This week marks my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Neither of them is here to celebrate it, and I almost forgot it myself. But I thought it would be nice to reprint this piece, because it’s about them and about how the good habits of marriage can be carried on from one generation to the next.
(Take a look at my dad in that picture. You can tell how thrilled he is to be marrying Mom. In the 44 years they were together on this earth, and even after she died, he never got over that.)
This article was published in the Boston Globe 10 years ago, and I think it’s my first published piece. I’m tempted to polish it up a bit but I won’t. Better to leave it be.
Delights of a long-running cereal romance
Lately, my husband has been bringing me breakfast in bed. Nothing fancy, no fresh flowers, just coffee, a bowl of Cheerios, and the morning paper folded open to the comics page.
Breakfast in bed is a long-standing tradition in my family. My mother grew up in Ireland, in a house with a cook and a maid but no central heating. The maid brought everyone up a mug of tea in the morning to help face the morning chill. In that house it was more of a necessity than a luxury.
When she got married and moved to this country, Mom didn’t let modern conveniences stand in the way of habit; every morning and evening, she still has tea and toast in bed. On weekdays the ritual was simple, and when I was in grade school I had the morning detail. I was too young to make tea, so I warmed up the previous night’s coffee in a little saucepan, poured it carefully into a mug, and made a single square of toast with margarine. But on the evenings and weekends Dad would make a proper pot of tea and a stack of toast. Sometimes we children would all join them, perched on their double bed, munching companionably. Now that we kids have left home, Dad fixes a tea tray first thing in the morning and last thing every night.
My mother has never led a life of luxury. She had four children, three within two years, and when I was growing up there wasn’t a lot of money to spare. She was far from her family and everything that had been familiar to her. Breakfast in bed was her one little treat, and she liked everything just so—china cups, milk in a pitcher, coarse-cut orange marmalade with the toast. We had different teapots, but they were always silver, and I remember my father scolding me for neglecting to warm the pot with boiling water before adding the tea. “She does so much for you,” he said. “Take the time to do this one thing right.”
After watching my father put together that tea tray for more than 30 years, I resolved never to marry a man who would not do the same for me. I discussed this with George while we were still in the early stages of dating, and he responded by buying a splendid breakfast-in-bed tray, the kind with little legs. The first few weekends after we got married he got up early and made waffles from scratch; but before long we were like everybody else, sitting at the table in our bathrobes with coffee and cold cereal and the morning papers spread in front of us. Breakfast in bed didn’t seem important after all.
Now that I have children of my own, though, I understand why my mother needed that little island of peace at the beginning of her day. I am not a morning person to begin with, and being awakened by two howling girls flinging themselves upon me does nothing to improve my mood. On the other hand, after a cup of coffee and 10 minutes with the funnies I am awake and good-tempered enough to deal calmly with morning squabbles instead of snapping back. George has figured this out. Breakfast in bed is a preemptive strike.
This does entail some sacrifice on his part—he has to make the coffee and feed the girls—but he has always been an early riser, and the payoff is considerable: smiling wife, calmer atmosphere, possibility of uninterrupted shower. In its own way, a bowl of Cheerios is every bit as romantic as a candlelight dinner, or a tray of tea and toast.
Copyright (c) Brigid Alverson 1999.