For Love of Country -- and Of Each Other
Monday, May 26, 2008
It's 11 a.m. on May 8, 2007, the 62nd anniversary of V-E Day, and my fiercely Francophobic husband and I are standing on the Champs-Élysées watching the parade.
A first-timer to Paris, Charlie snaps pictures of soldiers on horseback, while I, who was last here the summer Nixon resigned, exchange tourist information with the middle-aged American couple standing next to us. They're from outside Boston and met at a divorce mediation support group.
"You've been married 30 years!" the woman marvels, when I tell her the reason for our trip is our wedding anniversary.
Yes, it is amazing, I want to say, not so much that our marriage has reached maturity but that my devoutly American husband has agreed to celebrate the occasion here in the City of Light rather than, say, Cape May, N.J., as we did for our 25th. Or for that matter, anywhere else in the U.S. of A.
As a man who wears his feelings for his country on his sleeve, tie and suspenders, Charlie has always favored a domestic rather than foreign travel policy, a fact I didn't know when we first met in Washington during the Bicentennial celebration on the Mall. As he approached me proffering a cup and a pickup line that went something like, "I think you're beautiful. Would you like this cup of juice?," I thought he was just a cute Jewish guy with a burnt-orange '70s mustache and some major New York attitude.
Back then, having marched on Washington and having been tear-gassed during anti-Vietnam War protests in college, I never would have thought to include "patriotic American" in my short list of desirable traits in a husband. Sure, I was glad I was born in the United States -- hadn't my grandparents come here to escape the poverty and oppression of the old country? But the word "patriotic" seemed somewhat antiquated to me, a piece of arcane language that had had some resonance only in the days of Washington, Lincoln and possibly FDR.
Maybe it helped that there were fireworks -- literally -- when we first met, but I knew on our third date I wanted to marry Charlie. What I didn't know then was that I would one day have an American flag displayed outside my house on holidays ranging from Election Day to Flag Day. Or that three children later, our family would take on all the ritual aspects of observing the Fourth of July -- parade attendance, barbecues and round-the-table readings of the Declaration of Independence -- with the type of celebratory reverence that I had previously associated with Passover seders.
Several years into our marriage, however, I began to notice signs that Charlie's devotion to his country was not merely of the John Wayne variety but more akin to that of Nathan Hale.
His purchase of an American flag, shortly after we moved into our first house, was probably the first clue. Hearing him sing all eight verses to "America the Beautiful" was another.
"Why are you so patriotic?" I once asked him.
"A thousand reasons," he told me. When he was growing up in the early 1950s, it was in the air in his neighborhood, his school. In kindergarten the kids even wore dog tags, he remembered.
That my New York-liberal husband seemed to be such a flag waver was a little disconcerting in the early years of our marriage -- and then either endearing or irritating, depending on how misty-eyed Charlie got when talking about the Founding Fathers, or how many renditions of "God Bless America" I had to listen to during any given Independence Day. Not that I had anything against American songs, but before I met Charlie, the last time I had actually listened to the second stanza of "The Star-Spangled Banner" had been in sixth-grade music class.