54 and Counting

written by: John Shuff

Another anniversary underscores the rare gift of true commitment.

Last Saturday night when I saw her across the table I saw the face of the woman I fell in love with almost 57 years ago. It was the same face I saw a few days earlier when I was rummaging through old family pictures. She was much younger then, of course, a lively brunette with a radiant smile. You could see in the picture that great sense of humor, the undaunted spirit. It was the face, now and then, of the person who has been at the center of my life.

I met Margaret Mary Scanlan on a blind date my sophomore year at Notre Dame, and after a long courtship we were married in August 1963. During our 54 years of marriage we’ve had our ups and downs, disagreements and fights. I can still remember the plate of meatloaf she dumped on me six months into the marriage. I’d made a remark about her cooking and the food landed on me and halfway up the wall. Then there was the time some years later after we moved to Florida when I mouthed off about something and she pushed me—in my wheelchair—into the swimming pool. Suffice to say that I learned the hard way not to mess too much with Margaret Mary.

I have also learned that marriage demands commitment, courage and good communication. In the eyes of the world, Margaret Mary has always been in the background, her work for our business and our family not always visible. But my life and those lives of our children would be nothing without her. She’s solid as a rock, dependable, a good friend to many and the backbone of our family.

In the era when everyone wants to renegotiate—to give less than 100 percent while expecting more—Margaret Mary has always been there for everyone. She has lived patiently with my multiple sclerosis of 42 years. She’s been instrumental in the rearing of our children and has been the leader of our business since its inception in 1981. Given the roller coaster she’s been on during the last 42 years, she’s never tried to renegotiate her deal.

Marriage requires work and attention, and ours is no exception. This often entails being honest or even critical of a mate. You simply owe it to your partner to be honest. Such openness, given a setting of love and acceptance, can perpetuate a partnership to a higher level. This is what happened in our case.  

In its first six years our marriage was nothing to write home about. In fact, it was headed down the tubes largely due to my inability to communicate. I was the workaholic, the guy who never needed to talk, who did what he did—when he wanted. We were occupying the same space but there was no connection, no sense of a shared life. Marg was the one who called me out. Her deal was simple: “I’ll hang in there if you get help.” After almost two years of counseling things became much better. Our marriage flourished and our respect for one another grew immensely. Marg’s candor and patience and our willingness to adjust helped establish and maintain a much needed equilibrium. This courage on her part to address a problem and be part of the solution has helped shore up our marriage, year after year.

Margaret Mary’s accomplishments, while unknown to most people, will endure forever. She’s has been the best partner a guy could ever have. In our 54 years of marriage there have been many bumps in the road, a few flat tires and the realization that riding on the rims is not a pleasant experience. However, Marg’s equanimity has guided us with a steady hand. It has made our life together worth the ride.

Thanks for hanging tough when I needed it most. I love you. Happy anniversary.

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