The pelican papers

A big bird’s eye view

Mary @ 60: An appreciation

Posted by Ron George on August 14, 2013

Ron and Mary Settlers 2010

Ron and Mary: Settlers Crossing, 2010
A favorite photo

Yesterday was Mary’s 60th birthday. We’re in the same decade again, at least for the next four years.

We’ve spent half of Mary’s years together, and I’m honored by her love and affection. She’s my best friend, my lover, a true companion: We share our bread with glad and generous hearts.

We’re spending the week in Boerne, in a lovely guest house on a hill amid oaks. A small herd of deer share the property. We watched them last evening as they foraged through the brush. We even spied a majestic buck with a rack of antlers taller than I’ve ever seen. “I could get used to this,” Mary just said, her journal on her lap, the odor of freshly brewed coffee still hanging in the air. Yeah, me too.

We’re getting to that time of life when retirement issues loom large – the when, the how, the whether. We hope to have decades more of life, but there are no guarantees. Timing, it seems, is everything – as when we met.

Mary had moved to Corpus Christi in 1982 to help a friend edit a photography project, find a job and move on after the breakup of a relationship, which had taken her from Austin to New York City. Jobs that paid a living wage were scarce in Corpus Christi, as I well knew, having landed there myself the same year jobless with a divorce in the works. Mary resorted to waiting tables for awhile but then landed a job editing Weekend for the Caller-Times newspaper. I lucked into a news-writing position in January 1983.

Neither of us expected to live long in Corpus Christi, and for most of 1983, we were no more than newsroom acquaintances. Then – and typically – Mary took the initiative. She and a newsroom buddy of ours, Steve Castleberry, conspired that the three of us should have dinner after work. We went to Rusty’s, the late, great burger joint, ordered some grub and an iced bucket of beer. It was all over from then on. I was captivated by this self-assured woman in jeans and a blue-striped shirt with a button-down collar. I guess she saw something in me, too. A good guy, she has said often enough since then. Troubled but basically good and much better now that I’ve been loved honestly and sacrificially by someone who was all but a stranger 361 months ago. She turned thirty 10 days after our first date.

Mary at Hosea House 2013

Mary at Hosea House, 2003
On retreat from the rigors of TAMU System

Frankly, Mary might not have reached out to me at all had she known just how damaged I was in 1983. The wounds were self-inflicted and many were long standing. Troubled is putting it mildly. I was broken. Mary held a stern but loving mirror to my character and behavior and, at a crucial moment, said she would not live with an angry man. Get a handle on it, she said in effect, or I’m out of here. That was 1987. Short version of a long story: I worked it out by 1995 by the grace of God, some therapy and Mary’s loving support.

Meanwhile, Mary had moved on to higher-education administration. She went to work at Texas A&M-Kingsville in 1990 as a public affairs officer, earned a public-administration master’s degree at A&M-Corpus Christi then headed for College Station in 1996 to work on her doctorate. I remained in Corpus Christi and spent the longest 2-1/2 years of the past 30 years living in an apartment behind my parents’ home. They weren’t bad years just long. I began retrieving my faith and sense of purpose in the church. Then Mary took the initiative again and by accident discovered a job in College Station that, as she put it, had my name written all over it – adviser for the student newspaper and instructor in news writing and editing. I moved to College Station in 1999.

Trimming the chronology: Mary completed her doctorate in 2001. She worked for the A&M system several years. We returned to Corpus Christi in 2006. I finished my doctorate in 2009. Mary is chief of staff in the president’s office and I’m a research-development officer at A&M-Corpus Christi.

To say Mary has been the wind in my sails for three decades doesn’t begin to express the depths of my admiration for her. Where I am weak, she is strong. It’s as though she provides missing pieces to the puzzle that I have often been to myself and, probably, to her as well. She’s a planner. I am not. She takes care of business while I procrastinate. She has a decent memory. I do not. She seeks engagement. I do not. She’s gregarious. I’m reclusive. Fortunately, she is patient with her often exasperating spouse. That’s the very first thing Paul says about love in 1 Corinthians 13, and it’s reason enough for me to believe, even if she doesn’t, that our marriage has been Providential.

