Tag Archives: wedding anniversary

Happily Sometimes After

Our wedding anniversary falls in early spring.
Some years, we celebrate elaborately.
This year, not so much, as covid threats
Recede slightly and other health 
Concerns of aging reemerge.

When we wed, a very long time ago,
Both external and internal wars
Raged–Southeast Asia, the Middle East,
Race and gender discord. Maybe
Not so very different from now.

We agreed then, only half jokingly, to hold our
Marriage as an informal contract, renewable
Every three years. It seemed such a
Long interval, when we started out.

Our first three years included job changes
And a geographical move. The next three,
More moves, unemployment, marital strife.
Somehow, we managed to stabilize
Just before the six year mark.

Our third contract period involved
Adding two lovely, lively children to the mix.
Family life got more complex after that.
Lots of growth, outer and inner, too. 

One interval, we struggled mightily to balance
Family commitments and career aspirations.
For two years, we alternated lengthy separations
With multi-thousand-mile commutes, as one of
Us completed an international assignment.

By now we’ve passed the big five-oh. More and more of
Our cohort are becoming single by death rather than divorce.
We worry less about small stuff, practice being gentle
With ourselves while attempting to coach
The next generations equally gently.

We continue to live happiiy sometimes after.   

Jinny on her long-ago wedding day


How Have We Come So Far on Earth? (50th)

Were we ever that young?

How Have We Come So Far on Earth?  (50th)   —by Jinny Batterson

(Many years ago, we started the custom of a poem on our wedding anniversary. The poetry hasn’t improved all that much; the marriage has somehow endured…)

In retrospect, so much can seem inevitable:
The ungainly bag of holly and pine boughs,
The welcoming seat at the front of the bus,
glib blond guy with the Paul Bunyan
Glasses frames. The letter to “Jennifer”
h the correct postal address at my dorm.

The college-based courtship. That magic
Summer in Montreal. The horses across
The fence our first dew-drenched dawn
g the road east toward the Gaspé.
Our newlyweds’ apartment near Hopkins,
The night we watched the progress
pedestrians first dodging, then
Accepting the thunderstorm’s drenching.

Trying to make the Nearings’ rural dream our
Own, though rank novices in needed skills.
a lakeside cabin at a divorce-sale
Price. Uprooting to northern Virginia and
hellish teaching term. Stitching ourselves
Back together while riding Fred the red pickup
the mighty Mississippi to New Orleans.

Two children born of love and post-Watergate
 The friendly Richmond neighbors who
Salved the silly white liberals aiming to
Dismantle racism double-handedly.
Servas adventures, both as hosts and
As travelers. The travails of drug-infested inner
living. The trophy house and garden.
The long-term live-ins: Chinese, then Japanese.

The mid-life lump, the reconfiguring of later priorities:
Less career focus, more service, more travel.
tourism, China teaching, China by plane, by bus,
By rail, by camel, by motorcycle, by bamboo raft.
at scenery, food, sometimes strange
Similarities with America. The sooner-than-expected
Grandchild. Relocating to
North Carolina just
In time for its next slide into regressive politics.
Wenchuan earthquake, beginnings of recovery.

Reaching our milestone three score and ten with
Most body parts still functional, grieving for those who’ve
departed the planet. Scant chance we’ll have
Another fifty years, but determination to treasure the
and lows of the together times that remain.

Happy anniversary to the accidental/inevitable
Love of my life.   Love, Jinny

My Cousin Bill

My Cousin Bill       —by Jinny Batterson

This time of year I often think about my cousin Bill. Bill was a cousin-by-marriage, wed for nearly thirty years to my mother’s second cousin Jen. Before I remember meeting Bill, I met the small “gentleman’s farm” that he and Jen owned in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. One summer in my young teens, I spent nearly a week at their place on a return visit after their only daughter Grace came to stay at our much smaller homestead in the suburban fringes of Washington, D.C.   Bill and Jen’s place wasn’t near any large city. Their farm of a hundred acres or so had a small herd of beef cattle and was way out in the country. The closest town of any size was the college town of Lexington, Virginia, about twenty miles away. What I mainly remember of that visit was not Bill or Jen, but how scared I was of Grace’s two horses, huge animals compared with the dogs and cats at our house. Over the course of my visit, I managed only one brief ride on the gentler and smaller of the two mounts.

Several years later, Bill and Jen came to Maryland for my grandmother’s funeral. As they gave me a ride from the cemetery back to our house in their car, I got my first direct exposure to Bill, who regaled us with stories about Granny and how much she’d enjoyed racy anecdotes, despite her somewhat stern Presbyterian upbringing.

