About this time last year we got a save-the-date card for a wedding the following May. I had no idea who these people were. There was no return address and only the first names of the couple were on the postcard. I showed it to Mark and together we studied it for a good long while. "I got nothing on this one," he said. It took some digging and with the help of one of Mark's coworkers (who got the same card and was equally perplexed) we found it was the grandson of someone Mark has worked with for years.
The grandson? Have we ever met this kid?
This spring the wedding invite came and I balked. To be present to celebrate the nuptials of two people we didn't know seemed crazy to me. Mark disagreed. "This is important to Allen and his family and we should be there." I balked some more. "You do know we have to get a gift, right? We have to buy a wedding gift." Mark dug his heels in and since he rarely does that I mailed back the response card saying we would be more than happy to attend.
There we found ourselves with a table full of strangers in one of the loveliest event spaces in Kansas City. We mingled and said our hellos to Allen and his wife. Mark's previous boss and his wife, now retired, were there and when he saw his former roofer turned assistant professor hire from 24 years ago he said to me "Shouldn't your old man be out fixing somebody's roof this summer?"
The food was fabulous, the bride and groom young, gorgeous, happy, and clearly crazy in love. "What's your connection to the bride and groom?" was the round robin question around our table. "Actually we don't know either of them but Mark works with his grandfather," I said, and then added, "but they sure seem adorable." If nothing else you can plop Mark and I in with a table of strangers and we can yak our way through the awkwardness. We got up and danced when Stevie Wonder started playing, ate too many M & Ms off the candy table and had a great time. Allen thanked us twice for coming and his kind eyes have always conveyed far more than he says. Before he left, Mark's old boss stopped by our table and asked where Mark had gone off to. "The bathroom I think."
"And he left you here alone? That shithead."
These two are but a host of many key players in the early years of Mark's career and our first resources in navigating a new life in Kansas City. They are brilliant, funny (oh so funny), still crazy about their spouses and their kids, proud of a career that has spanned decades, and proud of their contributions to science.
A few weeks later Allen retired and there was a party in his honor. We have been to a few of these and often they have a funeral feel to them. Mark put an end to that when he did a power point presentation that was hilarious and the highlight of the night. I got a glimpse of the energy he brings to his workplace on a daily basis.
We were one of the last ones to leave the party which gave us a chance to talk to the grandson whose wedding we had just been to a few weeks earlier. It was apparent how much he admires his grandfather and how much he resembles him in mannerisms and quiet strength.
With Allen retiring the old guard that has shepherded my husband through the trials, tribulations, and politics of a career in academia are mostly gone now. Though it hardly seems possible Mark is now the old guard and I see in him some of the same traits as his mentors - brilliant, funny, crazy about his spouse and kids, proud of a career that has spanned decades and proud of his own contributions to science.
It has taken me this long to recognize that Mark believes that showing up on a Saturday night is part of his job, and that being present for the personal celebrations of the people who put their faith in him is dotted with fondness, gratitude and respect. I will pick out a party dress, buy a gift for the young and darling who are madly in love, splash on some perfume, and stop complaining.
And I will remember to glance over my shoulder now and then to take note that his career has been paved with the gold of friendship.