However it transpired, our first date was for drinks at the Crazy Lobster in downtown Edmonds. It was a swanky place and I was impressed. But Bruce said he was a good cook – of “peasant food,” better food than what we could get in a restaurant, he bragged – and for our second date he invited me to his apartment to see for myself. It took me a while to understand that it wasn’t the quality of restaurant food that he objected to but the expense. No matter, by that time, I was all in. During our courtship, I put on twenty pounds. I never made up the Incomplete, though he occasionally reminds me of it.
Bruce bakes French bread from scratch. It is to die for. He has clay trays, which my cousin purchased for him at Sur le Table near Pike Place Market, for baking the baguettes. He bakes other breads, too. During a rough patch in our marriage, someone told me to think about what I would say at Bruce’s memorial service, and I decided that I will definitely tell everyone that he baked delicious, aromatic bread; that he nourished us.
Bruce and his first wife lived in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, for two years. He taught English at Mount Royal College. They had two German shepherds, which led the neighbors to think they were crazy. They probably were. Bruce went skiing with a friend every weekend. They skied and they drank. The temperatures in the winter were sometimes below zero. His marriage difficulties began there. On our honeymoon, he took me to Calgary and points north to share this landscape, as if he were a retired soldier showing me old battlefields. Although it was early in September, it snowed. (I had wanted to go to Hawaii.) Every morning, even now, he checks the newspaper for the temperature in Calgary and he often reports it to me.
Bruce’s stories about Canada are eclipsed only by his stories about his German shepherd, Mr. Kurtz. The dog’s registered name was “Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.” Kurtz’s picture hangs on our dining room wall. Recently when I rearranged the dining room, including the pictures, Bruce got upset and asked in a huffy voice, “Where’s my dog?” Kurtz died in 1982, the year before we met.
His first college teaching job was at a community college near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He taught there for two years. He then taught at a community college in Eugene, Oregon, also for two years. He taught in Calgary for two years. These were all full-time, tenure-track jobs, which by the time I went on the job market were scarce as hen’s teeth. He claims that he enjoyed this nomadic lifestyle and intended to continue. This is difficult for me to believe as Bruce is a man who doesn’t like change. After moving back to the United States, in 1970, he was hired as English faculty by Edmonds Community College, and he worked there until he retired in 2003. I taught there a few quarters as adjunct faculty, our daughters attended preschool there, and, much later, they took college classes there.
I believe it was Dr. Joyce Brothers who said that the only couples who don’t fight are the ones in which one partner has all the power. More famously, she said, “My husband and I have never considered divorce … murder sometimes, but never divorce.”
When we adopted our twin daughters in 1993, my sister said to Bruce, “Two girls! You’re outnumbered!” He nodded toward me and said, “I was already outnumbered.”
Before the girls, there was another baby. The birthmother was African American and the birthfather was Mexican American. The birthparents were young, still teenagers, and there was already a three-year-old daughter. They expected this baby to be a girl, too. Then an ultrasound revealed that the baby was a boy. Bruce and I had been reading aloud to each other from Leon Edel’s one-volume biography of Henry James, a fat book that we kept misplacing. “Where’s Henry?” we would say, or “Let’s spend some time with Henry.” So we decided to name the baby Henry. But it was hard for the birthfather to let go of a son, and, after the birth, they decided, as the adoption counselor put it, “to parent.” Bruce had always been extremely hesitant about having a child, and especially about adopting, to the extent that I thought I was dragging him screaming and kicking into it. When we lost Henry, Bruce’s broken heart took us both by surprise.
For twenty years I told my students that the tim in words such as intimidate, timidity, and timorous is the same as the tim in intimacy. The conclusion I drew from this is that being intimate is scary. I’m pretty sure that I heard this from one of my professors in graduate school. For this essay, however, I did some research and learned that the two tims are not from the same source. The first sort is from timere, to fear; the latter, from intumus, inward (compare tumor). Even so.
Bruce swears by his battered copy of Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer. According to Wikipedia, Rombauer compiled Joy after her husband’s suicide, as a way to keep herself busy and better cope with the loss. It has been in continuous print since 1936, and has sold 18 million copies. While Bruce and his first wife were living in Oregon they rented a farmhouse that had a big kitchen with a gas range. That winter Bruce decided to learn how to cook and Joy of Cooking was his guide. His French bread recipe comes from this book. Our daughters’ favorite Joy recipe is for cornmeal pancakes, although he has heavily annotated the original recipe.
