The phone call came toward the end of March about 25 years ago. I had left my mother and father happy anniversary wishes on their answering machine, back when there were such things.
Couples who stayed married for decades on end had machines to record greetings and incoming messages on tiny cassette tapes for those times when folks couldn’t come to the phone.
“We need to talk about our anniversary” was how my mother started my parents’ return call a day after my message. “There’s something we need to tell you.”
The conversation that followed was a jumble of mathematics and emotion.
The short version? For my entire life until that phone call, I believed that my parents’ wedding had occurred in March 1964, almost one year to the day before my birth.
But now they had a confession to make: They actually had gotten married on August 15, 1964.
And I had come along about seven months later.
“We didn’t want you to feel guilty, like somehow being pregnant with you was the reason we had to get married,” my mom explained.
A few months shy of 18 when she eloped from New York to Elkton, Maryland, with my 18-year-old father, my mother passed away at the end of 2017, again too young for one of life’s milestones.
My parents made it 53 years together and rarely spent more than a half day out of each other’s company, down to my mother’s final breaths in the intensive care unit.
Now my father sleeps with her ashes in an urn on his nightstand. He would sooner remove a finger than take off his gold wedding band.
This year my parents’ anniversary fell on a Saturday. It was my turn to call, so I phoned in the morning. We talked about what my dad was watching on TV, the Chinese food he planned to reheat for lunch, the south Florida humidity.
He has Parkinson’s now and dementia, so our conversation sounded like father and son talking, but not really. Sometimes he’s all there; sometimes not so much. This was one of those days where he seemed less than lucid, so I left out mentioning my mother. I didn’t want to upset him.
This anniversary would have marked 56 years. There would have been a cake, seven-layer, chocolate with a cherry, which has always been a thing in my family. My brother and his three kids would have come by.
My parents, always scrimping, never much for gifts, would have requested something practical, like a Shell gas card, but I would have skipped that for something more ostentatious. Maybe plane tickets to Arizona, or his and hers recliners for the family room where they liked to watch old episodes of “Law and Order” and “Bonanza.”
I would have offered to splurge for dinner. My mother would have insisted on a few cheese pizzas from the takeout place up the street.
Inevitably, Leibowitz anniversary celebrations involved at least one joke about the 30-odd years of “fake anniversaries” we celebrated before my parents finally came clean.
Sometimes I kidded them about being glad for loose morals, otherwise I might never have been born. Other times, my parents would kid me about being grateful my father had such a low draft number for ’Nam, or maybe an unplanned pregnancy wouldn’t have seemed like such a blessing.
This year, there was only silence.
Except for this piece and the one thing I never got the chance to tell them: that I hope I was the reason my parents got married. Because, truth be told, I can’t think of anything else I’ve ever done of which I’m prouder.