Seventeen years ago, so early she’d had to set an alarm, Sheri left her sister’s cabin on the Pennsylvania side of Delaware River and walked the bank to where I waited with a dinged-up aluminum canoe. A week of hard wedding prep had worn us raw, and we looked it. Sleep lines creased our cheeks and weariness showed in our red eyes and in our slow, careful movements. The river was calm, too, that morning, as if it had been working hard all week. Layers of foam snaked across its surface, early fog had lifted to gray the sky. The river burbled around the canoe’s bow as we slid it into the water. Sheri faced me, in a rosey T-shirt and white shorts, her hair tied in a pony tail. I paddled. The river took us; we steered a little.
I was twenty-eight; she was forty-five, married once and divorced. Look at it one way, and that age difference explained our exhaustion. While my parents were glad to cover the rehearsal dinner, Sheri’s parents had already ponied up for a long-ago wedding that hadn’t worked; we’d pay for this one. Those days we lived on my lousy newspaper salary and the few dollars she picked up as an adjunct college instructor, so we kept expenses low and relied on our own handiwork and on the loving generosity of family and friends. Her sister and brother-in-law let us use the cabin gratis, her nephew was our DJ, she and her sisters cooked, her brother presided as celebrant, her brother-in-law and I uprooted trees to make a parking lot (and later replanted them), and a friend from the area let us raid her garden for bouquets. Ours was an old-fashioned rural American wedding with a community applying its talents to the celebration.
Downriver of the canoe, a truck rumbled over the bridge to Cochecton, New York. I don’t recall us saying much. We’d whisper to mark a bird here, some green beauty there. We grinned at each other a lot. I imagine we talked about wanting coffee.
That afternoon, in a nearby pine grove, we would meet for the “I do’s”. That was seventeen years ago, which means I’m now the same age as Sheri when she married me. Crazy woman. Part of me wants to go back in time and say to her, “You know, he’s a kid.” But another part of me figures that by this age I’ve goofed up and gotten lucky often enough to know one from the other. Sheri at the same age must have known that the canoe ride was a lucky moment, not a goofed-up one.
Me, I was plain dumbfounded.
As I write this, I can hear Sheri saying it’s too long for a blog post. She’s an unsentimental editor, and she’s right. I shouldn’t write so long. But two points.
We first lived together on that river in that cabin, a two-month retreat we owe to the kindness of her sister and brother-in-law. It’s a remote spot, and there we learned to live together without having to think too much about the age difference. We got solid in that place by giving our attention to the river and the wildlife and how best to argue with each other and deciding who would sleep on what side of the bed. No one was around to look at us as an age-aberrant sideshow or to tell us we were the wrong ages to be right.
Second, when we went back for our wedding, all that had changed. Her mother and my grandmother – Depression-era contemporaries – entertained each other on the porch. I played basketball with her nephew, not her brothers. Music choices were more Motown than CBGB. The signs were all around that we were of different generations. But in the days leading up to the wedding, no one came to us, fretting for our future. Maybe some people worried, but they kept private counsel. In that pine grove, beside that river, we felt the necessary love of those we loved. It mattered then, and it matters still. Thanks, y’all.