Today is my parents’ first wedding anniversary since my mom died a few months ago. It’s also her birthday. Yes, my mom got married on her birthday. She never saw the point in two or three small celebrations when you could have one big blow out. She liked everyone together having a good time, and she loved presents more than a junky loves crank. At a celebration she turned into an eight-year-old girl, instead of an elderly woman who needed to tell you how terrible everything was.

If she were alive, my parents would have reached their 54th anniversary today. I’m not sure what I would have given them. There’s no traditional symbol for the 54th anniversary, unlike the 1st (paper), the 50th (gold), and the 10th (tin). By the way, modern gift-giving experts have redefined the 10th anniversary as diamond jewelry, which is a far better deal for the happily married couple. The 50th is gold and the 55th anniversary gift should be emerald, but my folks wouldn’t have quite reached 55 today. I might have given them gold rings with crappy emeralds to balance things out. I bet she would have loved hers, regardless.

One of the websites I checked for gift ideas threw tradition out the window and recommended that movies are an appropriate theme for the 54th anniversary. They suggested that a framed poster from the movie Dial M for Murder would be a great anniversary gift. I am not fucking kidding you; check out the link. In case you don’t remember, this is a movie about a guy planning to kill his wife.

My dad lives in the house they shared for 52 years. He spends a lot of time in their dim front room, where they sat side by side in recliners from WalMart for the past 20 years or so. When I visit him I sit in my mom’s recliner, which feels weird as hell, but that’s where he wants me to sit. Sometimes he tells funny stories I’ve never heard—whenever my mom was in the room it was hard for us to get in on the conversation. He cries sometimes. Sometimes we talk about work, or politics, or broken air conditioners. I haven’t visited him as much as I should, so I need to rectify that.

Sometimes my dad tells his version of stories that my mom told. My dad’s version doesn’t even resemble my mom’s version. I mean, it’s clear that they’re supposed to be about the same event, but things happen in different ways, different people are there, they may happen in different places, they may even happen two or three years apart. These events seemed a lot more interesting and dramatic the way my mom described them, so I suspect my dad’s versions are more accurate. I’m starting to feel that my past is far different from what I thought it was, and much more boring as well.

My mom would be 76 years old today had she lived. It’s a respectable age, but still a good ways short of the average life span. Her cause of death is a bit mysterious. Her doctor wrote “necrosis” on the death certificate, which basically means that your body died. I’ve considered going to his office to say, “Well, we could see that, motherfucker!” but I doubt that would improve anything except the tight muscle in my shoulder where I’ve been holding myself back from punching him in the throat.

So, Happy Anniversary and Happy Birthday, mom. Everything ends, but I’m thinking about you today, so I suppose it hasn’t quite ended yet.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I must observe that my parents taught me how to break into cars. They taught me other useful stuff, like how play poker, when to over-tip, and to always buy the coolest presents I can afford. They taught me to frame walls, but for God’s sake to stay away from wallpapering. They taught me to break the rules I think are stupid, and to make it look like I was following those stupid rules all along.

However, my parents failed to teach me an important thing. They did not teach me how to get a girl. I have a great girl now, but I’m mystified about how I got her. It seems like luck. It’s as lucky as if lightning struck me 15 times, and it merely gave me a great tan and fixed my teeth.

Perplexed, I recently asked my parents how they became a couple. How did my dad get my mom? Maybe I did something right by chance, and it would be nice to know what it was. I guess my parents like me, because they told me their story.

My parents both grew up in the same town. That’s the town in which I grew up too, by the way. Their families had known each other for years. My future father was 5 years older than my future mother. His younger sister was my mom’s best friend, and my mom’s older brother was my dad’s best friend. When you’re a kid, someone 5 years older than you might as well be a thousand years older; my parents each were aware that the other existed, but they couldn’t possibly care.

At age 18 my dad joined the Marines and went to Korea. After three interesting years in Korea, he came home when he was 21. My mom was just 16 then, and he still barely noticed her. She didn’t pay much attention to his existence, either. Two more years passed in the way years tend to do. Now my dad was 23, and my mom was 18. My dad now noticed my mom and found he wanted her to be aware of his existence, and also to consider it a good thing. But my dad suffered from incredible shyness, and he couldn’t think of anything to do that would make this happen.

He asked his younger sister if she could help him, and she said, “You bet I can!” His sister asked my mom to go out Saturday night, as they often did, and my mom said sure. On Saturday my dad and his sister arrived at my mom’s house in his car. My mom thought it odd that my dad was there, but she shrugged and got in the car. Then my dad’s sister said, “Oh, I forgot I have something to do!” and she buggered off, leaving my dad and mom alone on what had just become a date.

They went to the local establishment where everyone in town gathered on Saturday nights. My mom knew everybody, and she laughed, and danced, and had a great time with her friends. My dad was slightly less outgoing. He sat in the corner all night drinking beer and saying nothing to anyone—including my mom.

The evening ended, and the time to go home arrived. In the parking lot my parents found that someone had parked their car behind my dad’s car, and he couldn’t get out. He solved this problem by picking up the back end of the offending car and dragging it out of the way so he could leave. My mom thought, “Huh.” That is exactly what she later told me she thought, word for word. During the ride back to my mom’s house, my dad still said nothing. He let her out at the curb and drove away. My mom went into the house and thought that this was the strangest thing that had ever happened to her.

On Sunday evening, with no planning or discussion, my dad pulled up in front of my mom’s house. As my mom looked out the window, she felt perplexed and unsure of what to do. She didn’t see many options, so she went outside and got in my dad’s car, and they drove away on their second date.

Six months later they were married.

I found that story to be charming, but not immediately helpful. I’m pretty sure I did speak to my wife at least once before we became a couple. I didn’t drink much beer, and I never picked up anything that weighed 10 times as much as me. Perhaps things were different in my parents’ time. Perhaps I’m different. Maybe it’s all just luck.

Then my mom mentioned that my dad did in fact speak during those six months. In fact, he and my mom both spoke quite a bit while driving around all night on a whole lot of occasions. So that was it! My dad demonstrated the ability to talk for six months without saying something fatally stupid. Now it all makes sense—I must have been lucky enough to do the same thing with my wife.

I find this all to be an enormous relief. I know how I got my girl, and I can put those doubts away. I didn’t blow it when the critical moment came. Because to be honest, I’ve never been able to drag a car out of my way, and part of me suspected that my parents taught me to break into cars so I’d be prepared when the moment arrived.