Golden years

A note of appreciation on my mom and dad’s 50th wedding anniversary

Mom and Dad’s 50th anniversary cake was an exact replica of their wedding cake.

Mom and Dad’s 50th anniversary cake was an exact replica of their wedding cake.

Photo by R.V. Scheide

I am literally a child of the Atomic Age. My mom and dad met in 1958 in Jerome, Idaho. Mom was raised there; Dad came from back east to train at the Navy’s nuclear-reactor testing facility in the southeastern Idaho desert. They married on March 21, 1959. Last Saturday was their 50th wedding anniversary.

Here’s how rare such an event is nowadays: According to the U.S. Census, only 5 percent of all marriages make it to the 50-year mark. “I never made it into the top 5 percent income bracket,” Dad quipped. “But this is even better.”

Imagine the chance my mother took some five decades ago. In her junior year of high school, a smooth-talking sailor boy from Baltimore comes from out of nowhere and sweeps her off her feet. The valedictorian of her senior class was married and pregnant with me by the time she accepted her diploma.

Here’s what my 18-year-old mom bought into marrying not just a Navy man, but a submariner: The next decade of her life would be spent raising kids while he patrolled the oceans in an intercontinental ballistic submarine, spending three months at sea, three months in port, ad infinitum. In other words, she’d only get to see her husband six months out of the year.

I came along on March 10, 1960, the first of three sons. My brother Chris was born in 1962, followed by Eric in 1965. We’d all go down to the pier when Dad’s boat would come in. The band would play “Anchors Away!” Then Dad would emerge and give us all hugs, making sure to rub his whiskers against our smooth cheeks—submariners don’t shave a lot. It always made us laugh. He also brought cool toys from overseas. Even though we didn’t see him all the time, it wasn’t bad being a Navy brat.

Dad became disenchanted with the Vietnam War and decided to leave the Navy after 12 years of service in 1970. He used his experience as an electrician to land a job with Idaho Power, and soon we were back in Mom’s old stamping grounds.

As a family, we were never closer. Idaho was a kid’s paradise, a wide-open territory with no fences where my brothers and I could go hunting, fishing, camping and dirt-biking in our own backyard. It was the time of the best Christmas ever, when we got a race-car track, three bicycles and a snowmobile. As an added bonus, the schools in American Falls, Idaho, were top-notch. I was one smart little shit by the time I hit adolescence.

I’m gonna skip that part, my adolescence. Following family tradition, I joined the Navy when I was 18. By the time I got out four years later, my brothers had left the nest and were doing their own things in different places. The strong bond we enjoyed in childhood has weakened with absence, but it’s still there.

We’re not without success, my brothers and I. Chris is a master craftsman and one of the best high-school teachers in Northern California. Eric is chief technical officer for Craigslist. I’m a hotshot journalist. I firmly believe our success has much to do with my parent’s willingness to stick it out, for better or worse, always striving to make life a little bit better, one inch at a time.

Fifty years later, it has paid off. Mom and Dad have retired and live in a stylish A-frame on an 8-acre plot of land in the foothills 30 miles east of Redding. Chris and his wife live right next door on their own 8-acre plot. Eric, his wife and their two children live in San Francisco. I live in Sacramento with my soul mate. It’s no accident that we haven’t strayed too far from Mom and Dad. We love them.

Our parents kind of stumped us on what to get them for their 50th anniversary. “I already have everything I need,” Dad kept saying. So the three of us got together two weekends ago in Sacramento to take a group photograph. We put the picture in a golden frame, wrapped it in golden paper and presented it to them last Saturday: three smiling, successful sons, the fruit of all their labor.

“This is the happiest day of my life,” Mom said.

I have no doubt whatsoever that she meant it.