Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

September 19, 2013

ABACUS COLUMN: Who’s that lady feeding the fish?

By Larry Backus
Sun contributor

CROSSVILLE — My wife and I are much too rapidly approaching a marital milestone. In a bit over one year we will have been married to each other for a quarter of a century. Doesn’t sound that impressive to many Glade residents does it? We have neighbors who have been married at least 66 years … to each other! I always tell people my wife and I have been married a bit over 77 years; not necessarily to each other I might add, if I am inclined to clarify my bragging. This total includes the years we were married to our initial spouses. I usually include comment that we worked diligently to achieve all of those years and therefore feel justified to claim them. I seldom if ever, mention to my wife, much less you Glade Sun readers, the fact that these first 24 years of our marriage have been the best years of my life. That fact is the bonus on top of the concerns, aggravations, challenges, joy and love that we share with our five children, 11 grandchildren, and our many new and longtime friends.

During our nearly 24 years of marriage, we have only been separated for limited periods of time. The first occurred after we had finally decided to design and build our Glade home. Since my wife and I are both workaholics, have pride and confidence in our individual flair for design, and are incredibly stubborn, it is a wonder that we were ever able to agree on the final plan for our home. It took a year and a half of mutual intimidation and challenges. Although we agreed on nearly all the big things, we would argue like our personal reputations were at stake in attempting to agree on the little things. I always said if we could survive designing our house together the marriage would be smooth sailing.

Fortunately, the designing did not lead to our first separation. It was instead the building of the house and the fact that my wife had a contract to fulfill in her administrative position at a private girls high school. I had retired, closed my insurance/investment agency and completed my five years as a township trustee. The plan was agreed upon that I would rent a Glade home for six months, move some of our belongings to that house and the balance would stay in storage with two of our sons. I would work with our builder; my wife would move in with her widowed mother, complete her contractual obligation by September, and join me. During those several months of necessary bachelorhood, I would tell my wife how wonderful the neighbors were. There were at least two ladies who would stop by with wonderful casseroles and baked goods. My wife to this day, points out with glee that when she moved in that September, the casseroles and baked goods abruptly ended. Not that she is territorial or anything.          

Recently, my wife had to fly abruptly to Boston where her help was urgently needed due to illness with one of our daughters and her family that included three children ages 12, 10 and 6. They needed her support, and since I had once been a single parent of two teenagers for nearly four years, I had a smattering of confidence I could survive a few weeks without her cooking, cleaning, honey-do list and other important duties. And, I could watch my favorite TV shows in the coziest spot rather than move to a secondary location. This hiatus would be our second marital separation of any length. One of our good friends called after a few days. My TV was on, even though I was writing at my computer in a different room when she called. Our friend’s sense of humor is worn deep and shiny by constant practice. After our beginning conversation she said, “I hear all those women in the background, where do you keep them when your wife is out of town.” I replied, “They are all down in the lower level recreation floor. I have advised them not to go out on the patio and feed the fish in our fish pond. You know how someone might make a big thing of that.” We laughed at each other’s barbs, but we were experiencing a situation similar to one my friend and her family had experienced. Our experiences brought home to me several realities of modern family life.

Raising a family is a very difficult endeavor in today’s world for a devoted couple like our daughter and her husband, much less a single parent. Another reality is that both parents and grandparents need to maintain family communication and support, despite often being separated geographically. A third reality is that death of a family member, illness, loss of  a job, a need for continuing or additional education and many other factors snap at the heels of the stability of families. All too often, grandparents find themselves for the second time with children to raise and a family to care for. Grown children may also find that aging and illness of parents may add to their family burdens despite a parent’s best efforts to remain independent. In my opinion, a grandparent and family may be sustained on a three pronged cushion of support. Please note that money or wealth is not one of the supporting legs; wealth will not guarantee physical or mental health, it will not sustain love.

Grandparents, in terms of a family crisis, have been there, done that – especially in terms of knowledge and experience. It is only their health that can kick this leg from under the family cushion. If parents have created an effective family bond through years of support, sacrifice and love, their children will respond in kind. The second leg of support is a sense of humor. There is very little that will withstand and overcome debilitating fear and exhaustion from a dire situation like a sense of humor. Humor will help the family find a solution. Ask any veteran of combat if humor made a difference. However, please do not ask me, “Who’s that lady feeding the fish?” The third leg is religious faith. Uplifting, supportive prayer has proven ability to overcome enormous obstacles by instilling the individual of faith with the tools and understanding they will need to prevail against any and all obstacles. If it worked for Abraham, if it worked for that other Abraham…Lincoln, if it worked for Martin Luther King; it will most assuredly work for you and I.