On July 14, 1956, Ramona Gracia Caporossi, age 18, married Edward Jay Grigg, age 23, in a Lutheran church in Royal Oak, Michigan. The date was chosen, not because it was Bastille Day or because the date, 7/14/56, had a nice ring to it, but because every summer in the middle of July the factory where Mona was an office worker shut down for two weeks for retooling. If she worked until then, it meant she would get her two weeks vacation pay before leaving to become a housewife.
They met on September 29 the year before and were engaged on Christmas Eve. She was a few months out of high school and he was a few months out of the Marines. They lived on the same street, five houses apart, but the five-year age gap kept them from knowing the other even existed until that day in late September when they met and began to talk. He loved FDR and so did she. As a Marine he had been based in the segregated south and he told her stories that brought her to tears. He was smart but quiet about it. He was funny but not mean. He was honest and loyal and surprisingly shy. He was sexy as all get out.
He had a happy childhood and so did she. She fell madly in love with his family, and he fit in with hers almost right away. (There was that time her mother got hold of a rumor that he had been in prison instead of the Marines, but it passed.)
She had dreams of being on Broadway and thought she would spend years on her own before settling down. She told everyone she would never marry anyone who smoked or drank. He did both. He had no real ambitions beyond working in some capacity in electronics, a trade he learned while in the service.
They had three children; a daughter born in 1957, a son born in 1959, and another daughter, born in 1966. (Between them they eventually produced three adorable grandkids. A real perk, and well deserved.)
His work–the work he loved and was good at–would take them to California, where two of their children were born, and later to Maui, where their infant daughter learned to walk, to swim, and eat poi. But Michigan was their real home; the Midwest fit them best.
And so ends the biography. This story is about a marriage that lasted against all odds. My marriage. I won’t be bragging and I won’t be complaining. I’ll be trying to figure out how two very different people could make a life together for more than 60 years and still wake up each morning happy to find the other still alive.
It’s impossible to be married for 60 years without growing old. That’s the downside. And with aging comes memory loss, so, lucky for us, we’ve forgotten most of what happened and how we felt during those six baffling, volatile, life-changing decades.
I do recall some mighty fights, even to the point of wishing out loud we were anywhere but there. But what stopped us? A lack of funds? An impasse about who had to take the kids? Inertia? Could be, but I’m going with abiding love.
He spent many years traveling, the kids grew up, and I found my voice as a writer. He was doing what he loved and I was doing what I loved, both of us thriving in communities far removed from our lives together at home. It could be that absence really does make the heart grow fonder. It could be that those times apart renewed a lagging interest. Or it could be that all those naysayers who said it would never last were wrong: We really were meant for each other.
I don’t have to tell anyone who is or has been married that marriage is hard work. Only newlyweds think “marriage” and “idyllic” are words that will hang together forever. They’re like those parents who think they’re having a sweet little baby when what they actually have is a pre-adult requiring years of sacrifice and patience and lots and lots of attention. It takes an inordinate amount of love to get through it, but once those kids have latched on there’s no letting go.
The two of us started out as strangers, created a family, and made a life together. We marvel sometimes at the sequence of events that had to take place in order for this to happen. We had to be born to parents who chose the exact same street to live on. He had to come back to Michigan after the service and not stay in California with the girl he thought he would marry. I had to turn down my long-time boyfriend and be ready to move on.
When we met, something had to click. And then something had to hold us together. We had to adjust and tweak and redefine our love many times over the years, because the nervous intensity of young love is far different from the old-shoe comfort of love between the aged. (The who??)
But beyond that–no small thing–we had to stay alive.
If someone had told us on our wedding day that sixty years later we would be congratulating ourselves on a job well done, hugging our special day away, thankful to be together, we would have thought. . . Well, we wouldn’t have thought. It was the day of our wedding; I giddy and glowing in my beautiful gown and he miserable in his rented tuxedo. The thought of growing old together was a dream neither of us could take seriously. And the crazy thing is, we’re in the midst of it and we still don’t. Take it seriously.
So this is what my husband cooked up for our anniversary: We should call the papers and tell them after sixty years we’re getting a divorce. The news would go viral. Producers of reality shows would pick up on the story and fight over getting us to live through it on camera. At last we would be rich!
This from the guy who still shudders over the speech he had to give in community college on the GI Bill. This from the two of us who are so private we shut the bathroom door even when no one is within miles of the house.
I told him if they could airbrush out the jowls and wattles and cellulite, I might think about it.
And then we had to laugh. Man, wouldn’t the kids and grandkids be embarrassed?
Serves them right.
So that’s how it is. Sixty years and counting.