Archive for the ‘Romancing Rachel’ Category

One of our unspoken wedding vows is an agreement to always pretend that the other is the most attractive person in the world.   (There have been occasional lapses: When Rachel got doe-eyed the first time she watched Barack Obama in a town hall campaign debate, and an unfortunate comment I once let slip about Jennifer Aniston.)

That’s why I was taken aback this weekend when Rachel made a comment about my appearance, and indicated that she was, at the moment, able to withstand my charms.

She had ample grounds: 

1) An eruption of red blistery pimples on the right side of my head.  (Caused by shingles).

2) Several inches of white sock visible between the top of my brown shoes and the bottom of my black pants. (We were travelling over Thanksgiving.  I’d underpacked:  It was the white gym socks or stiff, odorous, day-old blue socks.)

3)  My limp.   (I’d pulled a hamstring trying to out-run a 12-year-old girl in a game of capture the flag.)

4)  My greasy, uncombed hair. (Washing and combing irritated the red pimply head rash).

Still, Rachel was in violation of our unspoken wedding vow.  I  immediately retaliated.  I pointed out that I’d never complained when she came to bed wearing my baggy Big Dog pajama bottoms, a wrinkled t-shirt, and the Lands End slipper with a gaping hole in the toe.

“I look great in those pajamas,” Rachel said, indignant.

I recovered quickly and assured her that, obviously, the reason I’d never complained is that of course she looked good in my old pajama bottoms.  And the way her toe sticks out of that purple slipper?  Mmm-hmm.  Sexy.


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ballerina 001Rachel comes down the stairs.  She’s holding something.  She stops in the front hall, facing me.

“I want to be the woman who inspired these,” she says.

She’s holding a plastic bag full of cards.  She comes over to sit on the couch next to me.  In the plastic bag is every card I ever made for her.  On some I drew a picture, on some I printed out pictures from Google images, and pasted them on a blank piece of cardboard.  She saved every one, and the envelopes.

The first one was after our second or third date.  She’d told me that her favorite movie when she was a girl was the Sound of Music.  I found a picture of the 1965 movie poster and pasted it on a card:  Julie Andrews running on the crest of a hill, guitar case and valise in hand, pink skirts fluttering in the wind.  The stern Captain Von Trapp watches with his hands on his hips.

The last card, from January, is a drawing I made of a dancer lacing her shoes.  Rachel had just started ballet class.  She loves ballet, but had not taken a formal class since she was in college.  She fretted that it was silly for a forty-year old woman to take ballet, but came home from her first class excited as a teenager.  She demonstrated pirouettes in the kitchen.  One of the things I love about Rachel is that she follows her passions, and I wrote that in the card.

But that last card was nine months ago.

Rachel missed the cards, but mostly she missed me being inspired to make them.  I think about last winter, when I stopped doing it.  It’s when my dad got sick and started radiation treatments.  I began making regular trips to South Bend to help, and waking at 3 a.m. to worry.

“I know,” Rachel said.  “But we’ll always have things like that.  My parents will die.  One of us might get sick. Things will happen.”

She’s right.  The tumult of life will toss us like a boat in a storm, but our marriage is our rudder.

I spot a picture of a wild rose on one of the cards, and open it.  It’s a poem by Wendell Berry, “The Wild Rose”, that I wrote out for her.  It goes like this:


                          THE WILD ROSE

               Sometimes hidden from me

               in daily custom and in trust

               so that I live by you unaware

               as by the beating of my heart


                Suddenly you flare in my sight

                a wild rose blooming at the edge

                of thicket, grace and light

                where yesterday was only shade


                 and once again I am blessed, choosing

                 again what I chose before.

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oven mitt 001Never take your wife on a surpise birthday trip to Miami Beach. 

I did, last October, for Rachel’s fortieth birthday.  I managed to keep it secret until the night before we left.  Rachel was astounded, estatic, so excited and happy she cried.  It was the best birthday surprise ever.  Ever.

Now, a year later,  it’s her birthday again.  Nine days away.  

Last year’s Miami trip looms menacingly over this year’s birthday preparations.  Whatever I do will suffer by comparison.  Rachel and I will go out to dinner next Friday.  I will give her a gift wrapped box.  Plane tickets to an exotic location will not be inside. 

What have I learned?  Don’t overdo romantic gestures early in a relationship: you will set a standard that will be impossible to sustain.  Rachel has assured me that she does not need an extravagant birthday surprise every year,  but I know the celebration of her birth is important to her.

We both sat at Caribou recently.  My sister called to ask if we wanted to go Irish dancing at the Gaelic League.  They have lessons and dancing every Friday, she said.  I ask Rachel if she’d like to go.

“Sure,” she says.

“Sure” I tell my sister.

“We can’t go next  Friday,” Rachel says.

“Why not?” I ask.

Rachel gives me a look.  Head tilted down.  Eyebrows raised.  Disapproving gaze. 

Oh, yeah.  Her birthday dinner.  I knew that.

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