this is what 20 years of marriage feels like.
On October 18, 1997, Amy Stem and James Faulk exchanged nervously wrought vows at just after 7 p.m. in a candle-lit evening ceremony inside the Methodist chapel in Eureka on the corner of Del Norte and F streets. Amy, flush with the excitement of the evening and the adrenaline of such heady declarations, shone brighter than any fire in the building. People had to avert their eyes for fear of permanent blindness.
After such a wonderful start, life happens: School, work, parenthood, stress, arguments, addiction, ups, downs, all-arounds, so many calamitious vicissitudes it can sometimes rival a corny Hollywood screenplay for Kleenex moments and soul-searching soliloquoys.
Now, after the warped and crazy funhouse two decades of marriage almost always becomes, I’m supposed to honor this long and true relationship with my lovely wife by providing her with gifts according to some age-old tradition and list apparently composed after Moses or some other wise man huffed the fumes from his burning bush and set quivering quill to paper.
At least that’s how it seems.
You know the list. The silver anniversary is 25. The golden anniversary is 50. The 75th is diamond. So, according to this ancient wisdom, what, pray tell, awaits those marriages of a mere 20 years?
I set out upon a quest, in a desert on a horse. With no name.
“Oh mighty Goooooooogle, let your Geeeewwwwgle rain down upon me, with furious Googleness, instantly cracking open the Googley answers upon the Googley plains mainly in Spain where it rains for Jane … ,” I chant, naked in the blue light from my smart-phone screen, religiously thumbing in the digits to make the new and cyber part of my iCloud in heaven work. Everybody does it. “Aha!”
I do love these wi-fi epiphanies! According to the oracle, traditionally I would have gifted her with China.
I’m not good with wrapping paper, so tying a ribbon and bow around more than a billion people plus the land they live on is a challenge I would’ve dodged from the first.
On the off chance they mean the other kind of china, fine dinnerware, that hardly seems worth the wear and tear of what the both of us have been through these past 20 years.
The list so mysteriously conjured out of the ether by the Google also provided an updated modern equivalent to the original gifts, as listed by the Chicago Public Library’s Information Center.
For modern couples at 20 years of marriage, the equivalent to china is, uh, platinum.
Ahem. Reality check. A quick glance at prices on October 21, 2017 reported that platinum was topping out at $919 per ounce, while silver — which is the gift meant to honor the wedding anniversary five years down the line, make it ostensibly more difficult to reach, right? — is topping out at a mere $16.92 per ounce.
In fact,the 20-year gift was closer to the price of the 50-year gift — gold was selling for $1,286.10 — than mere silver, which is nice, you know, but not 25 years of marriage nice.
Our wise old men must have gotten their burning bushes from the Emerald Triangle.
The history behind these gifts I think was the most telling. It seems that the list, and its necessity, arose with the love match as the motive for marriage. The gifts were not intended as an exchange between partners at all, but as a kind of payoff to the wife for having kept a harmonious home during all those years.
In the early 1800s, it was typically a German or a Dutch tradition where a wife would receive a silver wreath at their 25th anniversary and a gold wreath at their 50th anniversary for having kept the peace. It was simply assumed that she would have had to be the one to compromise in order to keep the home running smoothly. So, yes — the list, like so many other things, is an arcane and sexist remnant of the past where women were expected to take up the slack and shut up about it. Thank God all that’s changed.
As I write this, I think about the years when I was fucking off and my wife had to take up my slack. There was quite a few years when I was still a boy, too young to care about anyone but myself, then I had my dalliance with drugs … . Hell, it wasn’t until these past few years that I’ve been worth a damn at all.
Why did I choose this topic again? I thought it would be funny? Real funny. Anyway, I’ve got some shopping to do. Late is better than never, right? Right? In the meantime, I’ve got to borrow some money.
James Faulk is a writer living in Eureka. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org