Front St. Arts
A Miracle Maker
Just a Girl
Preface & Reader Response
Joyce and I often remark – with more than a little seriousness – that the key to a fulfilling marriage is low expectations.
Dutch Treat: Two Heads, Two Hearts, Four Hands, One Purpose
WHEN WE GOT MARRIED
by Jerry Murley
There are slightly differing accounts about how it all got started. A number of commitments had evolved to a critical decision point. For one, Joyce completed her master's degree in special education. Was she going to return to Middle Tennessee or remain in Memphis?
My recollection is that Joyce said, "Maybe we should get married." And I paused and said, "OK." Her interpretation is a bit more fuzzy, as if we had had the vague discussion for several months and just finalized it in a fit of practical exertion. Probably both accounts are correct and there is no real conflict. That's sort of how our life together has been all along.
I had long tried to get my mind around marrying and what my adult life would be like, but I never could quite imagine it as different from young adult life. In some fundamental ways it is not that different and my confusion was premature wisdom. Romance is a difficult thing to define, especially when there are so many unrealistic models to go by in goofy books and movies. Let's just say that when you decide that the person that you have come to know so well, like, respect, adore, depend on, and enjoy becomes the person that you cannot imagine living without – you have met your match. I met mine in Joyce and didn't even know it for a long time. The surprising thing is how much more you grow to realize it over the maturation of a marriage. What a stroke of luck; it was the making of my life and it just sort of happened.
Joyce and I are very practical people. We remain so today. If one of us had been irresponsible with finance, health care, language, or even political views, I don't know what would have happened. In fact, I can't even imagine that, because our ways are so ingrained in us and always have been. We are so alike yet so unalike. I would like to think that our strengths complement one another.
As practical people with little romantic imagination, the first thing we decided to do at our critical decision point was to get married quickly and secretly. Neither of us like to think of ourselves as being the center of attention, especially in terms of an expensive, time-honored public ceremony. Plus, Joyce's father had already proffered a modest bounty for any of his daughters who eloped. How could we have responded otherwise? We asked the minister of the downtown church where I worked as an editor to perform the service. He met with us once – his condition for performing the rite. After we had our blood tests done, we went over to a pawnshop on Beale Street to buy a $10 plain gold band for Joyce.
Finally, we called two male friends to see if they had plans for lunch on Wednesday. We asked that they meet us at the church under the pretext that we would Dutch treat for the traditional spaghetti lunch that the church sponsored every Wednesday. When they arrived, we asked them instead to go into the chapel and witness our wedding. They were surprised. We took a couple of pictures with a small instant camera. Then we set out for a Dutch-treat lunch at a little Vietnamese restaurant downtown. Afterward, everyone returned to work.
After completing her class work and our initial talk, Joyce went on a week-long trip to the Bahamas with her aunt, a sister, and her mother. She didn't mention the subject – the secret upcoming event. So it came as an unexpected, drawn out pleasure to slowly reveal the change in our plans – the gigantic change in our lives – to close family and friends. We told my parents at their home in Memphis a few days after the wedding. My mother claims that it had been the outcome that she had wanted since first meeting Joyce. I think Joyce's parents were pleased as well; from their perspective, it could have been worse. Some friends we did not tell for months. We had all struck an unspoken bargain, drawn a line in the sand about marriage, making wedlock one of the chief taboo cop outs, like having children. We were reluctant to break the code publicly without settling into the reality a little more ourselves. When we did spill the beans, it was well worth the wait. I think the experience further taught us that there are big rewards in keeping big secrets – keeping one's mouth shut for as long as possible.
In one week, Joyce got her master's, we got married, and we bought our first house, one that my father had found for us in Midtown that needed lots of superficial work but cost very little because it was part of an estate sale. At first Joyce and I agreed to keep separate finances, except for joint ownership of large purchases. Over time, especially once, eight years later, we had a child, the joint accounts increased and the private accounts became less exclusive.
It was an unconventional, but auspicious beginning. And it worked for us. We happened to have known something essential about ourselves at twenty-five that has held constant all of these years: We liked being together and talking. We both wanted to garden and liked reading. We had mutual friends. We liked one another's family. That might not be a recipe for happiness for everyone. But somehow it was a way to a marriage that I could never have imagined and which looks more incredibly rich with each passing year.
I have taken many family photographs over the years – often with the reluctant participation of family members. When I look back at old photographs of Joyce and myself, separate and together, I marvel at how good we had it. For the young people we know now who enrich our lives, whom we so respect and adore, I have this to say: You never know how good you have it when you have it. But try to be aware of just how good your life is. Preoccupation with the sad, the bad, and the petty is just not worth the effort: it is a tremendous waste of valuable time – and it is a relentless eroder of needed focus and composure.
A relationship is what you make of it, young friends. However, you shouldn't try to make too much of it, because a loving relationship is as natural – and as beneficial – as breathing, if only you can learn to recognize your real match when it is the smile and heartbeat right before your eyes. Being there for one's mate during the non-events is the ninety-nine percent of relationship that the movies never show you. Joyce and I often remark – with more than a little seriousness – that the key to a fulfilling marriage is low expectations. That is low expectations in terms of requirements and outcomes, not in terms of regard for the character of one's mate. In a pinch – which is most of the time – a little low-level everyday joy will carry you young folks a very long way – as it has shepherded us to an advanced stage in our own lives.