Forty years of marital musings

Column by Jim Bishop

“Here we are . . . after all these years …” Ann Cochran warbles in her musical ode to a couple who’ve stuck together through thick and thin.

Here I am, to borrow from Paul Simon, “still crazy after all these years” in love with a petite farmer’s daughter from Cochranville, Pa.

It has been a few years – 40, in fact – since Anna Mast and this goofy guy from Doylestown, Pa., exchanged vows – A, E, I, O and, uh, several others – of mutual involvement in each other’s lives the evening of July 22, 1967, in the sultry sanctuary of Frazer Mennonite Church near Paoli, Pa.

The bishop who married us wasn’t the only one sweating under his clerical collar. At the time, I was largely clueless as to what we were doing. It’s taken many years of trial and error to assemble the pieces of the conjugal jigsaw puzzle.

The Doors’ “Light My Fire,” the No. 1 song in the country, blasted from the Blaupunkt speaker of my 1956 VW Beetle as we rolled along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, sunroof open, en route to our honeymoon destination – a rustic cabin at Ortley Beach, N.J. It was the same spot our family flocked to for a week every summer for many years. I believe we paid $50 for our honeymoon haven.

Then, it was off to Elkhart, Ind., my bride nursing a throbbing toothache that she hadn’t told me about even as the VW smoked along the toll road at a top speed of 35 mph. We were faced with a $400 engine repair as soon as we hit town.

Welcome to married life – no money, college debt, no extended family in\ our new locale but many hopes and dreams as we set up housekeeping in a tiny, $75-a-month apartment. Cockroaches were included at no extra charge.

For nearly five years, it was just the two of us, working hard to really get to know each other even though we’d dated for three years of college, no children, one cat – a Sealpoint Siamese named Menno. Life was purrfect, so we thought.

Four decades brought incredible change and adjustments:

– A move from Indiana to Harrisonburg in July 1971; the tent stakes subsequently pounded deep into Valley soil. We “bought” the house we moved into later that same year with money we didn’t have by taking on a 30-year mortgage that we thought we’d never pay off (we did, and then took on another for home improvements).

– Expansion of the family circle with the arrival of daughters Jenny in 1972 and Sara in 1976. We were pleased that they chose to complete their education locally (at Eastern Mennonite University), married local boys, settled in the area and have transported us into the wonderful world of grandparenting.

– Stressful, yet largely challenging and rewarding years of labor in the education field, Anna as a kindergarten teacher in the Rockingham County School System and me at EMU), as we see the succulent fruit of our labors in the form of graduates of these respective enterprises. I’ve been blessed by opportunities along the way to pursue my avocations of freelance writing, photography and radio announcing, even getting paid for what I thoroughly enjoy doing.

– Most importantly, learning, often the hard way, what it requires kindle the marital fire and keep it burning. There’s really no secret to the process, but how difficult at times to pursue the obvious.

One thing for sure: I love Anna more today than I did when we first were wed. I confess that I once viewed our marriage more as a contract – with me being waited on and generally getting the better deal in the arrangement – than a covenant that involves much give-and-take, sharing of the load (including laundry), sharing of dreams and aspirations, doing as much listening as talking, hanging in there through tough times, having mutual respect and dishing out regular affirmation.

My companion of 40 years is truly amazing – caring, perceptive, loving, hardworking, deeply spiritual. She knows me better than I know myself. Anna has certain qualities where I’m deficient, and she helps me work at those traits that I desire to improve. She’s kept herself in shape and gently prods me to try to remove those “love handles” that seem to accompany growing older.

I have a long ways to go, but I believe I’ve learned more what it means to be a soulmate. We encourage and support each other’s interests, but also give each other “space” to pursue interests that the other doesn’t necessarily enjoy. We pray for each other and participate actively in our congregation, Community Mennonite, and our small group.

Let’s keep on walking this way, my love. Even though we’re experiencing short-term memory loss and less physical prowess, I believe the best is yet to come. Wherever our paths lead from here, I want to travel it together.

Will the journey last another 40 years? Likely not, but I will cherish each day we are yet given to make beautiful marital music together.

Jim Bishop is the public-information officer at Eastern Mennonite University.

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