Saturday, February 20, 2016

Counting My Blessings #2: Sharon

Allow me to introduce you to the love of my life, Sharon Bradford. She was born Sharon Kay Cox in Cass City, Michigan. If you want to know where that is, it's in the "thumb" part of the state. If you don't know what that means, look at a map. If you know any Michiganders (who came up with that name? I didn't get to vote on that), you know that if you ask them where they're from in the state, they'll hold up their hand and point to a spot. Sorry, we're weird that way.

Once Sharon and I went to a marriage enrichment retreat, and the opening icebreaker was a very interesting and revealing exercise. We were told to give our spouse's life story from birth until we met. It put us on the spot and showed how well or poorly we really knew our spouse. That's a little bit how I feel writing the next paragraph. If I get something wrong, what does that say about me after more than 40 years with this woman? But here goes...

Sharon is the youngest of five children, twelve years younger than her nearest sibling. So she basically grew up as an only child. She grew up in the country, near a small rural town, and grew to love the woods on their property when she was growing up. She had horses as a kid, and still loves them and is good at riding them to this day. Don't put me on a horse. They can tell I don't know what I'm doing. The minute she gets on a horse's back, however, they know she means business, and they do what she says.

This is my favorite childhood picture of her. I think she was in the fifth grade.

She understandably has the reputation of an urban sophisticate, but she grew up in the country and on farms. Once in a class the teacher asked who in the class had baled hay, and was shocked when Sharon raised her hand!

Cass City was about a three hour drive north from our house in Plymouth, a suburb of Detroit. Since we grew up in the same church denomination, we saw each other at various church functions as teenagers, but never met until we got to college. But we definitely noticed one another during that time. Back then, her hair was much longer, down to her waist if not more. That, together with her Cherokee features (she's one eighth Cherokee, with two Cherokee princesses in her lineage. This explains a lot.) and her high cheekbones made her the spitting image of Cher at that time.

We often saw each other at church youth camp when we were teenagers. I would always bring my trumpet with me and play during services (two services a day at church youth camp), and I performed memorized Bill Cosby routines on talent night (not so PC these days). So to her, I was the guy who played the trumpet and imitated Bill Cosby. To me, she was the hottie who looked like Cher. But we never met at youth camp. One year I went to camp with the intention of asking her out, but she had a summer job that year, and didn't come. We actually think now that it was good that we didn't meet back then. We were different people in high school than we were in college, and we might not have lasted as a couple if we'd met back then. Timing.

We finally met in college on August 30th, 1974, at the beginning of my sophomore year and her freshman year, on registration day at a small church college in Illinois. It was a short meeting. I said, "Hi, you're from my district." That's how the church is divided up, into districts. We were from the Eastern Michigan District. She said, "Yeah!" and gave me a big smile. That was it. Back then, for some strange reason, the college had us come, move in and register just before Labor Day weekend. Then most students promptly went back home for the holiday. Only a few who didn't have a car and couldn't get a ride home stayed on campus. I was one of those poor unfortunates that year, and on my way to the cafeteria for dinner the first night, I found myself hoping Sharon had also stayed behind. I walked into the cafeteria, and there she was, at the end of the line. So I got in line behind her, and we started talking. We sat down and had dinner together, and stayed until they turned the lights off and made us leave.

We spent that whole evening together, and as I dropped her off at her dorm right at curfew, I will admit that there was some making out going on. Sharon got a lecture about that when she went in! Of course, I was walking on air all the way back to my dorm. We've been together ever since.

By the way, the only reason she went out with me at the time is because I was a BMOC. There were other BMOC's interested in her, but I got to her first!

We knew five months later that we would be married. We even had set a date. It had to be after I graduated from college, so we dated or were engaged for two years and eleven months before we were married. I don't recommend that. We got really sick of my having to drop her off at her dorm every night and say, "Someday we won't have to do this anymore." But I finally did graduate, and we were married July 30th, 1977 in Plymouth, Michigan.

I'm not going to tell you the whole story of our marriage. None of us would live long enough for that. I'm just going to tell you about her. Who she is, and who she is to me. The qualities that I love and admire about her, and they are legion. There's not enough time or space for that either. So I'll just hit the highlights. How do I love her? Let me count the ways...

1. Her looks. Yes, I'm a shallow male pig. So sue me. This just in, ladies: That's what first attracts us to you. And we never get over it. Everyone reading this knows what I'm saying about Sharon is true. She's drop dead gorgeous. A classic beauty. Though I am looking through the eyes of love, I also know other guys are looking. They always have, and they always will. And I'm OK with that. In fact, it makes me proud. I have a trophy wife. Of course, she doesn't think so. She sees pictures of herself at age 30, and wishes she still looked like that. What she doesn't understand is that I still see that 30 year old when I look at her.

