What does that headline mean? It means that today (more precisely, around 2:30 p.m.), Jannan and I have been married 19 years.
Nineteen years isn’t one of those anniversaries with a specified gift attached, like silver for 25 or gold for 50. But given the divorce rate, and considering that people we know who have been longer than that are now divorced, this seems like an accomplishment.
I repeat the story of how we met because it strikes me as one of the more unusual ways to meet people — by interviewing them as part of your job. Back in my rural journalism days, I was assigned to interview an area woman back briefly after a year in the Peace Corps in Guatemala. The interview produced the best lead paragraph I have written before or since: “One day, Jannan Roesch was on the bus, when two men in front of her got into a machete fight.” You read that, and I guarantee you you will read the rest.
She then returned to Guatemala for her last year, and I returned to my pastime of the previous several months — complaining about the lack of social life for myself because of the lack of people like myself in Lancaster — mid-20s, college-educated and unattached.
A year and a few months later, I found out from the newspaper publisher (whose stepdaughter was best friends with Jannan) that she was coming back the next Monday. I called her mother (who remembered me from the first interview) and we arranged an interview at 10 on Tuesday, 10 hours after she got off the airplane at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
That was a similarly good interview, which ended with her saying that she was going to Washington in the fall to take advantage of her one year’s preferential hiring status with the federal government, which she got for doing the two-year Peace Corps hitch. Which I pointed out to my boss when she asked upon my return to the office if I had asked her out. That would have been not merely unprofessional (though I doubt unprecedented), but, I assumed, pointless.
But small towns contain opportunities to keep running into people — the grocery store, the Monday night community band concert on the courthouse lawn, and, yes, the murder trial. (A colleague of her brother-in-law was the victim.) At some point the day the verdict was reached, I must have mentioned to her that a baseball playoff game was being held later that day, and she came to the game. (A come-from-behind 20–3 Lancaster win over Platteville.) I mentioned to her that the next playoff game was three days later, and she came to that, too. (Gale–Ettrick–Trempealeau 8, Lancaster 7 in 12 innings, the story about which won me a Wisconsin Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Contest first-place award.)
I then mustered up what little courage I had to ask her on a date, the next night — dinner at Mario’s Restaurant in Dubuque and the movie “Pretty Woman.” Fun night, but again, nothing was going to come to it because she was going to D.C. in a couple of months.
She started coming to my games with the Grant County Herald Independent softball team, which made up for poor hitting with poor pitching and defense. One particular night, she saw me hit my one and only triple (a highly unlikely event) in my four-year slow-pitch career. And suddenly, if there was a social gossip column in the Herald Independent, we would have been in the same sentence.
She never went to D.C., or at least not to get a job. I assume it was because after two years of traveling, she was tired of being far away from her family. (Which, I must point out, has now been feeding me for more than 20 years.) She claims it’s because I didn’t unbutton my shirts to my navel and spoke English. I assume that she might be the only person on the planet who could stand being with me this long. (I’m not the easiest person to live with, I must confess.)
Our wedding was pretty large, and definitely musical, with my chiropractor singing and a brass quintet (with her high school band director) performing. I think everyone who went to the wedding had a good time, although I’m pretty sure some people who went to the reception didn’t remember much about the reception. (Two words: Open bar.) Unfortunately, the restaurant where we had our rehearsal dinner and the banquet hall where we had our reception are now closed. Also unfortunately, the wedding videos are filling with people who are no longer with us — my grandparents, her grandmother, her father and her oldest sister and brother-in-law.
We had two celebrants, the Catholic church priest and our friend the Methodist-trained minister/radio DJ. (And now high school football coach and nondenominational pastor.) Something the latter said in the homily has stuck in my mind: When you hear that marriage is a 50/50 proposition, that’s wrong; it should be a 100/100 proposition.
I think one’s marriage’s success has a lot to do with one’s parents’ marriage and its success or lack thereof. My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary Jan. 7. My in-laws were married 58 years before my father-in-law died in 2004.
Our 19 years includes several jobs, three houses, two dogs and one cat now passed on to Rainbow Bridge, and, most importantly, our three children. We don’t have the same tastes (I didn’t watch the chick flicks she used to watch Sunday mornings in our pre-children days) or opinions, but we have, I’d say, similar opinions about things. She’s indulged my interest in sports announcing, even though that means my being at games on nights and weekends, since that’s when the games are. (Added bonus: She can keep score in football and basketball.)
I hope she doesn’t think she’s missed out on doing bigger and better things because she’s been with me, even though she probably has. Since the day before this blog began, I get an F in being a family provider. You don’t want to know the list of things around the house that I haven’t gotten to in the past nearly seven months. Even when things are going well, my list of personality traits includes adult vocabulary during unfavorable portions of Packer and Badger games, bad temper, expressing opinions without being asked, impatience, procrastination, stubbornness and yelling … and, of course, being a journalist. Had she known all of this in the summer of 1990, and had my persuasive powers not been what they apparently were on one occasion in my life, I hope I would have had the grace to not be a bitter, lonely middle-aged man, but I doubt it.
Jannan, on the other hand, is (not in any particular order) smart, bilingual, a great mother, and a fine cook (in keeping with her farm background). She puts others before herself, and she’s put up with me for 21 years.
The best thing about being married is its intimacy in ways far beyond those about which you really need to get your mind out of the gutter. Early in relationships, you have someone with whom to do things. But as your relationship lengthens and deepens, there is more to share. Any time we’re at a wedding or otherwise in church and hear our wedding’s first reading, which includes Song of Solomon 2:9 (look it up yourself), there will be two people in the church quietly, yet hysterically, laughing. We enjoy finding typographical errors in publications. I hear her say things I would say, which means she’s been around me a really long time. (Either that, or I repeat myself repeatedly.) Being married also means you have to think about someone besides yourself, which is good for the self-centered.
I look at this way: This morning, the love of my life was next to me in our bed. Tonight, the love of my life will be next to me in our bed. In a world where divorce seems more common than marriage, perhaps I should say in public: I love my wife.