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Pausing to reflect on a 48th wedding anniversary, looking to future of a shared life

Gene and Judy Clabes at their wedding in 1965 (Photo provided)

Gene and Judy Clabes at their wedding in 1966 (Photo provided)


By Judy Clabes
KyForward editor

May 28, 1966, a day emblazoned in my memory, the day of our wedding 48 years ago. I do not remember it as if it were yesterday; these days memories are both selective and precious. But I can still feel the giddiness of anticipation, the sense of adventure we had of the open road ahead of us, a deep appreciation for a dream dress made by the loving hands of my mother – and there was a bit of funny stuff over the message written on the bottom of his shoes by a gang of mischievous groomsmen.


At the end of the day we took to the open road – headed back to a modest apartment near the UK campus – to finish our senior year. We had nothing except the love and good wishes of our families, some student loans, and hearts near-to-bursting with young love, hope enough for a lifetime, and a naivete that allowed us to believe all things were possible. Maybe a man could even walk on the Moon.


Forty-eight years later, that still feels right.

Gene and Judy, 1965 (Photo provided)

Gene and Judy, 1965 (Photo provided)

And, oh yes, can’t forget the old (mostly) Studebaker pulled together by my farm-boy Dad who thought everybody should have wheels. There are stories in the Studebaker all their own – it was the awfullest fleshy color you can imagine (his frat friends dubbed it the “Nude Stude” and it stuck) but it served its purpose. It got us to the local grocery where 3-pounds-for-a-$1 ground beef and 10 cent cans of whatever got us through just fine. We were on top of the world.

We have lived our life (yes, singular and shared) against the backdrop of a nation’s own growing pains – the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, women’s lib, hippies and drugs, Watergate, the impeachment of a president, the unthinkable assassinations of another and of a would-be president and of a human rights advocate, that man on the Moon, Challenger, a Cold War, its end, and its new beginning, our first black president, terrorism on our soil, a War on Terrorism, a struggle for gay rights and compassionate immigration policies . . .Quite a lot for one life, and not all of it.

When we tell our grandchildren (the real reward for a long, shared life) that when we were young there was no color television, no cell phone, no internet, no email, no texting, no laptop, no X-box . . .We can see the pictures form in their active imaginations of the two of us emerging from our dark cave for the morning hunt for a Tyrannosaurus to roast for breakfast over the fire we started with two sticks. There’s a lot of genuine anguish in their expressions.

Today, only about 50 percent of us choose to get married. Those who aren’t yet married say “maybe someday,” but the median age keeps going up – a record high 29 for men and 27 for women in 2011. Of all marriages, one in two ends in divorce.

We’ve seen the range of it, starting even as we headed to the traditional altar. Co-habitation without marriage was beginning to take hold. Then, as more opportunities opened up for women, marriage was not always at the top of the agenda. Lifestyle options, other gateways to parenthood, broadening definitions of “family” – all these things and more changed the rules.

But for us, the old-fashioned way was a good fit and we’re grateful the stars aligned in our favor.

Well, most of the time, that is.


Gene and Judy Clabes (Photo provided)

Gene and Judy Clabes (Photo provided)

Despite the pop culture and the psycho-babble and the serious scholarly advice, there is really no magic formula for “happy ever after,” particularly if you expect to be happy all the time. It’s best to get over that as quickly as possible. It really isn’t somebody else’s job to make you happy; it’s a condition of your own mind. If you aren’t the right person for yourself, you won’t be the right person for anybody else anyway.

You can listen to all the advice you want about fighting fair, being patient, being a good listener, compromising, having a sense of humor, being trusting and honest, expressing your feelings, forgiving and communicating and all that. But in the end none of that works if – in the least recesses of your brain – you are willing to walk away.

Early on, it irritated me to no end that my beloved squeezed the toothpaste tube in the middle. Really. No matter what I said, this awful behavior continued. I wasted a lot of seething on this important issue until I came upon a real solution. We would each have our own toothpaste tubes. He could abuse his as much as his unaware heart desired, and mine would be appropriately respected – and neat.

To this very day, a day of rejoicing in 48 years of shared life, he continues to irritate me – purposefully I’m convinced, by not emptying the pockets of his pants before committing them to the laundry hamper. This would be an issue if I did not force myself to remember that he makes a very nice cup of coffee every morning, just for me, and on Sundays he cooks breakfast for the whole family. And then there’s the fact that, even as a grown man with grown sons, he has said “I love you” to them every day of their lives.


The point being that sharing your personal space, breathing someone else’s air day in and day out is rife with details and pitfalls. Live or die with them. The devil, as they say, is in the details. Therein, too, is the choice.

I’ve never believed the legendary advice that you should never go to bed angry. I think sometimes that’s the very best thing you can do. For one thing, there really is no such thing as a fair fight. Who made that up? My husband hates confrontation. He needs to work things out in his own way, without a lot of haggling, and he’s best left to his own devices. For me, I learned early on – as the oldest of five siblings – the enormous power of words to wound and hurt and cause pain that cannot be cured with the sincerest of apologies. I have an inherent sense – that I mostly employ – about biting my tongue. It’s best I contain my anger and put it to sleep. Rarely do I ever fully recall the next morning what the fuss was all about.

We have a lot of friends who are long-marrieds, many married even longer than our puny 48 years. We would blow the statistical pool away. Not one of them would tell you it’s been all roses and chocolate (or big screen TVs and beer for the games) but they would probably say, as I do, that the opportunity to share a life with your best friend is not a bad way to go.

As we celebrate our good fortune over a special dinner out tonight, we’ll be congratulating ourselves on a youthful choice well made – and well played out. It doesn’t always happen, but we got really, really lucky. So I’m going to share our real secret with you: Neither of us, looking into the future as far as we dare, ever, ever, ever have pictured it without the other.

Call it commitment, stubbornness, true love or pure tenacity, it defines the rules of engagement like nothing else.

Happy Anniversary, sweetheart. Can’t wait for the next one.

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