In the spirit of Christmas… Why not love the one you are with? Just a little bit of love? What the world needs now… Love, sweet love! Song after song, written sweet music on how to fall in love. Or is it, what it’s like to fall in love? Why isn’t there a song that tells us how to keep the magic alive? Well, as fate would have it, sometimes it comes in some very unlikely places. When we aren’t looking for it, and even when we need a hero. I think the need for a hero gets overlooked often. We, as women, forget who actually comes to our aid. I will never forget the time I screamed and instead of telling me it “was just a spider” my husband, Cliff simply killed it (he said later that it Was Small – WhatEver) and gave me a hug in the moment. My hero. He killed the big bad bug that would have attempted murder later in the shower. True story. Men don’t need to go to war to be our heroes. They don’t need to slay dragons or beat the boss… Sometimes, they just need to reach the top shelf. I think both men and women forget this. This is the story of one such hero.

How Derek tells the story of meeting Clara is nothing short of sweet.

I met Clara when we both worked as dishwashers at an Italian restaurant in my hometown. I believe it was the summer of 1981, and I was home from college and living with my brother. The restaurant had recently opened in a location by the lake that was well-known for being a ‘black hole’ ­– there was a new place to eat there every other year or so.

My brother got a job washing dishes at the restaurant and talked them into hiring me as well (I think so he could become the delivery driver). Outside of joining a corn detasseling crew or working at the local factory (which I would do the next summer), summer jobs in that small town were scarce.

The night I started I walked into the kitchen and saw Clara for the first time. Well, to be honest, I saw her rear end first. She was bent over a deep sink washing some large pot or pan, and I couldn’t help but notice her … behind. It was very nice. Then she straightened up and my brother introduced us and the next thing I really noticed was how blue her eyes were.

We worked side-by-side for much of that night as she taught me the job, and worked together most nights that summer. I didn’t have a car so she began to pick me up for work and take me home. We learned that we share a birthday, although I’m a year older. When she went down in the basement to clean the dough machine, I made excuses to check up on her anytime one of the two male co-owners went downstairs … they were a bit sketchy, shall we say?

Some nights after work we stopped by a local greasy spoon restaurant and had coffee, and talked, unwinding from the day. We got along well; she was easy to talk to, and – continuing my awkward high school phase –  I remember thinking how surprising it was to be so comfortable around such a pretty girl. Although I thought of her as a friend that summer, I also remember that on the few nights we didn’t work together I missed her more than a friend probably would.

It doesn’t have to be a big gesture to be heroic. It just has to be selfless.

Clara’s perspective on meeting Derek

We met as dishwashers in a pizza and Italian restaurant. It was his first night there. We were working side-by-side washing lasagna pans when I asked him when his birthday was. (I’m not very good at small talk and I was simply trying to make conversation.) His answer, “Late in the year.” I asked, “When late in the year?” He said, “November.” I asked, “When in November?” His response was, “Late in the month.” I, of course, asked, “When  late in the month?” I don’t remember what my response was. If it was just a sigh of sorts or if I actually told him that it was my birthday too, but his comeback was it’s not your birthday too. The next thing you know we had out our drivers’ licenses. We learned that we are exactly one year apart in age. That conversation definitely got my attention and it opened the door to many more, as after work we would go out for breakfast and laugh for hours.

I tell people that I married him because he makes me laugh and it’s true but there’s another part of the story. The restaurant had a basement where the freezer was for the food and two machines, a meat slicer and a dough machine. We would be sent down there to clean the machines or to get something out of the freezer but one of the owners had followed me down at one point and tried to make advances on me. I quickly went back upstairs and asked my now husband if he would mind going down to clean the dough machine for me. In very few words I explained to him why and that was the last time I had ever gone down in that basement. Every time I was told to go down there he would go down there instead. He became my protector.

We not only would go for breakfast but we would spend much time on the phone talking and each time we went to hang up he would tell me to have a nice life. Every time he said that I knew I needed him in my life. I would beg him not to say it as if he was saying goodbye and he would tell me but you never know. At the end of two summers later he asked me to marry him and his words were, “Will you be my wife for life or my friend for life?” (He was getting on a bus as he had just joined the service.) He told me to think about it but there was no thinking about it. I gave him my answer but convinced him by telling him I had just tried on my wedding dress the next night when we talked on the phone. (Which I had.) We spent the rest of the conversation planning the wedding. He came home two weeks later and proposed again with the ring. Eight months later we were married. We have had our share of ups and downs. However – More than 35 years later he still protects me and he still makes me laugh. He calls me his bride to this day.

