Happy 68th Ted Wren Bowen!

My husband Ted turned 68 yesterday.  As always, our oldest granddaughters had stayed over Saturday night, so our celebrations yesterday were sedate:  we gathered up our grandson Peyton and we all went to church.  In the afternoon, the fixit man whom we had been begging to do something about the leak in our dining room ceiling for a year and a half –a leak that, as promised had finally knocked out a chunk of plaster—came to the house cut a larger but neater opening in the ceiling and said we needed a plumber.  After that, Ted watched football until it was time for drinks and dinner.  Our younger, son, Nat, came over to wish his Dad the best and to share the birthday Scotch, and then Ted and I went to our granddaughters’ band concert.  Madeleine played clarinet brilliantly; Lena (despite her red and green Christmas braces) played trumpet with equal brilliance, then Ted and I came home and went to bed.

Tonight we’re having the whole family over for the rolled prime rib that is our meal of choice on high days and holy days, and the grandkids will decorate the tree. 

Forty-three years ago when Ted and I met in Graduate School, no one (including us) would have predicted that we would become such models of solid middle class virtue.  In those days, we were wild and crazy.  I still have the self-portraits each of us drew that summer when we sat beside one another in Old English class at the University of Waterloo.  My picture is of a smiling dark-haired girl with a Mary Tyler Moore flip.  I am holding a beagle and a tulip.  Ted’s picture is more revealing.  He is wearing jeans and cowboy boots (Ted is, after Texas born) and he is standing on what is clearly intended to be a rooftop.  Beneath him is a phrase from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”:  I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.

The lines that precede the quote that Ted chose all those years ago still capture his essence. I too am not a bit tamed. I too am untranslatable.  43 years later, I don’t think many people know that Ted remains untamed and untranslatable.  But I know it, and so do our children, especially our youngest son, Nathaniel, who is so much like his father that I frequently wonder if I had any part in his creation at all.

I notice that while this blog was supposed to be about Ted, I immediately began talking about Ted and me.  Any blog I wrote about me would drift inexorably into talk about Ted. We are both individuals, but the most striking thing about either of us is our connection to the other. We are a couple.  Long ago, a pretty girl who had drunk well but not wisely introduced us at a party as “Tail and Ged”.  That’s pretty much it.  Together Ted and I are more than the sum of our parts.  Our kind of marriage wouldn’t work for everyone but it works for us.

In the Joanne Kilbourn novel I’m working on now, I quote Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s famous words:  “Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

To our children’s chagrin, Ted and I still spend considerable time gazing at each other, but our married life has been spent looking outward together in the same direction.  We both count ourselves lucky that our loins twitched for the right person.  We have always been passionate about one another, but either through good fortune or proximity, Ted and I have always seen the world through the same prism.  We laugh at the same jokes; we like the same books and the same people; we get angry about the same issues. We are both immensely grateful that we enrolled in Dr. Boyd’s Old English class that long ago summer.

For my 50th birthday, Ted had a very talented artist we know make me an illumination of some lines from The Battle of Maldon.  Any reference to The Battle of Maldon is kind of a punchline to a private joke for Ted and me.  When you’re falling in love, it’s difficult to keep your mind on Old English (in the original).  That summer in Waterloo as the exam approached, Ted and I both realized that we were woefully unprepared. 

Our professor, a wonderful and eccentric animal lover had two dogs: one was named Kevin and one was named The Little Lady. In class on the day before the exam, Dr. Boyd announced that it was Kevin’s birthday.  That night, my untamable, untranslatable Ted appeared on Dr. Boyd’s doorstep with a cupcake and a sparkler.  When Dr. Boyd opened the door, Ted lit the sparkler and sang Happy Birthday to Kevin in Old English.  Dr. Boyd invited Ted in and told him to be sure to study the Battle of Maldon for next day’s exam.  We both did and we both passed.

The illumination Ted had made is very beautiful.  In contemporary English the words are:  Courage shall be the more as our strength wanes. A dark haired girl with a book is curled into the curve of the letter ‘C’.  There’s a Bouvier in a matching letter.  The illumination was a lovely and witty gift.  Now, as we grow older, those words have a special poignancy.

Happy Birthday, my love.

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