Fifty years ago tonight, the Beatles played the Cavern Club for the first time. I never knew that before today, but there was an article about the anniversary on Google news when I got home tonight. I have a different fiftieth anniversary on my mind, and reading about the Not-Yet-Fab Four takes me back to an era I don't really remember but which seems just within reach, accessible through a photographic series of memories, the cateye glasses and cigarette-scented coats of our parents. My birthday boy showed up on the scene a few weeks after President Kennedy took office, the diplomatic break with Cuba still fresh and the Berlin Wall just six months in the future. His parents were teaching school in Detroit, having gotten themselves there by sheer dint of bravery, will, and effort. They both left dirt-poor small towns behind them; she rose above a rough family, he navigated his way through the end of WWII, and together they started a young marriage in the shadow of her serious illness. Told never to risk pregnancy, they proceeded to have five children. Mountain Man was born with mountain blood in his veins, ready to get on with it, not much caring what anyone had to say about it, about to live a dramatic life most undramatically.
I didn't know him during the bike rides to Catholic school (he and his brothers claim that they could tie their neckties one-handed while steering), the weeks in 1968 when the neighborhood dads blocked off the street with their cars and watched for looters. I never met the babysitter he drew his first pictures for. I only heard later about the night they crashed the van, the school paper, the jazz band solos, the marching band trips, the late-night gigs in Detroit. I met him backstage at a concert in college, when he said he didn't like Mozart. He irritated me so much I started hanging out in the library when he was there, just to confirm how much he bugged me. He regularly fell asleep there, exhausted from the combination of student teaching, full courseload, and regular performing with a rock band until all hours of the morning. I started studying at the other end of the long table and watching his head. He would wake up, look at me, and go to his next rehearsal. So irritating.
Eventually I got to know the big, crumbling house on the lake that they moved to after the riots. We shared that kind of childhood, scared young parents fleeing change and heading out to the nearest small town where they found safety for their kids and long commutes for themselves. We are probably the last generation to have been left to our own devices as children. I still love roaming his streets and imagining him young, wasting his time there, on his feet or on his bike, hanging out, growing up. We are both lucky enough to return each year to the same little towns where we first tasted that freedom.
Since then we've walked plenty of roads together - through entire mountain ranges, cities, eras, crises, triumphs - and we don't seem to be nearly finished. He has made room for the unexpected in our lives and taught me to do that too. He does goofy things to make me laugh, he reminds me to go outside. He is clearly planning to get very old and prepares to be able to do that every day. He made me think I could walk up a mountain and take a canoe into the backcountry. He has dealt with the moving companies three times in a row now and doesn't remind me how much payback is owed him. Danger is his middle name. He is a huge geek and can recount his dreams, ancient Greek history, the battles of Alexander, the rules of about three dozen games, the plot of Battlestar Galactica, and the entire text of his favorite movies in astonishing detail. He plays more kinds of music than most musicians I know and is currently learning new styles. He is a born teacher. He says he doesn't like the Internet but I often find him digging through Youtube for interesting performances. He is building our house, he does our taxes, he makes me dinner, and he lightens my heart every single day.
Happy birthday, husband. Tell me there's at least fifty more years of you.