Driving through the lush hill country outside of San Antonio was both refreshing and nostalgic. It had been to this very beautiful part of their beloved State of Texas where they used to take those long drives when they first met over forty years ago and where they had embarked on one of the most memorable and exciting honeymoons ever recorded. This was not because of anything sensual or particularly steamy, but because one simple act on the part of complete strangers, a typical Texan thunderstorm with hurricane force winds, and a surprise that had in fact shaped their married life together, and, by extension, their children and at least their approach to marriage itself with grandchildren to hear the story over and over again.
Large clusters of sprawling bluebonnets blanketed the country side over a particular rolling hill and the couple decided that they would pull over for just a bit, take a few pictures, pop open their YETI of fresh hot coffee they just purchased at a nearby truck stop and make a moment of this afternoon. It was more than hard to say or to even think that they had been married for generation and now celebrating their fortieth anniversary with many happy and insightful lessons of life and love.
It had not always been happy. Within the first ten years of the married life, they had lost a baby in childbirth, he was abruptly fired from a lucrative job, losing their dream home months later, and she her parents within weeks of each other to a heart attack and then subsequently a broken heart. However, time after time, as they held on to each other through the dark valleys of tears and disappointments, they always seemed to have found the sunshine of hopeful rays glowing all around them always remembering that “this too shall pass.”
It was that certain time in the afternoon when the sun made its last blazing attempt to warm the air right before that coolness of evening began to soothe the land when he turned to ask an insightful question with a clearly warm and tender response from his spouse of forty years: “What is the greatest thing you’ve learned from our marriage?”
“That’s easy!’ she quickly retorted. “No one has ever become poor by giving.”
Her husband smiled and added, “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
And there were many good reasons why he said that and they both knew why. Perhaps the sequence of events from their very first night as a married couple had something to do with it. You see, it was a typical, happy, and otherwise ordinary wedding and reception for them in the summer of 1980. The only concern the families had about the wedding had nothing to do with the bride and groom but the weather. There was a Category 2 Hurricane brewing in the Gulf of Mexico and although there was some talk as they neared the date of postponing the vows or even exchanging their vows privately and coming back for the reception after the storms season had passed. However, the decision was made to go full-speed ahead and proceed, which is exactly what they did. At first it seemed like the best decision made since the two would be travelling soon after the wedding reception sight up into the hill country for a nice, romantic getaway before getting back to work and starting their lives.
But you know the old, wise saying: “We make plans and God laughs,” and He must have been chuckling quite a bit that night because the storm surged unexpectedly three hours before the wedding was to begin. Although the wedding and the reception following might have to be rushed a little bit, it would still go on and no one none the sadder for it.
Dark clouds amassed in the distance even while the afternoon sun shone quite bright on the other side of the Texas landscape. There may have been a few who noticed the disparity of weather conditions, and if they did, they kept their observations to themselves. So much happiness filled those afternoon hours that no one seemed to notice the wind picking up, the temperatures dropping a little, or the distinct flashes of lightning that were about to add to the music of the nuptials. By the time the last toasts were made in the reception hall, there were raindrops dotting all the cars in the parking lot. The best man, a long-time childhood friend of the groom, and still to this day, by the way, came to whisper to his buddy in a serious but impending voice, “You need to get going, “ and he was definitely right.
Then with groom in tux and bride in a simply elegant long flowing wedding dress, they both waved everyone good bye and drove off, safely but with some urgency, into the night to start their long-awaited honeymoon and their dream life together.
Perhaps the quickness and the unseasonably severe, massively earthbound storm would be a metaphor for their lives together, not because of the fierceness of the rain but the resilience of the newlyweds. They were about to face their first crisis in marriage, and they were going to confront it head-on, together. Apparently, another outer band of the huge storm system wrapped its way ahead of them leaving the roads drenched, and the low-lying areas nearly flooded. The young groom had not been very schooled in driving in conditions like this so he may have been a bit too impetuous. There was too much stalling, too much water, too much gunning the engine and there was excessive fuel injected into the combustion chamber and that’s when it happened: the carburetor flooded and ignition was just not going to take place, at least for the rest of the night which was looking more and more ominous as they both sat in the car staring out the window wondering what was going to be their next step in this very unusual and unexpected turn of honeymoon events. Their car had stalled about a thirty-minute walk to a distant farmhouse that appeared to brandish a front porch light glowing and at least one other light shining from the house.
“Look,” the anxious groom firmly told his listless bride, “you stay here, and I’ll walk up to that house and see if I can get some help.”
His bride’s answer was quick and decisive. “Absolutely not!” she retorted. “I’m now your wife, so looks like we’re in this together!” (What do you say to that, and on your honeymoon?)