Mary is level-headed, intelligent, reasonable and – to continue the Pauline allusion – never arrogant, boastful or rude. She is compassionate and gracious and yearns to be more so, as she said this morning. She is as honest with herself as she always has been with me. She is respectful of others and their beliefs – even their politics – although some things really set her off, such as injustice, inequity, cruelty, meanness, prevarication and silly games.

Garcia Plaza by MKS 2007

Cactus and Palm Shadow: Garcia Plaza 2007 by Mary Sherwood
An appreciation for beauty, design and wisdom

Mary is not pious in any formal way, but she has an appreciation for beauty, design and wisdom that I would call spiritual. There is certainly more to her humanity than the mere sum of her parts. She is soulful and true to herself. Aristotle’s golden mean comes to mind, for she also tends toward moderation in all things, which is especially appealing to one who tends toward gluttony. She is tolerant of my fraught, erratic dance with Christian faith and practice. She often brings a moderating view that soothes a troubled soul.

Mary will be the first to point out that she’s not perfect and that these words are overblown – but this is my blog and I’ll call it as I see it.

My favorite image is of Mary in the kitchen, turf she enjoys the most. Our home is at its best smelling of sauteed onions and garlic with Mary chopping veggies, cooking pasta and searing salmon to perfection. It is Mary’s spiritual practice, her mind and heart reaching out to the material things of this wonderful world to transform them into a plate of blessing, full of love, the kind of care without which I can’t imagine human life being complete. It is to the abiding shame of our race that so many do without it.

When Mary and I returned home from our first trip to Port Arthur, her hometown, we decided we’d have breakfast to go – crusty French bread, boudain and beer. What else? We were 30-something, madly in love and relieved that the visit had gone well. There was a slight hang-up at the boudain depot, which wasn’t allowed to sell beer at 10 a.m. Sunday. Oh, said the counter clerk. You must mean milk. Would you like a six-pack of milk? Uh – as usual, Mary got it first. Yes! We’d like a six-pack of milk. It was, undoubtedly, the best boudain breakfast I’d ever washed down with Budweiser “milk.”

Last night, a very different couple sat at a table for two in what’s becoming their favorite restaurant of all: Cypress Grille in Boerne. They haven’t had beer and boudain for breakfast for – well, decades. They have six grandchildren and their hair is slowly and graciously turning gray; hers at the temples, his pretty much all over. She ordered lump crab cakes and a salad so as to have room for dessert; he, the lobster, portabello mushroom and brie lasagna – way too much, but he polished it off and still ate most of the creme brulee. They sipped fine wine – she white, he red. It took almost two hours. They made memories and wondered aloud how they had changed over three decades and how retirement might change them in coming years.

No telling. It’s all a matter of timing and letting ourselves be loved.


7 Responses to “Mary @ 60: An appreciation”

  1. Anonymous said

    Beautifully written! Much respect!

  2. Toni Moniot said

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Loved the tribute and can’t wait to see you both.

  3. Elizabeth McCafferty said

    Thanks, Dad. I had to cuss out my “allergies” as I was reading this at work… :)
    Love you both very, very much…of course!

  4. Tom Pearson said

    Beautiful words about a beautiful woman from a beautiful man in a beautiful marriage. Most beautiful of all is the beauty the two of you have brought to the lives of those of us who know you. Susan and I love you both. Happy birthday, Mary. Right on, Ron. Thank you for sharing. Tom Pearson

  5. Jody said

    Wow. Miss you both tons!

  6. Steven Utley said

    Bravo, and happy lives to you both.

  7. Patsy Durham said

    Beautiful Tribute!! Happy Birthday, Mary!

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