Literature is full of great love stories. Everlasting love has never been so easy to come by as it is in novels and plays. Just close the book at the end of Pride and Prejudice, and Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy go on to live happily ever after. In Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice and Benedick despise each other, then are tricked into falling in love; after discovering the truth, oh well, why not stay in love? Even when the course of love runs less smoothly, there is hope. Heathcliff and Cathy are parted in life but reunite to spend eternity together on the moors. Rhett Butler might not give a damn, but as Scarlett points out, tomorrow is another day…
Great love stories in real life are few and far between. That is because we never get to close the book. There is no fade-out after the wedding scene. Life carries on, messy and complicated, and few couples, no matter how blissfully they were in love on Day One, make it blissfully through to the finale.
But it does sometimes happen. For those who love a romance, I give you my parents, Ed and Ila Tenny.
My parents had their first date when they were thirteen years old. That is eighty years ago — they are 93 now. They dated throughout most of the rest of their junior high and high school years. They occasionally went with other dates, but according to my mother, she would see my father walking down the hall at school, he would bat his long eyelashes at her, and that would be all she wrote.
They married when Mother was 18 and Dad was 19.
It wasn’t long after that when World War II began, and Dad became a soldier. The two of them, plus my brother, spent some time in Nevada while my dad was training, and then he was shipped to England. He was gone a long time. They wrote to each other every day. One snowy night after the war was over, there was a knock on the door. Mother opened it, and there was Dad, home safely. As many times as I’ve heard that story, it makes me tear up every time she tells it.
They had three children and then, twelve years later, me. Then and afterward, they had many good times and many hard and sad times. What they never lost was their feelings of love and romance for each other. Dad never left for work without finding Mom and giving her a kiss; when he got home in the evenings, he would find her and kiss her again. I remember one day when he was leaving for work and she ran out of the kitchen to kiss him good-bye at the top of the stairs. He swooped her down into a ‘Gone with the Wind’ romantic kiss; in the process he banged her head against the barometer on the wall and broke it. Sometimes a price must be paid for True Romance.
They didn’t, and don’t, appear to have much in common. Mom is a Night Owl, Dad is a Lark. Mom is emotional, Dad is stoical. Mom loves to socialize, Dad doesn’t. Mom loves her iPad, Dad won’t use a computer. But the smaller things, the more important things, are often things they share. They both enjoy word games, reading, gardening, feeding the birds and watching wildlife. We went on some wonderful adventurous trips when I was a child. They share household chores. They watch Jeopardy and funny movies and Royals baseball on television together. They both love music. They laugh together a lot. They argue from time to time, but they always respect each other.
Last year, Mom and Dad were honored as the couple who has been married longest in the state of Missouri.
That was very nice for them, and they enjoyed it. But to me, the grand and glorious thing they should be honored for is not just the fact that they have been married for 74 years. It’s that they have lived a Real Romance all that time, and still do.
I visited Mom and Dad for Mom’s 92nd birthday last year. At one point I walked into the kitchen and they were kissing. Dad smiled at me over Mom’s shoulder and said, as if sharing a confidence, “She’s my best girl.”
Real Life Romance. True Love.