by Steve Bivans
I”m not very good at the whole ‘marriage’ thing.
Those who know me, know that, so I won’t spend an inordinate amount of time reiterating it. Plus, it’s not a particularly fun subject to talk about anyway.
Suffice it to say that I’m not very good at it, and that a great deal of my failure is just that, mine. For most of my adult life I was not very good at the whole communication thingy, which it turns out, is pretty important when you’re married to someone. Who knew? I didn’t, at least not until it was too late. I’m better at it these days, but just like many things, I learned it the hard way.
Some people think I’m pretty intelligent. I’m not really. I just screw things up more than other people and eventually learn what ‘not’ to do, so I can then figure out, by process of elimination what ‘TO DO’. Fail enough times at something, you might eventually succeed.
But I’m not here to talk about me. It’s June 2nd today, so I’m here to talk about two people who more or less did figure out the marriage thingy: my parents, Sam and Linda Bivans.
If they haven’t perfected the institution—and I’m sure they would admit they have not—they have at least managed to work through it long enough, the first time, to get through 50 years of it. That is no mean feat, as most who are, or have been married can attest. It kind of boggles the mind actually. 50. Wow. How in the heck does any couple ever pull that off?
Well, part of it is just math, of course. There are a couple of mathematical things that have to happen in order for it to even be possible. First, you have to marry young enough in your life so that you can live another 50 years to reach the mark. I did that the first time. I was only 22, so the math was ok, but of course, it was ME getting married, so that brings me to the second requirement; you have to marry the right person, or, you have to be the right person to marry. Obviously, I failed on one of those two points. My parents did not.
Strangely enough, my dad was also 22 when he married my mom in 1964. She was 21, almost 22, since her birthday is on the 17th of June. So my parents managed to meet the first requirement to reach the Golden Anniversary: get married young enough. Check. As for the second requirement, one would only have to say that one way or another, how ever you look at it, they must have chosen the right partners, since they did make it to 50 years. Success is it’s own evidence, and it’s tough to argue against.
Now, don’t get me wrong, my parents were not June and Ward Cleaver. They argued about a lot of things, and come to think of it, so did June and Ward occasionally, though the Cleavers’s arguments were pretty tame for married people. Yeah, Sam and Linda Bivans don’t always agree. Let’s just get that on the table up front. But they somehow managed to disagree, and find a way past it. Over and over and over and over again, for 50 years.
As you may know, if you’ve read anything I’ve written, or my post on my negative life, my mom tends to be the dissenting voice in the family, though I picked up that mantle a long time ago too. She can’t help it I don’t think. She is hyper aware of things that don’t add up, that seem to fly in the face of logic and reason, and she’s also a Southern girl, who was raised to speak her mind, or ‘give you a piece of it.’ I once called her the ‘hammer of evil,’ which is not the same thing as an ‘evil hammer.’ When she spots evil, or a breach of logic, she’s gonna nail it, right on the head, so watch out! If you have a Southern mom, you probably know what I mean, though they seem to fall into two categories: mind speakers, or sugary sweet. My mom was and is, the former. And her criticism isn’t confined to things and people in the outside world. Not by a long shot.
Linda Bivans has a very analytical and therefore, critical mind—like me. My dad, however, tends to look at the world in a very different way, which goes a long way to the old adage, opposites attract. My dad is the most optimistic person I’ve ever met, or for that matter, seen on TV or in a movie. It’s almost impossible to get him to say something negative. Personally I don’t think he really knows how to THINK negatively, though that might be carrying it a bit far. About the closest Iv’e ever heard him come to saying something negative about someone was to say, “Well, they certainly have some things to work on.” May dad’s not usually a hammer, more like a Nerf spatula. He can be riled up though, but it takes a LOT, and when it does happen, it’s best to step aside, because he turns into a freight train. I get that from him, though it’s much easier to rile me: like, really easy.
My dad also has a loose sense of time, and he’s always overly optimistic about how much of it he has to accomplish any task. This drives my mom nuts. Me too. Just read my post Tick Tock: Not Enough Time on the Clock, and you’ll see what I mean. No, my dad has no such internal clock tickin’. My mom has said, more than once, “Sammy, you’ll be late for your funeral!” And he probably will be. My grandmother Bivans, my dad’s mom, used to say, “Sammy, you’re always rushing on the wrong end!”
This lack of time sensitivity has led to some tension between my parents, to say the least, because mom is always prepared to go, precisely when it’s time to go, and she has everything she needs for the trip, already packed up exactly where it ought to be. My dad is always forgetting things. So inevitably they’ll be headed out the door, and he will have to rush back in to find his keys, or some such other thing, and mom will be in the car saying something like, “I don’t know why he doesn’t just put things where they’re supposed to be so he can find’em!” Annnnnd we’re off!
But somehow, my parents managed to get past this—even though it still occurs daily—to make it to 50 years. I would say it’s a miracle, and so would they probably. They would attribute most of it to their Christian faith, and I won’t argue with’em, and they’re probably right anyway. But I will say that it was more than that. The two of them, for all their differences, were simply meant to be together, probably BECAUSE of those differences. They make one heck of a team.
You see, they are retired Salvation Army Officers, which was not an easy job, let me tell you. Essentially, they were ministers, social workers, charity givers, and disaster relief masters, all rolled into one, with a few other ‘hats’ thrown in when the occasion arose. No other church requires their ministers to have so many talents, wear so many hats, or to do so many disparate things in one job. But the Salvation Army does. That’s why I never really considered doing it. Heck no. I saw how hard it was.
