink of an eye”. As I said goodbye to Richard that morning (he had a day-long class he had to attend), I remembered our first real kiss. It had me blushing for a moment because it was a very incredible and passionate kiss and I remember thinking that I could just have floated off in that kiss all those years ago. But it was also a very tender kiss, and I think that’s what sold me on Richard from the very first – he was such a tender person. Tender-hearted as a person as well as tender towards me, and others.
If I needed any other evidence of the years we have been together, we have a twenty seven-year old daughter, Melissa, who is proof-positive that all those “blink-of-an-eye” years really existed. I remember very well appearing in a play, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, when I was about six months pregnant with her, and my eldest son, Marco, from my first marriage, break dancing day in and day out during the pregnancy. Melissa was born to the rhythm of break dance.
While Richard was in class, I got on with my day and couldn’t help but notice in great detail the contents of our home, which is something between an art gallery and a curio shop. There are paintings and photos all over the walls. The paintings come from many different places that either Richard has travelled to during his years in the Navy or that we both have travelled to together. Then there are the statues and figurines that cover every shelf and available surface throughout the house. Many people are quite taken aback when they visit our home for the first time because of all “the stuff”. But everything is a joyful representation of the years that we have been together and the memories that we have created.
When Rich came home from class, we got ready to go out and celebrate our anniversary. First we went to the El Apache restaurant to enjoy a delicious Mexican meal. With tummies pleasantly full we then headed over to the Thrasher-Horne Center for Arts to see a show. A few weeks earlier, at a silent auction fund-raiser at our church, we had won the bid on two tickets for The Peking Acrobats which were dated twenty four March. I think the only reason we bid on them was because the date was the same as our anniversary. The show was quite breathtaking and very exciting and it was a great way to celebrate the day.
However, we didn’t quite finish the celebrations at that point. Instead of heading home, Richard pointed the car in the other direction. You see, he has an absolute weakness for Shakes, a small drive up cubicle that sells shakes and sundaes made with frozen custard. And so we completed our evening enjoying our favorites: for Rich this was a strawberry milkshake, extra thick; for me it was a kiddy-cup with one small scoop of vanilla frozen custard topped with a healthy drizzle of caramel – yum. A perfect finish to a perfect evening, and here’s to number twenty nine!!
When Rich and I left Rod and Trish, we headed east out of Missouri towards St. Louis. Rich wanted us to see the “Archway to the West” and as we rode I-64 I was able to get some decent shots of the archway and the St. Louis skyline. Then we crossed the state border into Illinois going almost halfway across to spend the night in Mount Vernon. We attended Mass in the lovely church of St. Mary’s on Saturday 27 August which left us free to have a small lie-in on the Sunday before making tracks for Louisville, KY and Richard’s family.
Like most of the days on this trip, God blessed us with perfect weather for riding as we finished crossing the state of Illinois, clipped the bottom of Indiana, and rode into the blue grass state of Kentucky. I could feel Richard’s excitement mounting as we rode closer to “home”. The plan was to head to his sister Rose’s home, unpack the bike, then head over to the Kentucky State Fair with Rose, her husband Ronnie, and their kids, Megan and Kalin, to meet up with another sister, Robin, and her daughter, Brittany, and his brother, Robert and his wife, Sylvie, and their son, Patrick. Wow, what a reunion!! I had not seen some of these folks since Thanksgiving 2004!
We spent several fun hours at the fair. I found some great HOT dip mixes and some wonderfully decadent fudge, while Richard ate a Krispy Kreme hamburger?????? (yes, that was a hamburger between two doughnuts!!), and later he could not resist trying some “fried Koolaid”. While some of the others went to a concert they had booked to see, Rich and I strolled around the rides for a while. We had fun tempting the “guess your age” guy who made my day and gave me a “prize” after guessing me to be 15 years younger than I am. Whether he was being truthful or gallant in his guessing I’m not sure, but I was happy. Then the tiredness of the ride hit in and we headed home to get a good night’s rest. We needed to get our beauty sleep because the next day we were putting on a Bar-b-q for the family and even more people were coming.
