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The Secret for a Long Marriage

He was sitting in an old swing on the front porch of his home when I arrived, and age and weather had left deep ruts and wrinkles in his face. He was a man of the earth, someone who had spent most of his eighty-nine years plowing the soil and harvesting his crops and waiting for spring so he could start the process of sewing his seeds all over again. His overalls were faded, and dust clung to the sides of his work boots. The sleeves of his checked cotton shirt were rolled up to his elbows.

I had called ahead to set up our appointment. Alvord Griffin had no idea why in the world I would travel so far just to spend an hour or two on his front porch.

“Never done much,” he said as I walked up the wooden steps. “Never amounted to much.”

“You’ve accomplished a lot,” I told him, opening my notebook to a blank page.

“All I’ve ever done is work hard,” he said

“You’ve made your marriage work,” I said.

“Near as I can tell, that’s what you’re supposed to do,” he said.

I nodded.

He adjusted his Massey Ferguson tractor cap tighter on his head. I suspected there was little hair up there. He was not trying to hide it. He had simply worn the cap so long he felt naked without it.

“Sit yourself down,” the old man said, pointing with a disjointed finger toward a lawn chair next to the wooden railing, “I’ll go in and get the wife. If we’re lucky, she’ll have a pitcher of lemonade.”

We were lucky.

Margaret Griffin’s gray hair dropped on her shoulders, she had a Navy blue scarf around her neck, and she was wearing her best taffeta green dress. She didn’t talk much. But she smiled a lot, and she smiled most when Alvord was talking, and the only thing he liked better than talking was plowing.

He sat back down in his porch swing. The green paint had chipped and was beginning to peel in the Nebraska sun. Margaret handed me a glass of chilled lemonade and eased down beside him.

I took a sip.

“It might be too sweet,” she said.

It wasn’t. The chilled glass was sweating in the late August heat.

Alvord emptied his glass.

He leaned back and said, “Now what did you want to talk to me about.”

“Your marriage,” I said.

He smiled. “We’ve been partnered up for the past seventy-one years,” he said.

Margaret smiled.

Neither looked as old as they had when I drove into the farmlands south of Omaha.

“We live in an age where divorce is rampant,” I said.

He nodded.

“In fact, divorce has almost reached epidemic proportions,” I said.

He nodded and glanced at Margaret.

She kept smiling.

“And yet, you and your wife, as you tell me, have been married for seventy-one years,” I said. “How can you explain being married for so long to the same woman?”

“It’s simple,” he said. “Me and my wife don’t play volleyball.”

I must have looked surprised.

Maybe even confused.

“Yeah,” he said slowly, “if you play volleyball, the ball is on your side of the court, and then it’s on her side of the court, and then it’s on your side of the court, and you’re always fighting over the dadblamed old volleyball.” His voice trailed off.

For a moment, there was only silence.

Alvord gazed out across the farmlands, then his eyes turned back toward Margaret.

“No,” he said. “Me and my wife don’t play volleyball. Me and my wife play tug of war.”

He paused.

I frowned.

“And we’re always pulling on the same side of the rope,” he said.

He smiled at her and adjusted his glasses.

She grasped his hand.

I closed my notebook and left.

He could have talked all day.

But there was no need for it.

He had said it all.

Caleb Pirtle III is author of the Christian suspense thriller, Golgotha Connection.

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  • http://twitter.com/jvonbargen Jo VonBargen

    Aw, what a precious story! There’s a ray of sunlight that you don’t see very often in this day and age. Long live those two lovebirds!

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Simple. Direct. And the old man possessed a lot of truth. And not once in 71 years, did he ever talk to her via email or Twitter.

      • http://twitter.com/laurazera Laura Zera

        I don’t think I’ve ever seen a story with the word ‘dadblamed’ in it! New word for me.

        • http://twitter.com/CalebPirtle Caleb Pirtle

          Laura, you need to spend more time in our part of the world. We use words that we haven’t even thought of yet. The Baptists never wanted to be caught cussing, so they used words like dadblamed, dadgummed or dadgummit, and dadblasted. Keeps them out of hell, or so they believe.

  • http://twitter.com/DeborahJHughes Deborah J. Hughes

    I guess there are way too many volleyball games going on! It’s a “you or me”, “I’m right your wrong” and “your fault not mine” world these days. What it needs to be is “you AND me” and the rest of that stuff be damned.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      The only thing that ever gets in the way of true love is human nature. I fear that too many people find mates the way they buy new cars. They need a trade in every few years.

  • http://twitter.com/CarsonCanada Christina Carson

    Beautiful. It’s everyone’s dream to love and be loved and those who have lived that dream, know there is nothing worth trading for it.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      And it’s not that difficult to accomplish as long as we think more of our mate than of ourself. That goes both ways, of course.

  • Confused

    So, um . . . who they playing tug of war against?

    • Caleb Pirtle

      The challenges of life. Too often, couples pull against each other when they face bad times or hard times. This couple stood on the same side of the rope and pulled together.

  • http://twitter.com/SayBumpandTweet Mary Kathryn Johnson

    You are a wonderful story-teller, Caleb! Thanks for another great one.
    Every time I catch myself playing volleyball – a game I loved playing in High School – I stop, ask myself if this is a battle worth either winning or losing – and almost always start tugging on the same side. Surprisingly, that usually takes all the heat out of the game, and turns it into another kind of heat altogether, if you know what I mean…..30 years with my honey will be celebrated next month (5/13), and I wouldn’t change a thing.

    • http://twitter.com/CalebPirtle Caleb Pirtle

      Having someone to tug with – on the same side – for thirty years is a wonderful milestone, Mary Kathryn. But I know how that game is played. Linda and I may be tugging on opposite sides, but she keeps tugging until I finally have the good sense to switch sides.

      • http://twitter.com/SayBumpandTweet Mary Kathryn Johnson

        Good one, Caleb, and that shows why you stay married…..she is always right! My sons keep telling my honey that, so at least they know, and he gives in.