I’m feeling very nostalgic this week after attending the funeral of my dear friends’ mother. Technically the woman is my brother’s mother-in-law. But since he literally married the girl-next-door, this woman was for all intents and purposes, she was the neighborhood mom to all teenagers.

I don’t remember a time in my youth when this family wasn’t part of the landscape of my day-to-day life. My brother spoke eloquently at her funeral about being a young teen and hanging out at the house, raiding the pantry and cleaning the leftovers out of the fridge. Another friend of mine talked about all the crazy times the gang spent at their house. This woman and her husband were married 55 years. There are all kinds of memories that make me smile about this gruff truck driver coming home to his wife and three girls. Despite his prickly exterior I never had any doubt they filled his heart with unconditional love. I was too young to see the difficult times that no doubt clouded their marriage, but still, they were able to weather every storm.

My brother has been married to his wife going on 29 years. We even have pictures of them, complete with minister (my younger brother), wedding dress, bridesmaids and groomsmen in their backyard getting married … long before they were even officially teenagers. I’ve watched these two go through some wonderful times and some very hard times. And what I’ve come to know is that loving someone for a looong time isn’t always easy and definitely not always pretty.

Thirty-seven years ago this fall I began dating my husband.

We’ve raised three babies to young adulthood. Gutted and remodeled two homes. Buried eight grandparents and a father. Persevered through three major job losses, four family divorces and a sibling’s affair. Survived the diagnosis of a life-altering chronic disease. And lived in the middle of nowhere for over twenty years. And currently counseling a child to get herself and our grandson out of a terrible living situation. Yeah, romance isn’t the happy-ever-after-ride-into-the-sunset the romance novels seem to tout for their heroes and heroines. Romance in real lives is smiling despite the fact you never managed to squeak in a shower and saying “I love you, you’re beautiful” even though there are dirty dishes in the sink, laundry piled on the bed and baby puke on your pants.

Through all the hardships of daily life I still believe in soul mates and forever loves. In my immediate family we have 5 couples who have been married nearly 30 years. 2 nearly 20. And now another generation begins the journey into marital romance with 4 weddings in the coming year.

I’ve been blessed with one of those marriages that romance novels promise. How could I not be a hopeless romantic at heart? There are no flowers on my counter or diamonds dripping from ears, but there’s a guy sitting in the chair next to me as I work tirelessly at my computer who laughs at my corny jokes, doesn’t roll his eyes (too much) at my lack of geographical acuity, holds me when I cry and is willing to discuss (with a straight face) whether vampire assassins make worthy romance heroes. And just being with him makes me feel romantic.

There are many moments in our lives together that hold a special place in my heart. Moments that bring a tear to my eye when I talk about them. Moments when we were first dating. Moments when our babies were growing up. Moments of quiet when it was just the two of us away from the noise of the world. All of them hold a certain kind of romance that makes me smile when I think of them.

This week I watched a man openly weep as he said goodbye to a woman who no doubt was the other half of his soul. I listened to his daughters talk about their parents’ love with a lump in their throat and a tear in their eye. And it just brought home a stark reminder that no matter how hard life gets, it’s important to cherish my marriage. I can only hope when it’s all said and done that my children will have all those wonderful memories of their parents.

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