I grew up in Paraguay and was raised by seriously religious Mennonite missionary parents. My husband Ed came from an upstate New York Irish Catholic family. Our upbringing could hardly have been more different.
Halloween brings up just one example of our differences.
I was largely unaware of this holiday until I moved to the United States at the age of nineteen. Ed grew up wandering through dark Halloween nights, engaging in rotten egg fights, scaring friends, hiding porch furniture and decorating the neighbors’ trees with toilet paper. He was shocked to learn that I didn’t even know about All Souls’ Day, a day of alms-giving and prayers for the dead; and All Saints’ Day, when people decorate the graves of deceased loved ones and light candles in their memory.
And then there were the stories passed down from Ed’s Irish grandmother about the thin places on All Souls’ day, where past, present and future intertwine, and the veil between worlds becomes permeable. Apparently, when the dogs howl at night during this special time of year, you don’t want to go outside because roving spirits might capture you, take you through the veil and not allow you to come back to this earth.
To me, these seemed like beliefs from the devil himself. But such strange ways of thinking about Halloween were only the tip of the iceberg in our marriage.
Take the issue of money.
As a good Mennonite girl, I was taught to be frugal, to donate generously to help those in need, and not to waste anything. Ever. “Dauts nich tum dee Buck auftjeele — that’s not made to cool off your tummy,” my dad would always say in our native Low-German when we kids held the fridge door open a second too long. Not being wasteful was the right way to live. Ed had a totally different perspective, and I was sure it was wrong. Even though he agreed that helping others was a good thing, for Ed money was made to be spent, and you could always go out and make more. He called it supply-side budgeting.
And then there were his endless hobbies: golf, kayaking, tennis, fishing, skiing, badminton, racquetball, horse shoes… it went on and on. How did he ever manage to get through school and have a successful career with all that playing, I often wondered? It made no sense to me. I was taught that my time should be devoted to family, education and taking care of the needs of others. Life was serious business, after all.
It’s as if our families of origin prepared their best warriors, and sent us into combat with each other to decide how married life should be lived. Friends told us we didn’t belong together. Indeed, if the purpose of marriage is to walk down an easy road to a fun life, they were probably right. Nevertheless, we were powerfully drawn to each other, found it very hard to be apart, and have now been together for almost three decades. And it keeps getting better.
So on this Halloween, the holiday that made no sense to me when I first came to the States, I wonder about the purpose of my marriage to this man who’s so different from me. The web is replete with advice about the purposes of marriage: Holy union. Companionship. Enjoyment. Procreation. Protection.
An important purpose seems to be missing in that list. I’ve spent a lot of years in school, and have quite a few letters after my name, as does Ed. But without a doubt, our marriage has been the greatest educational adventure of our lives. And I’m happy to say that the end of our learning doesn’t seem to be in sight.
What is the purpose of your intimate partnership?
Oh, and our lives are not all serious business! Earlier today, in preparation for Halloween, I brought home Samantha, a green-faced, broken-toothed, opened-mouthed witch. I rang our doorbell, Ed opened the door, and drew back in shock. In the photo above, Samantha is making herself at home on our bed.
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