In the studio apartment where he lived when I first met him, Bruce’s “kitchen” was on a half-wall behind folding doors – just a refrigerator, stove, sink, and about four inches of counter space. I read Moby-Dick and drafted my first literature paper while lying on his bed, immediately adjacent to the kitchen, watching him cook. The apartment manager complained at how often she saw my car in the parking lot, so Bruce had to move.
Before the studio apartment, he had lived in a house in Edmonds. Bruce had remodeled this small house extensively, and it had a third-story cupola with a 180° view of Puget Sound. After the studio apartment he lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Lynnwood, Washington. It had a balcony which, through a curtain of alder trees, faced Highway 99. We stood out there at night, drinking wine (always very cheap rosé) and listening to the traffic as though it were the roar of the ocean. When Bruce got too nostalgic for his former, grander home, I would repeat a motto I had picked up from some Victorian needlepoint in a novel, “Better a dinner of herbs, where love is.”
Perhaps it’s because he is fifteen years older than I am, perhaps it is his personality or what he calls his Scottish frugality, but Bruce likes to be in charge of our spending. Or, he likes to think he is in charge. This has taught me to stand up for what is most important to me. Early in our marriage, when we were living in the first house we bought together, I was sitting at the dining room table, probably working on a paper for a class, while Bruce cooked dinner. I had applied to the University of Washington’s MFA program for poetry and to Seattle University’s teaching certificate program, and had been accepted for both. Bruce said that I had to get the teaching certificate. How would I make a living with an MFA? But I had applied for the teaching certificate program only to please him. I wanted to write poems. After a few days of this impasse, I mustered my courage and I told him, very plainly, that I had left behind an entire life, a career, friends, security, etc., in order to go back to school to get my B. A., and I was prepared to do it again. “Of course, if you want the MFA, you should get that,” he said.
When our twin daughters were little, they were champion sleepers. In addition to sleeping through the night from an early age, they also took two naps per day. Rather than put them in daycare, Bruce and I divided our days. I got up at 4:30 to work on my doctoral dissertation – writing on an IBM-clone personal computer at a desk crammed behind the sofa of our tiny, two-story house – and I left at 7 to catch a bus and go to the university, where I was teaching one class as part of my graduate fellowship. As the girls got older, they gave up their morning nap, but Bruce would put them in their cribs anyway and leave them there for an hour. “They’re perfectly happy!” he insisted. At noon, I came home and Bruce left to teach his classes. The girls played in our small, sunlit front room and I played with them or lay on the sofa and tried to read important nineteenth-century books. Eventually the girls would climb on top of me and we would all fall asleep in a heap.
Bruce has had several operations during our marriage: arthroscopic knee surgery, a vasectomy reversal, surgery for colon cancer, surgery to fix the torn-out colon stitches, two knee replacements, a hernia repair, repair of an intestinal blockage, two cataract surgeries, and a hip replacement.
When we began discussing having a child, Bruce said that if he ever had a daughter, he would name her “Pearl.” I worked hard to talk him out of this. For one thing, little Pearl of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter was central to my dissertation on female illegitimacy in American literature. We eventually compromised on our mothers’ middle names: Ann Rose. Then, we adopted twin girls. The birth family had a great grandmother named Pearl, and they voted with Bruce. For her middle name, I used Bruce’s middle name, Alexander (also his father’s name), changing it to the more feminine “Alix.” I assumed that she’d one day switch to using it. But as it turns out she loves being Pearl and wouldn’t dream of changing her name.
Bruce has always scoffed at people who play cards or other games, so the girls and I played without him. Our youngest, Emma, loved – really loved – to play the card game Uno. When she was about seven, I said to her, “Can’t you just watch TV like other kids?” and she replied, “No, I’m a card-playing kind of girl.” We spent many evenings playing endless games of Uno and Crazy Eights and Rummy while Bruce did the dishes and watched sports on television. Now that our daughters are grown, Bruce sometimes says, “Want to play the word game?” This is Quiddler. I’m told it is like Five Crowns (whatever that is), but with letters rather than numbers.
When you join the Reid family, you learn that when you’re asked your name, you must spell it. “Reid, R-E-I-D,” you say, as if it were all one piece. Otherwise you’re default Reed. Or Read. Or maybe Reade. But no one ever gets R-E-I-D on the first try. Also, as I recently overheard one of my daughters elaborate for a store clerk, it’s e-before-i, “Just like weird.”