2. She's good with numbers. I talked about this in my previous post, "Outlines vs Songs." If it had been up to me to keep our books, I'd probably be in prison for some math error. When it's tax time, you would not believe the amount of hours she puts into preparation. She makes it way too easy on our tax guy. She makes sure our bills are paid on time, and thanks to her prudence and numerical chops, we have a sterling credit rating.

3. She's an incredible cook. If you've been to dinner at our house, you know how true this is. She makes every meal a beautiful presentation. She takes great pride in making beautiful table settings, and is always changing them out to match the occasion or time of year. Sharon is instinctive about many things, including cooking. One of the things I've always been most proud of her for is the fact that she cooks without recipes, and used to design and make her own clothes without using patterns. She just thought them up, drew them on paper, cut them out and made them. The picture below with the dog is of one of those outfits.

She cooks the same way. When we go out to eat, if she orders a dish that she really likes, she figures out on the spot how it's made, and makes it at home. Usually better than the restaurant. I'm a very lucky man.

She also has taught me the basics of cooking, and now I'm able to figure out how to make different dishes on my own, though I'm no chef. In fact, since she still works full time as a graphic designer, I do most of the cooking around here during the week. I try to have dinner ready when she walks in the door around 6:00 PM each night. So thanks to her, if I ever had to cook for myself full time, I could still eat pretty well. I see single guys at the grocery store buying their TV dinners, and I'm so glad that I'll never have to do that, thanks to her.

3. She's a great soprano. I've directed choirs at times in my career, and I can tell you that there's nobody I'd rather have as a first soprano in my choir than her. Most first sopranos, the ones who hit the really high notes, the ones only dogs can hear, have limited ability when it comes to hitting those high notes. Some can only sing high notes softly, and some can only sing them loud. Sharon can do both. If you need her to hit a high note softly and blend with a group, she can do that. If you need her to hit a high note with power, she can do that too. She's what I call an anchor in the soprano section. Choir sections have, if you're lucky as a director, leaders and followers. Sometimes you don't have a leader or an anchor in a section, and that section always suffers. If I'm directing a choir, I never have to worry about the first sopranos. She's all the leader and anchor I need in that section.

4. She's incredibly artistic and creative. If you've been to our house, you know how she decorates, and how her artwork adorns our walls. She's gotten quite a reputation among our friends as a jewelry designer. Hey, seriously, if you want to help us, buy Sharon's jewelry!

5. This should be #1, but she's my best friend. Always has been, since the day we met. There's nobody I'd rather hang out with than her. I think that's partly because we became a couple as college kids, so as adults, we never have thought of ourselves as separate entities. We've never had "my friends" and "her friends," with each of us spending more time with our own friends than with each other. That happens far too much these days as couples wait till they're older to get married. I understand the benefits of waiting, but you miss out on a whole lot of bonding when you go that route.

6. This one is related to the last one. We're very compatible. We like a lot of the same things, in terms of food, entertainment, politics, religion, and just about every other topic I can think of. Of course, we don't agree on everything, and we do have some separate interests. But we're usually in agreement about what movies we want to see, what shows we want to watch, and what concerts and restaurants we want to go to. She doesn't share my interest in sports, but she wears Broncos gear when I say it's essential to the team's success that she do so. She humors me.

But at the core, we just get along well. I can count the number of actual fights we've had in 38 years of marriage on the fingers of one hand. I always hear that marriage is hard work, but honestly, it hasn't been that much work for us. We just get along well. Sometimes, when people find out how long we've been married, they ask what the secret of a long, happy marriage is. My joke answer is separate bathrooms. But my real answer is, you have to be friends first. Over time, the nature and quality of love between a couple matures and changes, and at times passion waxes and wanes. But if the foundation of your relationship is friendship, if, when it's all said and done, you're best friends, that will last a lifetime. It's great to be good lovers, but over time, it's more important to be good roommates.

I could go on and on, but she wouldn't like it. I imagine she's not too crazy about some of what I've written so far. And I certainly don't want to embarrass her. I know I must be forgetting some things about her that are really important. If you know her, and think I'm forgetting something, please chime in!

For the last 41 years and counting, Sharon has been my girlfriend, wife, lover, bookkeeper, anchor, partner in business, ministry, and life, and most of all, best friend. And now she's getting ready to take on a new role: my nurse. There's no one I'd rather have taking care of me. We don't know how much time we have remaining as a couple on this planet, but however long we have, we're gonna spend it together. Jealous? You should be. #bearingwitness

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