On a snowy night in my hometown of Chicago, on March 12, 1988, I walked slowly to my groom, to an acoustic version of the Beatles’ "Imagine," played by a very cool trio. As I write this in the autumn of 2023, I reflect on the many unimaginable experiences we have shared and how many imagined dreams have come true.
When we married, I was 33 and he was 31. I, with long brown hair tucked into my sister’s veil worn four years earlier. He, with wild brown curls and incandescent blue eyes. I had not known him that long although I knew I wanted a long life with him.
We first met at a bar in Washington, D.C. On a third date at a chilly restaurant, he saw me shivering, took off his sweater and handed it to me. It smelled of musk and of him, and I got warm way beneath my skin. Two years later, he was in a tuxedo and I was in a white satin dress and satin heels studded with rhinestones.
As the ceremony began, my imagination bloomed with the beauty of the aisle lined with stalks of red and white roses — and with the love I felt for everyone in the room.
As we walked back up that aisle, officially husband and wife, I imagined we would still be together into old age. This, while another favorite song of ours played, again from the Beatles, "When I’m 64."
The bounty of what has transpired since our wedding night is unimaginable — lots of wonder, lots of sorrow, lots of endurance. During the ensuing decades, we raised four sons, lost four parents, navigated illnesses, and felt the lonely sting of an emptying nest. We have fought and forgiven and endured pockets of malaise, always grateful that the answer is “yes” to these lyrics from one of our wedding songs: “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64" (although I do most of the cooking).
We have come to know that we need each other, our history holders, through sickness and loss, through crazy years of juggling four children very close in age. Shortly after turning 39, I had birthed four boys in three years — twins made that happen.
It was unimaginable as a giddy bride, aglow with youth and a sinewy figure and raging hormones, that soon, too soon, I would be part of a tribe (wearing stretch pants on a different body). Soon, too soon, the love for one husband was diffused among five people. Soon, too soon, I would be sleepless and cranky, watching Big Bird at dawn under a pile of kids, in my polyester gray bathrobe, splattered with mashed peas and breast milk.
As the years unfolded and toddlers turned into teens who turned into lanky young men out on their own, I think of our wedding songs and they still give us strength. Beyond the challenges of building a strong family, we realize how much we need each other while trying to explain the inexplicable to our tribe of millennials who are coming of age with war after war.
We tell them that the world has always been filled with chaos and carnage and somehow the generations survive. We tell them to have hope because we have hope, and that they have our undying love. (As the Beatles also reminded us in another epic song: All You Need Is Love.
John Lennon, who wrote "Imagine," loved deeply and lived too briefly with hope, embodied in these words from the song we chose as our anthem to start a marriage:
Imagine all the people
Livin' life in peace
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one
If we do not have our dreams, what do we have? As I have moved past 64 and plan on hitting 99, I will continue to cling to John Lennon’s dream. I will not accept that anything is an "Impossible Dream," another song I love popularized in the 1965 musical Man of La Mancha.
I was radiant walking arm-and-arm with my Chuck, my groom, wedged in roses, afloat with joy. We are now wedged together until death do us part, grateful that we prevailed through the roller coaster of marriage, and the turbulence of life. We are grateful that we can laugh and fight and still say yes, to most of these questions raised by the Beatles long ago, though I would definitely lock the door, likely by midnight:
… When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a Valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine
… If I'd been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four
He chose the song to which we would dance our first dance as a married couple, "When a Man Loves a Woman" written by Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright. This song of forever love was initially recorded by Percy Sledge in 1966, and ascended to Number One on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B singles charts.
My silver-haired husband is watching hockey tonight, in his blue leather recliner, his ritual most nights that his beloved Washington Capitals play. I think of the first kiss and first dance, the perils and plusses of aging, shared with this man for going on 36 years.
We managed to forge onward throughout it all, a long life together that started on a snowy night, with this song:
When a man loves a woman
Can't keep his mind on nothin' else
He'd trade the world
For the good thing he's found
Same goes for this woman who found this man. Finders keepers.
This special issue of The Ethel is devoted to music and how it shapes — and strengthens — our memories. For more on this topic from AARP, including videos, events and memory games, visit aarp.org/musicandmemory
What was YOUR wedding song? Let us know in the comments below.