International sign of distress … or joy


Randy Riley - Contributing columnist



Yesterday was our anniversary. We were married on October 18, 1987. It seems like forever ago, but it’s only been 34 years. I checked online to see what special gift is appropriate for the 34th anniversary.

Apparently, I was supposed to purchase a nugget of opal or some form of jewelry containing opal. Lucky for me, when it comes to gift buying, Debbie has low expectations.

As a joke, I told her that I couldn’t remember whether her special anniversary gift was supposed to be Opal or Opie. So, I went online and found 20 episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show” that featured Opie. I thought I might get away with it, or at least get credit for originality.

Thank goodness she has a great sense of humor.

Shortly after we were married, our morning rituals for getting ready for work and school had to be dramatically adjusted. It wasn’t just us. There were three young boys in the house who had to get ready for school every day.

To speed things up, the boys usually showered the night before and brushed their teeth and put on their final touches downstairs. Debbie and I shared the small upstairs bathroom.

It was a little tight, but each morning we squeezed around each other, bumping butts as we shuffled around getting ready for work. We would talk and laugh as we prepared for another day of work.

Within months after combining our families into one, I realized there was something extra-special about Debbie, but I could not nail down what it was. Then, one morning, just after she left for work … it dawned on me.

As always, she gave me a good-bye kiss just before she walked out, but that morning, I heard her laugh as she walked down the stairs. That is when I realized what that extra-special thing was. Every morning, as we went about our morning rituals, I always heard her laugh.

How special is that? How many people wake up in a good mood every day?

Debbie does. With precious few exceptions, over the past 34 years, Debbie has shared the simple joy of living and laughing with me. What a blessing.

About 30 years ago, we moved into our current home on Washington Avenue. We spent what seemed like weeks moving in furniture, hanging drapes and pictures.

At some point, we took our official wedding license out of a box of books and pictures. We decided to frame it and hang it up. We found a perfect place beside the front door, put another nail in the wall and hung it up in plain view.

As family and friends walked into our house, we could proudly show off our marriage license.

Late one evening, we were returning from our weekly Kroger trip. It was dark. Our arms were full of sacks. I was elbowing my way through the door, trying to make room for Debbie, when I realized that I had bumped into the framed wedding license and knocked it off the nail.

Quick as lightning, I dropped a bag and stuck out my hand and before the frame hit the floor. I trapped the license against the wall. I was even able to slide the frame back up the wall, find the empty nail and rehang it.

I told Debbie that her husband had cat-like reflexes. We both laughed.

A few weeks later, Debbie asked, “Why is our wedding license hanging upside-down?” Without missing a beat, I said, “Oh, that’s an international sign of distress.”

She laughed and responded, “OK. That makes perfect sense.”

To this day, our wedding license hangs upside down.

It does not signal distress. It signals joy.

Like a typical husband, I sometimes forget our exact anniversary date. I know it’s mid-October. Two of our little grandchildren were born in early October. My birthday is about a week after theirs. My mother-in-law’s birthday is a week after mine.

I remember that our anniversary is mixed in there somewhere, but I often forget the exact date. So, I go look at the license and smile when reminded it is on October 18.

That was the day in 1987 that Mayor Nick Eveland came to our friend’s house and performed our simple, civil ceremony. We were married on the exact spot where we first met, but instead of sitting on the floor, in front of their fireplace and playing bridge like we did the evening we met, we stood with our friends John and Judy and recited our vows.

These past 34 years have been a roller coaster of joy and sadness, but through it all there has been love and laughter.

I hope she enjoys watching all those Opie episodes.

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

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Randy Riley

Contributing columnist