She sat at the kitchen table the other day, looking at an album. He peered over her shoulder and held her hand as she stared at a photograph.
In it, she is the happy, young and beautiful bride. He is the serious, skinny groom, looking stunned, like some hoofed forest creature staring helplessly into oncoming lights.
"You're so serious," she laughed. "You're so scared."
"Overwhelmed," he said.
Overwhelmed that this beautiful Sicilian girl with the big brown eyes and the angel's heart would love him and promise to grow old with him.
A few hours before that photograph was taken, they'd been in a Greek Orthodox church, with the ancient crowns on their heads, the priest chanting, as they took their first steps together as man and wife.
Then on to the banquet hall in Bridgeview. They danced to Sinatra and cut the cake. It wasn't a fancy downtown hotel, but the food was nicer and the bar would stay open almost until dawn, with no hotel boss pushing them to leave early.
All those who mattered to them were there. All the family, all the cousins, all the friends, a big fat Greek-Italian wedding, everyone dancing in circles, kids and old people, the mountain clarinets pounding, the groomsmen straight-backed in the warrior dance of the Peloponnesus, then downing shots of ouzo.
The grandmothers at the sweets table, the uncles talking business at the bar, those young girls in their new dresses staring awkwardly at boys in new suits, the courting rituals beginning anew.
It was a great wedding.
And it only took him a day to ruin the honeymoon.
Why didn't he think he needed sunscreen on the backs of his legs while snorkeling under the hot Caribbean sun?
Because he was a moron, that's why.
"You're going to need this," she said. "Put some on."
But morons don't heed advice. And that night, his legs blistered. Think of a bowlegged lobster that can't move.
"Why didn't you use sunscreen!" she said.
"I DON'T KNOW," he said.
He hobbled outside and spied a native plant and calmly explained -- in the rational voice of morons everywhere -- that he had things under control.
He pointed to a thorny desert plant.
"That's aloe," he said. "I'm just going to cut some and you'll put it on me and I'll be good."
He peeled the plant to reveal the white, pulpy, healing goodness inside. Then he asked his young wife to rub the aloe pulp behind his knees where the blisters had popped.
His screams were bad. Worse was the whining that came after.
"What happened to the man I married?" asked the bride as she applied more aloe. "Honey, please don't be such a big baby."
She began to cry and he became angry and at least one of them -- perhaps both -- figured this marriage thing was going to crash and burn.
The next morning his legs were worse. Again he told her to put on the aloe.
"Aieeeee," he screamed.
She left the room, crying again. Later she returned, not with a divorce lawyer but a hotel clerk.
"He said this is aloe," explained the bride.
"That's not aloe," said the clerk, laughing. "It's cactus."
She gave her husband a tiny smack on the back of his head.
"Ouch, honey," he said.
The clerk walked outside their door, reached down, cut some aloe, peeled it, put it on a silver platter (yeah, really) and brought it to them.
"Ahhh," said the husband. THAT'S aloe.
So what if the clerk snickered? He didn't care. His legs were fine. The marriage was saved.
When they returned home, many were ready with advice to help them stay married. And there was an advice industry full of media experts. Much of it came in the form of rules.
Some said to him: You must go to Vegas with the boys. Others said to her: Go to Vegas with the girls. It wasn't always Vegas. Vegas was just an idea, the idea that they'd need some time apart.
But they wanted to be together. And together they waited for the children. Yet that took years and years and years.
Get a dog, some said.
"No dog yet," she said.
That was the most difficult time, the waiting. And the long nights and those long talks until dawn. But finally, another blessing, and the children were born.
And through all these years, they learned something about marriage. Not that they're experts or anything, but they learned a little bit.
What hurts marriage are the betrayals. Not the great dramatic betrayals you hear about after a divorce, but the small betrayals you never hear about, the ones that grow out of selfishness, or fear.
We all make mistakes. But consideration for each other stops the small betrayals from growing into something more. As does kindness, and love of course, and patience and luck. And above all, God, in a family's life.
My wife and I stared at that young couple in the photograph for a long time.
Betty is still that beautiful. I'm no longer that skinny.
We know how lucky we've been, how blessed, and we remind ourselves constantly of this. I love her. She loves me. It's been a great 30 years.