Sunday, May 19, 2013

Those Lean Years Were Early

... for me, anyway. A couple of months ago, Pam noticed a series of stories about baby-boomer couples who had been together at least 25 years. We had a wonderful celebration of our silver anniversary last year, so we entered a photo and brief description on the New York Times web site, a bit ahead of our 26th anniversary.

Photo: Jeff Anzevino
Allusions to Jefferson
Starship have been made.
I was surprised a couple of weeks ago to arrive at home to find Pam on the phone with a Times reporter. I was even more surprised to hear her talking about me! I was even more surprised to hear her mention that the reporter would be doing a separate interview with me the next day!! (Note my rare use of the double exclamation point.)

We had a total of almost three hours of conversation with Erika Allen, trips down Memory Lane all the way to Hooper Avenue, our first home together. The result was a beautifully written article, woven together as if it were a single conversation around a pot of coffee. The article is entitled From Early Lean Years,  A Stronger Bond, making ours sound like more of a Horatio Alger story than I had ever imagined.

It was great to read and hear so many lovely comments, from new and old friends, and even from readersof the Times we have never met.

Without permission, I am copying the entire article here, because we never know how long such things will stay online. It was originally published on April 22, 2013.

Pam and James Hayes-Bohanan will celebrate their 26th wedding anniversary on May 9. The couple met when they were college students in Maryland and now live in in Bridgewater, Mass., where they teach at the state university. They have one daughter. A condensed and edited version of our conversation follows.
How did you meet?
Pam: When I was 19, in French class at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. We didn’t start dating right away, though — he was actually engaged to someone else.
James: To a girl I’d moved to Baltimore to pursue. I’d met her in a Latin class in high school. Later on, when Pam and I were together, I took Portuguese — another romance language — and we joked about it. But I didn’t get engaged to anyone in that class.
How did you start dating?
Pam: I had a crush on him for a long time, even when he had a girlfriend. He did a lot of social activism on campus and I found that to be kind of sexy. At the time nuclear freeze was the issue and he went to this meeting to testify against this evacuation plan they were creating for Annapolis. I just thought, “Wow.”
James: What turned out to be our first date, I didn’t really know it was a date. She joined me for dinner and a couple of drinks pretty much immediately after I had been dumped by this other person. It was mostly just a sobbing session about this other person; not very romantic. But we started seeing each other soon after that.
Pam: We had dinner and went back to his apartment and talked for a really, really long time. It was wee hours of the morning and neither of us had a car. While we were waiting for the cab to pick me up he kissed me good night and then I counted it as a date. We were together for a few weeks before we decided he needed time to get over Katie. I didn’t think I’d see him again. That was the spring of ’85. In November he called and asked me out again.
James: I did like her, but I wasn’t at all ready for dating. Six months later I was at the mall and saw her working there. She was wearing a dress I can still picture. It was a very natural material, sort of earthy.
Pam, do you remember it?
Pam: I do! It was this sort of gunny sack material. Loose weave, V-neck, with a tie belt and raw hems. It was one of my favorite outfits and I have to say I looked especially smashing in it. I remember thinking, “Now he’s sorry.”
James: I asked her out shortly after. I knew then that even though I was asking her for one date, it was something I could only do if I was really ready.
Pam: We had our second first date in November of ’85 and in February of ’86 he asked me to marry him.
How did the proposal go?
Pam: We were riding around in the landscaping truck that he was driving for work and he just asked and I said yes. There was no ring; I never wanted one. The big political issue at the time was the diamond mines of South Africa, so I didn’t want a diamond.
The wedding?
James: A low budget wedding. We were married at the Seventh Baptist Church in downtown Baltimore, which wasn’t a prosperous area then and has gone downhill since. There were homeless people on the steps of the church.
Pam: We didn’t have flowers or anything like that and we made the invitations ourselves.
James: The idea of the bride being given away just didn’t make sense to us. We bought our wedding rings at the mall. They were just $6 each, silver and turquoise, sort of Hopi rings. Pam wore a beautiful blue dress. I went dress shopping with her; the woman at the shop was horrified.
Pam: We blew bubbles after the ceremony. Now Martha Stewart does that, but it was our idea first. The reception was at my mother’s house. We made most of the food ourselves. My stepbrother tended bar for us.
James: Another thing about the wedding was that the woman I was engaged to was invited. She didn’t come; her dad told me she felt awkward. But the whole rest of her family was there. Her brother-in-law was the best man.
You have hyphenated last names.

Pam: Yes, my last name was Hayes, and James’s was Bohanan; we both hyphenated. It was an idea we got from the minister who performed our wedding. I wanted to keep my last name and James wanted us to have the same last name, so we decided to both hyphenate.
James: When I told Pam I’d gotten into grad school at Miami of Ohio, she said, “Ohio?” It was the last place she thought she’d live.
Pam: We got married in May and moved that August. It was difficult. I couldn’t find work in this really small town. We didn’t have any money and after eight weeks of searching, I got a job for minimum wage at Kmart — $3.35 an hour. I realized I could make more money as a graduate assistant, so I went back to school, too.
James: After three years in Ohio we started looking for the next graduate program. I knew I wanted a Ph.D. in geography and she wanted to study library sciences, so we made a list of schools that offered both and applied. The University of Arizona accepted us and offered money.
Pam: After that, I got a job at the public library in McAllen, Tex., so we moved there while James finished his dissertation. By then we wanted a place where we could settle in. This would have been 1997 and that spring he was offered a position at Bridgewater College and I became pregnant with our first and only child.
James: It was awkward timing. The job was contingent on my finishing my dissertation and we worked as late into the summer as we reasonably could because we needed money. We picked a date that would allow us to move before the baby was born, but it turned out to be a disaster. The truck showed up a week late and the baby showed up three weeks early.
Pam: Then his professor called and said that his dissertation wasn’t ready to defend. It was such a difficult time. Bridgewater let him keep his job, but he had to take a lower salary. All of this excitement just came crushing down on us.
Ever consider splitting up?
James: It was very stressful, but we had to pull together. Pam had to do all the usual stuff of having a newborn, but also having a husband who was in a new job and still trying to write a dissertation. It was something neither of us bargained for, but it made us stronger. We never considered splitting. There was a time early in our living together that we had an argument and she said something about how maybe she should go home, and I told her, “You are home” and she stayed.
Pam: We never considered divorce. I guess on some level I had to get past the really early years and I knew that it couldn’t stay that hard for that long. I had a mantra during those early years when Paloma was a baby, “this too shall pass.” Even today, now that she’s a teenager, it’s still my mantra.
Did you want a second child?
Pam: The thought occasionally crossed our minds, but for myself, those years were just so difficult for me I couldn’t imagine reliving them. She is precious to me, but it was really hard.
James: Part of it is that there is this sort of hereditary condition. A blood condition that was very rare called neonatal alloimmune thrombocytopenia. We were worried about Paloma and very fortunate that she was born healthy. We knew before the pregnancy that this was something we’d have to deal with, so part of it was feeling that one was enough, and the drain on medical resources was a lot. It gets more complicated with more pregnancies.
Pam: It affects the platelet count. But unlike hemophilia, it rights itself. In the first days after birth it can be dangerous. We monitored it while I was pregnant with Paloma and we were lucky, there were no issues.
Why did your marriage last?
Pam: Early on in our marriage we went to this couples communication workshop and we learned this very simple thing: you have to stop and thank your partner for whatever they did for you that day. Whoever took the garbage out, whoever changed the diaper; we always stop and remember that somebody did that so you didn’t have to.
James: But I would also say it was just picking the right person.