After 35 years, the hardest things Derek said about their journey have been:

*Separation. I had a very untypical career in that I wasn’t only assigned to one place.

*Moving. Because of the way my career worked out, we moved so many times. More, I think, than most (although probably less than some). At one point, I think we figured we’d moved six times by the time our oldest was ten! But the actual physical part of moving – packing, paperwork, living in motels, etc. – is such a pain in the neck.

*Careers.  Not all of it, there were a few constants, but more than once what was good suddenly became … not so good. Imagine ‘checking all the right blocks’ for two-thirds of a career and then finding out the blocks had changed? I worked extra-hard wherever I was so that if the blocks changed, there may be some mitigation.

Clara also had challenges with work. After the kids were old enough she wanted to work, to do what she enjoyed and had studied for and I wanted that for her. But with us moving so much that wasn’t fair, but sometimes that’s the way life is.

*Socializing. I was never one for parties and such, a way in which Clara and I were very different. She always wanted to go to dinner parties or holiday things, or to have things like that ourselves, and I was very much against all that. Part of my social anxiety I still have. It was, and is, very unfair to her.

*Communication. I have been terrible at communicating with Clara for much of our marriage. I may be a bit better today than when we started, but I’m still awful at listening, which is the most important part.

 * Kids. Having kids is great, but it’s also a huge stressor. There are different ideas and opinions on everything – food, discipline, clothing, education, entertainment, toys, etc. etc. etc. What’s right? What’s wrong? What happens when the advice of “experts” changes and what you were told to do for your first kid is now something to avoid with the second? At the end of the day, you weigh the options and make your best guess at what’s right, and thank goodness kids are pretty resilient.

I also asked Clara for what her thoughts were on the tough spots during their journey into the “Final Frontier”

*Moving. We looked forward to the moves but the actual process of moving was difficult on us.

*Poor health. Right now is a hardship because I am fighting health issues. (But that when one of us is down the other stands strong. He has been my rock.)

*Finances. When you get into a routine and something out of your control makes finances questionable it can lead to fear and instability. You have to be able to handle this with grace. It’s definitely learned with time.

*Poor communication. We had a span of time when there was a lack of communication from time to time and this was probably the worst. It can make you frustrated and give you the loneliest feeling. It would make me feel as if the world is coming to an end. Then one day something in the house broke. Best pieces of bad luck to ever.

*Kids. We were not always on the same page when it came to raising our daughters. We should have discussed everything as we are now while we raise our first granddaughter. She is a blessing. Talking makes parenting so much better.

The most beautiful part of marriage was:

Derek – Most beautiful thing I think about being married is I get to be with my best and closest friend forever.

Clara– Most beautiful thing about being married, I can ask him anything and he answers without making fun of me for asking or making me feel stupid. He supports the things I want to do. He helps me with my anxieties. Likes me better without makeup. In short, he loves me the way I am.

The Grinch had it right when he said it wasn’t the size of the present Christmas morning that matters. It’s appreciating one another for the small things because those little things are actually the biggest things in the world. We need to stop looking for the next big thing or the most expensive gift under the tree and look for everyday mini celebrations! That twinkle glow in your partner’s eyes, remembering your favorite food on a day you didn’t want to pick dinner, the subtle missing when you get kissed goodbye in the morning…

Go back and get an extra kiss today! No one is stopping you!

I asked Derek and Clara if they wanted to pass along the secret of their success and they said… No secret!

“Our Advice- Communicate WELL. Talk about everything. When you’re fighting, stay with what the fight is about. Don’t bring things up you have already fought about. Those are over. It’s also okay to not agree or see eye to eye about everything. Just be able to talk about it and love each other anyway.”

Magic. But… Not really! We all know how to talk to each other… Listen, to each other. Are we really Hearing each other though? Understanding? Loving? Looking? Or just seeing?

If I can leave you with anything I’d like to leave you with this today, a pearl of parting wisdom from Clara (this stuck with me) – “marriage isn’t something you do until something or someone better comes along. It’s for life. My father told me when I got engaged that – he was glad I was in love but, “You can make anything work.”” 

Merry Christmas!