So on Monday we went shopping then got busy cooking and preparing food. By 4pm yet another sister, Rhonda, arrived with her daughter, Ginny, followed shortly afterward by Rich’s step-Mom Ruth, his step-brother Ryan and his step-sister Rachel and her husband Michael with his son in tow. The crowd was rounded out when Robin got there with her son Dustin, and finally we were able to tuck into all that good food. A little later, as we rested full tummies, Kalin took Dustin and they went to pick up Brittany and her girlfriend who had been attending a school sport meet-up. By that time we were ready for some dessert and enjoyed some wonderful concoction that Sylvie had made.
Our final day in Louisville, Rich went to get his (final?? who knows) tattoo in honor of his retirement. Of his eight tattoos, Lucky in Louisville has created 5 of them. This one he actually created around a small existing one of a dolphin that Rich had done in Washington, DC some years ago. Lucky extended the water/wave line under the dolphin , then added the letters USN over the top of everything with a sunrise and the year Rich entered the Navy at one end, and a sunset with his retirement year at the other. It’s really beautiful.
That evening we hooked up with Rose and Ronnie and the kids, Robin, and Richard’s old school friend and partner-in-crime, Fonda with his wife Sherry. We had a great meal and wonderful socializing at a very good Mexican restaurant, where we all ate a bit too much because the food was great!.
Next day, Wednesday 31 August, it was time to load up our faithful Harley, say our farewells, and hit the road again as we headed towards North Carolina. It had been a good visit with family and hopefully it won’t be so long before we see each other again.
On the second day of our retirement ride, Rich and I had a very unique experience. We were some where in Tennessee having left Marietta, GA on the Tuesday morning and we were headed toward Paducah, KY. Our norm each day was to ride for about one hundred and twenty miles, then take a rest stop and gas up if necessary. On that Tuesday morning we had taken a break at a rest stop somewhere in Tennessee. I had headed into the building to use the facilities while Rich took a stretch.
I was inside for a while because a bus had made a pit stop just minutes before we had arrived and there was quite a line for the ladies room. When I came out Rich was standing beside the bike deep in conversation with an older gentleman. I hung back a little giving them room for their discussion. Then Rich looked around and saw me there, motioned me forward and introduced me. I very much regret that I do not remember the gentleman’s name, but I can tell you some things about him.
I learned he was a retired Navy man, a Veteran from World War II. He, too, had owned a bike back in the day and had met and married his wife shortly after joining the service. He said that they really enjoyed riding together back then. His wife came out of the building at this point and joined us and we learned that they were from Knoxville, TN. They were very committed to their church back in Knoxville and they told us they were in fact on a day trip with fellow church-goers. We asked where they were going and the gentleman, with a chuckle, said that they didn’t know. They were on a “mystery trip” and had no idea what their destination was!
At this point, reaching out his hand, Rich thanked him for his service to country and said we needed to get going as we had quite a few miles to cover that day. The gentleman grasped Rich’s hand and thanked him in return for his service to country too. Then, to our great surprise, he extended his left hand toward my right hand and asked permission to pray over us. With joy in my heart I reached out to take his hand and he connected with his wife on his other side, and she in turn clasped hands with Rich.
And right there, the middle of a rest stop parking lot somewhere in Tennessee we were blessed to receive prayers of gratitude and prayers for protection from two strangers. He asked the good Lord, our Father, to watch over us, to keep us safe from all harm. He asked for blessings upon us as we continued our trip and prayed that we would have a wonderful and enjoyable ride. With full hearts we said our goodbyes, mounted the bike, and rode off leaving our parking lot friends to enjoy their mystery tour.
Although I do not remember their names, I can picture them in my minds eye. I can see the four of us standing beside the bike, the big tour bus in the background, holding hands and praying together. It was beautiful and was most definitely a highlight of the ride for me. That memory will be with me in years to come, and I hope that Rich and I will be able to do the same for someone else one day as we ride our Harley around God’s creation.