Bruce’s specialty recipe is his spaghetti sauce. He learned how to make the sauce from a woman I never met, Louise Blue Gibbons, who learned it from her Cajun grandmother, who lived on McIlhenny Island where Tabasco sauce is made. Peppers are a key ingredient, but the secret is that you must start with a roux.
Bruce brought to our marriage a large butcher-block trestle table, which is extremely heavy and a bitch to move. It has six cane chairs in the Breuer style, which Bruce re-canes when they become saggy or tear. I have sometimes envied women with beautiful dining room tables and matching chairs in maybe a dark, polished wood like cherry or walnut. But our table can be made to seat ten with a little imagination, and it has endured not only countless meals with our daughters, but also many many craft projects involving glitter and glue. It isn’t conventional and it isn’t pretty, or maybe it is in its way, but it has proved to be indestructible, a little like our marriage.
Our three daughters are great animal lovers and they wanted a dog from the time they were small. Bruce said no dog. He had already had dogs, after all. He seemed to consider dogs to be finished business. We had fish and cats, and as I worked full-time and had my hands full with raising daughters and trying to find time to write, I didn’t see how I could manage another pet without Bruce’s help. Then, our youngest turned fourteen and ran away, etc. There is a longer story here, about the beauty of iPhones and texting, but, in short, once I found her we stayed up until midnight, talking, and when I brought up trust, she said she didn’t trust me because she had always wanted a dog and I hadn’t gotten her one. I said, “I will get you a dog.” A friend found Pabu for us and that weekend we made the three-hour car trip to pick him up. Pabu is a purebred Tibetan Terrier. He doesn’t like other dogs, which makes him difficult to take out on walks. He chases our cats as if they are prey. Despite his aggression toward other animals, he is a nervous dog. Fireworks and thunderstorms make him miserable. Our daughter announced, almost immediately, “I am so a cat person.” Bruce’s refrain for our first couple of years with Pabu was, “He’s not much of a dog.” But when the first owner thought he wanted Pabu back, Bruce got a funny expression on his face, and said, “He’s our dog now.”
Bruce and his first wife had not wanted children. I, however, wanted a child and I wasn’t willing to marry someone who didn’t. So he came around. Ideally, I wanted two or three children. He said, “One child, with multiple personalities.”
We are both English teachers, or were, but Bruce is our resident grammarian and word man. (I once overheard him telling a group of my colleagues, “Bethany doesn’t know shit about grammar.”) He brought huge dictionaries to the marriage, including the two-volume edition of the OED. I wonder why he never tracked down intimacy/ intimidation for me? I wonder if maybe he was the professor who told me the two tims are the same?
I wonder if perhaps I seized on this false cognate because being intimate with Bruce has been at times such an intimidating proposition.
Or CT scan or MRI, which are similar to X-rays though not the same, and both of which were done last winter at Swedish hospital in Edmonds and did not show anything especially wrong with Bruce’s brain.
When we decided to get married, Bruce told me to think carefully about whether or not I’d be sorry when he was 80 and I was only 65, which we now almost are. I found it unimaginable that there would ever be a problem. He was so youthful! I had always felt so old! Now I marvel at how naïve I was.
Zed, because Canada. Bruce’s recipe for zucchini bread came from a friend’s wife sometime back in the far reaches of his first marriage. It is one of our mysteries that in recent years, this bread falls flat. He makes banana bread instead, but in my opinion it is not as amazing as his zucchini bread.
2 cups sugar and 1 cup brown sugar (yes, 3 total)
2 cups grated zucchini (unpared)
1 cup oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ cup walnuts (optional)
3 cups flour
8 Comments on “About a Marriage, from A to Zed”
Wonderful read, as usual from my favorite poet.
I enjoyed this delightful look at a marriage. Makes me start to ponder what the A to Z on our marriage would look like.
What a delightful read! I appreciated the Table entry, about the table and your marriage being indestructible. Called to mind Joy Harjo’s poem “Perhaps the World Ends Here” (at the kitchen table.) I don’t know if I consider my marriage “indestructible” but I know that after 51 yrs of marriage, the word “survivors” comes to mind.
Can’t we add some more letters? Ditto to the previous comments. Have to pass it on to several of my friends. Well done.
Enjoyed this piece a lot. It’s so real! Enjoyed the references to the Edmonds area, since I’m a Seattle writer.
It was a wonderful read, so well-written and quirky, not often you find both.
I laughed out loud at “one child; multiple personalities.”
This is a very engaging story of real people – I hated for it to end.