My husband, Kurt, and I met on a blind date on November 4, 1977. He was 23; I was 21. It was a madcap evening: After a classical concert at Carnegie Hall, we dined at a restaurant we considered swanky at the time, played Pong at a video arcade, and ended up dancing into the morning at a disco, amid a dry-ice haze. It still stands as the datiest date of our lives. We married four years later, in May 1981, but every year, we’ve chosen to celebrate our relationship on the anniversary of that wonderful first night together.
Each year, Kurt has been a thoughtful, careful gift giver. But on our 30th blind-date commemoration, in 2007, he outdid himself. On the public radio show that he hosts, he broadcast a love song for me that he had commissioned from a balladeer-for-hire. The lyrics, referring to our respective hometowns—“If I’d jumped into the Missouri River in Omaha when I was 17 and had it carry me down to Kansas City, I bet you would have rescued me…”—moved me to tears. Later came yet another, more private present.
On the card affixed to a wrapped box were three cryptic numbers: 10,957; 30; and 1. Thirty, I understood; the others, I wasn’t so sure about. When I opened the box, it became clear. He had given me one beautiful spherical crystal vase, filled with 10,957 miniature seed pearls, representing the number of days in our years together, and 30 full-size pearls indicating those years.
I was moved, and surprised, too. Pearls are traditionally associated with the 30th wedding anniversary. And tradition has never featured prominently in our lives as a couple: I kept my maiden name when we got married; I didn’t want an engagement ring; I refused to wear a standard wedding veil.
But soon I gained a deeper understanding of the gesture. Pearls are hard to harvest, and it can take years for the layers of nacre to form over a grain of sand, transforming it into a plump, iridescently lustrous pearl. The metaphor for a long marriage is obvious—from nothing, slowly but surely, despite and maybe because of the grit and grime a couple endures together, comes something lovely.
Today, when I glance at the vase nestled near my desk, as it dynamically reflects the changing light of the day, I smile, thinking of Kurt’s romantic, indulgent folly. Of how many hours it must have taken Kurt to count those 10,957 miniscule pearls. And I marvel once again at how poetically they embody the giddy night that we came together, and the life that we’ve shared ever since.