The Anniversary That Wasn’t Quite

On an unbelievably beautiful day after an unrelentingly rainy summer, Bill and I got married by the side of a lake in the midst of the Catskills fall foliage. The wedding was also a large and wonderful party for about a hundred of our friends and family members that began the evening before and ended the following day.

Since our wedding was Saturday, October 14, 2000, on the Saturday nearest October 14 in 2010, we had another huge party in a rented tent in the field outside our Woodstock house. The foliage was again beautiful, but the weather was quite cold, so we sprang for side covers and gas heaters inside the tent, and then filled it with plants, catered and pot-luck foods, many different things to drink, giant balls and other toys for kids, blankets to wrap up in and a home-made platform for musicians to play on. About 40 people came from all over and it was almost as fun a party as the wedding itself had been.

So well over a year before October 14, 2020 rolled around, we started thinking about how to celebrate the hard-to-believe fact that we have been married for 20 years. We were together for five years before we got married, so all told, we’ve clocked a quarter-century as a couple.

My first–admittedly ambitious–idea was Ireland. Specifically, I had a notion to go there with Bill and his children and grandchildren, and their various significant others. A big endeavor, yes, but not altogether unprecedented. We’d managed a smaller version before, for Bill’s 50th birthday in 2002, with his son and daughter and their spouses, which turned out to be a fun and memorable trip. Driving an outsized, red, right-hand drive van that took up most of what were supposed to be two-way roads, getting awakened in the middle of the night by a hotel fire alarm, and holing up for hours with the female members of our party in a friendly County Cavan pub drinking stout with Bill’s farmer cousin while waiting for the male members of our party who’d gotten hopelessly lost after retrieving a forgotten item in Dublin–all that just added to the overall charm.

When I floated the idea of a family Ireland trip at a big family dinner in May 2019 I was pleasantly surprised that everyone, Bill’s son and daughter, their spouses, and their kids all seemed to want to go. I said at the time that it might be a pipe dream, and it turned that it was. By winter, I knew we couldn’t afford it, at least not in 2020. We’d discovered a years-long slow leak in Bill’s bathroom that necessitated redoing the whole thing and replacing not only the floor but much of the structure underneath. I reluctantly abandoned that plan, at least for 2020. As it worked out, of course, the coronavirus was coming, so we’d have had to cancel in any case.

Now we had a new dilemma. How do you celebrate a big occasion in the middle of a pandemic? His birthday was in March and mine–a big one–was in April. We’d had Zoom parties which were fun enough. But in the months since the pandemic began, Zoom had come to dominate nearly all my social and business interactions and the fun of it had largely worn off. “Of course we’ll have a Zoom party,” Bill said, and we did. But I had an additional idea: Invite people, two or three at a time, to sit on our patio where we now have an outdoor wood stove. I can’t begin to explain how much I love this outdoor stove, which cost all of $235, or how much of a difference it’s made to our lives. Like any other wood stove, it throws a ton of heat and has a chimney that reaches up beyond the patio roof, which means there’s no smoke down below where we sit with our friends, drinking cups of mulled wine and snacking on cheese and crackers, Bill’s signature roasted zucchini with parmesan, and other items. We’ve done this three times now, once in the middle of a rainstorm, and each time we’ve been warm and dry enough and so glad to spend time with friends that neither we nor they noticed the hours slipping away.

It felt almost normal. And in 2020, that’s the best anniversary present we could imagine.

Image L-R: Bill, his son-in-law John, daughter Alyssa, former daughter-in-law Bryony, son Steve, and me outside cousin Charlie’s house in Ireland.

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