When strangers decide to get married
Special to Stars and Stripes October 20, 2023
Thirty years ago, I promised to love, honor and cherish a man I really didn’t know all that well at the time.
Before we committed ourselves to each other until death, Francis and I were pretty much clueless. We had no idea what kind of husband or wife we might turn out to be. As long as we were in love, we thought, nothing else mattered.
Francis grew up as the son of a neurologist in the affluent Washington, DC, suburb of Chevy Chase, Md. At weekend cocktail parties and crew regattas, his parents chatted with their friends over canapés about politics, world events and their children’s prep schools. They drank bottled water before it was trendy and bought their food from overpriced grocery stores. They kept things like capers and pate in their refrigerators, and they drove imported cars.
I was brought up in a town with only one high school, where we thought everyone in the world had two days off for hunting season. To the people of my Western Pennsylvania town, Chevy Chase was a comedian on “Saturday Night Live,” and it was perfectly normal to get your water from a well and your meat from the woods. Our refrigerators contained bricks of Velveeta, cans of Hershey’s syrup and in the spring, trout with the heads still on. My parents’ vehicles were pre-owned, and other than one Volkswagen Beetle, none were imported.
Francis grew up believing that all women throw sophisticated dinner parties at the drop of a hat, while being charming and looking fabulous in the latest styles from Lord & Taylor. He didn’t realize that he’d made a lifetime commitment to someone who shops at TJ Maxx and whose idea of a party is opening a bag of Fritos and watching a Steelers game. My poor husband has had to redefine “woman” to include those who, like me, would prefer a hot poker in the eye to the obligatory social events of a Navy wife.
Similarly, I’ve had to adjust my definition of “man” to include those who don’t own anything fluorescent orange. I’ve had to realize there are men who actually prefer white wine to beer, and that not all men demand space in the garage for a workbench. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that although Francis was in the Navy, he’s afraid of tools, guns and knives, and shudders at the mere thought of hooking a worm, much less eating a fish with the head still on it.
I’ll admit — I’ve felt somewhat guilty that I’ve never fulfilled Francis’ expectations of what his wife might be. I’ve often wished I were more sophisticated.
I’ve seen self-consciousness in his eyes, too, like the time I had to assemble the barbecue grill because he couldn’t understand the instructions, or the time I snorkeled on a beach vacation for four hours alone while he sipped mojitos and read an Oprah’s Book Club selection under an umbrella.
If we’d known back then what we know now, would we have eternally promised ourselves to each other before the altar of Graystone Presbyterian Church 30 years ago?
Without a doubt, I say “Yes.”
We met while I was sitting on my family’s vacation cottage deck, shucking corn. “Lisa, this is Francis,” my Navy pilot brother said, “He was our intel guy in VAQ-139 out in Whidby Island.” Three nights later, Francis made me laugh at dinner. A spark was lit. We danced to Guns N’ Roses’ “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” which was strangely romantic, then walked to the beach to look at the stars.
When we started dating, the only thing we knew for certain was that neither of us was perfect, but we offered each other something that had been missing in our lives. Unconditional love and approval — intangibles that are psychological, ethereal yet powerful enough to transcend unknown personality quirks and personal histories.
Along the way, I discovered that Francis is fiercely loyal, his love for our family is deep and sincere, and even though he sometimes leaves his underwear on the floor and I contemplate escaping to Mexico to sell coconuts on the beach, he’ll always make me laugh.
Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email: email@example.com