The Storyteller: How Do You Make a Marriage Work?

He was a farmer, a man of the earth, and he and his wife had been married seventy-one years. What was their secret?

He was sitting in an old swing on the front porch of his home when I arrived, and age and weather had left deep ruts and wrinkles in his face.

He was a man of the earth, someone who had spent most of his eighty-nine years plowing the soil and harvesting his crops and waiting for spring so he could start the process of sewing his seeds all over again.

His overalls were faded, and dust clung to the sides of his work boots. The sleeves of his checked cotton shirt were rolled up to his elbows.

I had called ahead to set up our appointment. Alvord Griffin had no idea why in the world I would travel so far just to spend an hour or two on his front porch.

“Never done much,” he said as I walked up the wooden steps. “Never amounted to much.”

“You’ve accomplished a lot,” I told him, opening my notebook to a blank page.

“All I’ve ever done is work hard,” he said

“You’ve made your marriage work,” I said.

“Near as I can tell, that’s what you’re supposed to do,” he said.

Caleb Pirtle III

I nodded.

He adjusted his Massey Ferguson tractor cap tighter on his head. I suspected there was little hair up there. He was not trying to hide it. He had simply worn the cap so long he felt naked without it.

“Sit yourself down,” the old man said, pointing with a disjointed finger toward a lawn chair next to the wooden railing, “I’ll go in and get the wife. If we’re lucky, she’ll have a pitcher of lemonade.”

We were lucky.

Margaret Griffin’s gray hair dropped on her shoulders, she had a Navy blue scarf around her neck, and she was wearing her best taffeta green dress. She didn’t talk much. But she smiled a lot, and she smiled most when Alvord was talking, and the only thing he liked better than talking was plowing.

He sat back down in his porch swing. The green paint had chipped and was beginning to peel in the Nebraska sun. Margaret handed me a glass of chilled lemonade and eased down beside him.

I took a sip.

“It might be too sweet,” she said.

It wasn’t. The chilled glass was sweating in the late August heat.

Alvord emptied his glass.

He leaned back and said, “Now what did you want to talk to me about.”

“Your marriage,” I said.

He smiled. “We’ve been partnered up for the past seventy-one years,” he said.

Margaret smiled.

Neither looked as old as they had when I drove into the farmlands south of Omaha.

“We live in an age where divorce is rampant,” I said.

He nodded.

“In fact, divorce has almost reached epidemic proportions,” I said.

He nodded and glanced at Margaret.

She kept smiling.

“And yet, you and your wife, as you tell me, have been married for seventy-one years,” I said. “How can you explain being married for so long to the same woman?”

“It’s simple,” he said. “Me and my wife don’t play volleyball.”

I must have looked surprised.

Maybe even confused.

“Yeah,” he said slowly, “if you play volleyball, the ball is on your side of the court, and then it’s on her side of the court, and then it’s on your side of the court, and you’re always fighting over the dadblamed old volleyball.” His voice trailed off.

For a moment, there was only silence.

Alvord gazed out across the farmlands, then his eyes turned back toward Margaret.

“No,” he said. “Me and my wife don’t play volleyball. Me and my wife play tug of war.”

He paused.

I frowned.

“And we’re always pulling on the same side of the rope,” he said.

He smiled at her.

She grasped his hand.

I closed my notebook and left.

He could have talked all day.

But there was no need for it.

He had said it all.

You can read about the real people with real stories I’ve met during my years of traveling in Confessions from the Road. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

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