Still in their traditional marriage attire, hand in hand, shivering a bit, they walked toward the farmhouse stumbling a bit on the caliche ground under their feet. They reached the door of the farmhouse and knocked a couple of times hearing what they thought sounded like a radio or something in the background.
“Knock harder,” she insisted. He complied, hesitatingly. It worked. They both heard stirring from within then a tall, slender figure coming toward the window then to the door. Apparently unlocked, he just pulled his side of the door open and then clapped eyes on the couple. What a sight that must have been! There they were: two young people, a man in a crisp, tailored suit that had apparently begun to shrink on him making him look like a malnourished penguin, and his bride wearing a laced, satin gleaming wedding dress, equally drenched with mascara running down her tired, sporting a worried face with mud dotting up and down her skirt presenting more of a picture of a Halloween costume than a bridal gown.
The farmer tried to fight back laughter as he called out to his own bride probably of more than forty years, “Martha, you gotta come see this!” Within seconds, the queen of the farm emerged dressed in blue gingham house dress with over-sized night slippers that looked quite comfortable with her pepper-gray hair pulled up into a cute bun atop her head. “Yep, “ she said, “looks like we got us a pair of real winners right here!” and with that, all four of them burst into a relieving laughter dispelling whatever awkwardness might have accrued as the newlyweds were ushered into the home to explain this tale-telling scene and how they arrived, late-night, inundated, and all dressed up with apparently somewhere to go.
With a couple of cups of savory brewed hot coffee warming their bodies and soon after their car was towed close to the farmhouse thanks to a trusted tractor parked and ready to go, the next event was set to be pivotal. “Well, Martha,” began the seasoned farmer, “looks like our friends here aren’t going anywhere soon, and it is their honeymoon. What do you say, we invite them to stay in the guest bedroom?” His wife, with a small gleam in her eye and great compassion in her heart, nodded definitive approval. Soon two newly purchased suitcases were ushered into a genuinely quaint, well-decorated, ranch-stylish bedroom with pictures of memories lived most likely at that same location. Soon the house grew dark and hosts and guests retired for the evening after what easily could be described as a most remarkable day.
Even before the roosters began their morning wake-up, organic “arise and shine” alarm routines, the newlyweds arose and began ever-so-quietly collecting their belongings and began to carefully make their way to their vehicle so as not to disturb the famers after what was probably a very long night, pleasant as it was, but tiring nonetheless. The young groom placed a crisp fifty-dollar bill on top of the dresser as a way of giving thanks and penned a quick note of sincere musings. They remembered the location of the front door and the living room where they were first introduced to these fine and generous souls and that’s when they realized how truly generous they were. The farmer’s wife was sprawled out on the long, soft but somewhat uneven couch which most likely had seen the life of several generations of parents and children while her husband was neatly sandwiched between cushions atop the recliner which barely unfolded completely. That was when they realized the grand, heart-warming truth: there was no guest bedroom. The newlyweds had slept in the old couple’s own bedroom, a fruit of their lovely generous spirits clearly forged from a lifetime of giving and loving and sharing. The bride dropped her purse, woke up the self-giving couple which lit the fire of a good cry, a great laugh, and all the wonderful emotions found in between. After a wonderfully refreshing glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, homemade, no doubt, they said their good byes and then over the years, whenever the couple was in the area, passing by on their way to which ever event brought them through the hill country, they would stop for a friendly, inspiring visit. Their oldest son had the rich opportunity of meeting the farmers a couple of times, taking pictures, and listening to their shared marvelous story up until the time that they moved on to their eternal reward.
Now, nearly a generation later, the recipients of the kindest gestures of all were moving into that same time of life of their new-found friends they met years before. And, as if by perfect happenstance and on some divine cue, their oldest called them wondering how they were doing on the “anniversary tour.” When his parents told him where they were, he laughed. “Did you guys get stuck again?” he joked. “No, Son,” his dad remarked. “It’s all good.”
Some days I feel like I have lived a couple of lives since I was born but that may be part misperception and perhaps part arrogance. Regardless of the source, however, this is what I’ve learned. The pain of each chapter of our lives is soon forgotten by the joy and the hope of new beginnings. Deep pain and sorrow as harsh as they are, almost bring a kind of euphoria and ecstatic feeling when they are finally relieved if even for just a moment. Imagine that multiplied one billion times when we finally get to leave this planet and walk into heaven with thunderous applause from all the angels and saints screaming, “You made It! You made it!” Then there will be that one singular sound of one Man clapping –who happens to have holes in His hands, applauding your entrance into your eternal home precisely because you understood what it meant to be generous with your soul that could only grow when it is shared in love. Caro Vanni
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“Do things for people not because who they are or what they do in return, but because of who you are.” Harold S. Kushner