My parents have very different personal talents, that made them amazing officers, for over 40 years. My dad is really good at raising money and keeping track of it, something that I’ve never been able to master, and quite frankly hate doing. My mom can add a column of 2 or 3 digit numbers in her head in a few seconds. And could count all the money from the daily Christmas Kettle donations in a couple of hours, by herself usually, sitting at the dining room table, while cooking ‘burn n serve’ rolls for her kids, who had just come in from standing at said Kettles for hours. As a result, the Salvation Army moved them around to places that were in financial straights, where they always managed to clean it up and put it back in the black.
Besides being over-optimistic, my dad is possibly the most compassionate man on the planet: popes, Mother Teresa, and the Dali Lama, notwithstanding. I have seen him reach out to the less fortunate of society, daily, for decades. He is also tireless when he’s working. He has spent countless days working on disaster relief for major hurricanes, floods, fires, and exploding gas tanks, barely dogging the massive lid of one when it blew a few hundred yards away, all the while carrying coffee and donuts to firemen on the front line. Making sure those donuts and the coffee were there in the first place was my mother.
My mom is the master of organization, and timing. If she’s in charge of an operation, every possible contingency will be considered ahead of time and she will be ready for it. The whole thing will run ON TIME, and precisely the way it ought to be run: with clockwork precision. I got some of that from her. I hate to waste time and energy doing things the hard way. I prefer to be prepared and do it the smart way.
My mom runs the tightest ship on the planet. Period. Forget about the U.S. Navy, they’ve got nothing on Linda Bivans. I sometimes wish she would have retired early and run for president. She could clean up the government in an afternoon; trust me on that one. And those corrupt politicians in D.C., would be begging to leave after she gave them a ‘piece of her mind,’ running back home with their tails between their legs, never to be heard from again! But I digress.
My parents did this job—Salvation Army officers, not President—for over 40 years. Which, I reckon, is another thing that helped them stay together. They never had to worry about having a job, or finding another one. They always had a place to live, if not always the most comfortable in town. They knew what their job was and they did it, year after year after year. Most of us cannot say that. We simply don’t have that kind of job security, and that can rip a marriage apart in a heartbeat.
That doesn’t mean Linda and Sam didn’t have money problems to deal with. The Salvation Army also runs a pretty tight ship, which means their officers aren’t paid that much. They live in relative comfort, but you won’t find them solidly in the middle class, until late in life maybe. We were a lower middle class family. We had enough food, and we went on vacations and did the family truckster thing every summer, but I’m not sure how my dad managed that. Probably because he pinched a lot of pennies during the year, and my mom helped with that.
She’s pretty frugal, though you wouldn’t know it if you were one of her grand-kids, who are served up tons of goodies every time they show up to grandma and Pop Pop’s house. There’s plenty of food and sugary treats sitting around in the kitchen. We never went hungry as children either, though the spread has improved for the grand kids, that’s for sure.
My mom and dad were also pretty amazing parents. I want to close with that topic. As I grew older, I realized how lucky my brothers and I were. Many of my friends grew up in very different situations. Many were children in a single parent household due to divorce or death, or in abusive situations, which came as a shock to me, as I had never realized just how many kids out there were suffering from bad parenting.
My parents were fairly strict; don’t get me wrong. They had very distinct rules, and you had to follow them, or suffer the wrath and the consequences. It might include being grounded, or even a belt on the back of the legs (a very rare sentence). My dad hated administering corporal punishment, but he would not ‘spare the rod’ if he thought it might ‘spoil the child.’ My mother didn’t need a belt, trust me. A lashing of her tongue was quite sufficient, thank you very much, to put you back on track. When I was in grade school in the mid 70s, principals in the South were still administering corporal punishment in schools. But mama always told us, on our way out the door, “Don’t worry ’bout what the principal will do. You worry about what’s gonna happen when you get home!”
But the main reason they were successful in raising us—besides the fact that they told us daily how much they loved us—is that we could never split them up, divide and conquer, so to speak. Forget it! Not gonna happen! Unlike many households in America, where kids have figured out how to work the ‘margins’ between mom and dad, there were no cracks in the fortress that was my mom and dad’s marriage into which we could slip even a razor, let alone a crowbar. If we went to mom—usually in the kitchen—to ask if we could go somewhere, or do something out of the ordinary, she would say, “What did your father say?”
“I haven’t asked him.” was my normal answer.
“Well, go do it then.”
(Seconds later in the den)
“Dad, can I go (ride my bike all over town and get into trouble, for instance)?”
“What did your mom say?”
“She told me to come ask you!” Then they both disappeared into their room for a few minutes, and came out with one answer: yes, no or maybe. I don’t ever remember being able to get between them to gain ground. It just didn’t happen.
That doesn’t mean they always agreed with one another. It just means they were able to communicate and compromise to come up with one answer, and then both of them stuck to it like glue. You would never get an explanation or dissenting opinion from one of them about why they thought the answer should have been different. Nope. One answer. Deal with it. And that is the key to parenting, and the one thing that parents screw up more than any other these days. They allow their children to see gaps in the ranks between the two parents, if there are two parents in the first place.
There are no cracks between Sam and Linda Bivans, no matter how many times my mom might openly complain about my father’s lack of preparation, and ability to tell time, or how often their children might have tried to ram their ‘concrete’ heads (as my mother says we have) against that bulwark; it’s never going to happen. Our heads have never broken—thanks to the concrete—but the fortress stands on the windy cliff, un-cracked, though a bit gray and weathered from 50 years of storms breaking upon it.
Congratulations mom and dad on withstanding all attempts from the outside to divide you, including boys who were and are still difficult to raise. We wish we could be there to celebrate with you today, but since we cannot, I hope this small, humble tribute will serve. We love you. Happy 50th GOLDEN Anniversary!