Feels Like the Very First Time: Empty Nesters
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
If you're looking for an example of a solid marriage that's lasted decades, commentator Ana Hebra Flaster will point you to her parents. However, she does not necessarily suggest that you follow their example.
ANA HEBRA FLASTER: After 45 years of marriage, my parents are finally living alone in the same house for the first time. When they got married in Havana all those years ago, my grandmother, in keeping with Cuban tradition, moved in with them. My aunt and her family always lived above, next to or with us. First in Cuba, then in the U.S.
Our home life overflowed with the voices and personalities of aunts, uncles and cousins. But two years ago, my grandmother died, my aunt's family moved away and my parents moved into a new house alone. Now they are embroiled in the daily discovery of each other's more troubling traits.
Apparently they didn't fully appreciate each other's habits with all those relatives in the daily mix.
Your father is a really nice guy, my mother told me, but I want to kill him about 15 times a day. She says he invites people over too often, keeps the TV up too high and chatters incessantly even at bedtime. Plus he walks around in his underwear all day. When he hears this, he rolls his eyes, says she's anti-social, bossy and completely inflexible.
Just as I start to worry about them, they get up from their chairs and head to the kitchen to make arroz con pollo together. All the squabbling wouldn't be surprising if they'd just met, but these guys have known each other for 65 years. She was a baby when he first noticed her. My great-grandmother, Vicenta, was rocking her on the front porch when he walked by to a stickball game.
Take care of the one for me, he said, I just might marry her. He was nine. The next time he noticed her she was 14 and whizzing around the neighborhood on her bike - a tomboy to the core. When he tried to stop her, she pelted him with a rock she always carried in her pocket just in case.
So you see they've been at this a long time. I know they'll be okay. My father may have complained about being outnumbered by women and relatives for all those years, but now it's clear - he relished the constant conversation and entertainment they offered. As for my mother, she got the backup she needed when we kids got too greedy for her time - one benefit of having all those relatives milling around.
Sometimes I offer the same advice they gave me as I fumbled through my first year of marriage. All that give a little, take a little stuff. But they know about giving and taking all kinds of things. Instead, I try to listen to what they're saying and to what they've left unsaid.
Marriage is a secret place where two people go and only the most stubborn love can keep them there.
NORRIS: Ana Hebra Flaster lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.
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