A couple of years after that, as Grace went off to university in Atlanta, I began attending a small women’s liberal arts college near the Shenandoah Valley. Once I got access to a vehicle at school, I went to visit Bill and Jen, driving my little car through the verdant countryside of a Virginia spring to their front gate. Bill welcomed me and gave me a house and garden tour while Jen fixed lunch. He’d filled the walls in their parlor with “ancestors,” a portrait collection of Indians and Africans decked out in ceremonial dress, plus assorted other individuals that were no biological relation, but struck Bill as having character.  He’d made up stories about each one. Outdoors, in one of their several flower beds, Bill pointed out the “night-blooming enuresis,” a yucca to which he’d attached the label for childhood bedwetting as a joke on some of the snootier but vocabulary-limited ladies of the local garden club.

Later, when I began seriously dating a young man who was a student at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, I brought Jim with me to meet my sensible cousin Jen and her eccentric husband Bill.  Bill and Jen would invite us to their place every couple of months. Bill entertained us with more stories, while both he and Jen plied us with home cooked meals more varied and nutritious than we’d get at the cheaper town restaurants that were our typical date-night fare.  I began noticing the extensive collection of fine china and cutlery that filled a long wall of cupboards in their remodeled kitchen. Only gradually did it slip out that Bill had inherited a large fortune from his now-deceased parents. It also gradually slipped out that Bill was a gentleman alcoholic as well as a gentleman farmer. He was generally good at staying away from drink, but every year or two his disease would get the best of him. Neighbors knew to phone Jen and to manage to get Bill home from wherever he’d fallen off the wagon.

When Jim and I got engaged in the spring of 1968, Bill wanted to throw us an engagement party. The party didn’t happen—coordinating schedules for our out-of-town families proved too complicated—but Jim and I continued occasional visits to the farm. Early that December, I completed my undergraduate schooling and moved home to Maryland to begin graduate work and start planning our wedding. We’d get married in the chapel at Washington and Lee the next spring. Of course we’d invite Bill and Jen.

In January 1969, we got word that Bill was seriously ill.  He’d been feeling a little rundown when we’d last seen him in the fall. Jen eventually nagged him into seeing a doctor. The diagnosis was dire—acute leukemia. At first I was sure Bill would bounce back, his wealth giving him access to the best medical care money could by. However, later news from the farm was not good.  About ten days before the wedding, I talked by phone with Jen, who explained that Bill was quite weak and no longer able to drive, but that she’d do her best to arrange a driver to bring them to the small college chapel where our ceremony would be held.

Our Saturday wedding day dawned clear, but brisk and windy. Once or twice during the early afternoon ceremony, I looked around to see whether Bill and Jen had slipped in at the back of the chapel, but they never appeared. Our simple wedding was followed by an equally simple reception at the college’s alumni house. By mid-afternoon, the festivities were over. Our best man retrieved our car. Despite his best efforts to hide it, it had been festooned with shave cream slogans and peppered with jelly beans. We drove back toward Maryland at a leisurely pace, with no extensive honeymoon in prospect, but no work or school until the following Monday. At the turn-off to Bill and Jen’s, I hesitated. Would they welcome a short visit?  We decided to try it—Bill and Jen hadn’t come to the wedding, but the wedding could sort of come to them.

We knew by now to ignore the “Unruly Dog” sign at the gate. We went straight to the front door and knocked. Jen opened it. We could see Bill, wheelchair bound, behind her in the parlor, along with a neighbor who’d come to help with nursing and provide support for Jen.

“Howdy,” Bill croaked, his voice weak and slightly slurred. “It’s so good to see you. I’m sorry we couldn’t make it to Lexington. The powers that be (here he nodded at Jen and the neighbor) forbid me to go out into the wind.”

He had a small tumbler of whiskey in one hand—one side-effect of his disease was the capacity to absorb alcohol without the likelihood he’d do any further damage to himself or others.  We chitchatted for a few minutes, but could see he was very tired, though glad we’d come.

“Y’all go on now,” he said. “I expect you have other things on your minds than visiting with your old cousins.”

We left.  A few weeks later we got news that Bill had died. When we first learned of Bill’s leukemia, Mom told us that Bill had lost his first wife to a different, but equally aggressive cancer, a number of years before he met Jen. He was no stranger to death.

It’s early spring again. Easter and our wedding anniversary are not far off. The slopes of the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia will soon be filled with redbud and dogwood blossoms, and the pale, almost iridescent green of newly sprouted leaves—nature resurrecting herself. I don’t reflect all that much about death, afterlife, or resurrection, but I often remember Bill, especially at this time of year. I think perhaps it’s enough that Bill, and others like him, live on in the memories of those whose lives they touched.