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Another Happy Anniversary

Passion Play

It's been five years since I launched Shakespeareances.com, and in that first year I posted a commentary on this date titled "Forever Is Too Long for True Love" marking the 20th anniversary of my wedding to Sarah. You do the math.

Sarah wearing a red sleeveless blouse, a plastic red party top hat, and a yellow lei with restaurant tables behind her.
Sarah celebrating New Year's Eve with a wine-pairing meal at one of our favorite restaurants, Rafagino Springfield, Virginia. From baseball to Shakespeare to food to wine, the passions accumulate over the years. Photo by Eric Minton.

Today being the landmark day it is, and Sarah being what she is in so many ways, I feel the urge to engage in a bit of celebratory self-indulgence here, right before we slip off to a celebratory romantic tryst. My 20th anniversary commentary discussed the Shakespearean philosophical underpinning of our relationship, so I figured this time I'd answer the question we often hear from people who learn of my Shakespearean passion: "So, Sarah, did you get into Shakespeare because of him?"

The short answer is, kind of. The full answer is this commentary. And just as my 20th wedding anniversary commentary served as a foundational guide to romantic longevity, this one serves as a practical primer for a happy marriage.

It all started with a train set. I was living in England at the time and my first wife and I were already separated and heading inevitably to divorce. I was visiting some friends in the Suffolk County village where we lived—why I had entered their small house on the village’s High Street I don’t remember, whether it was to deliver something to them or I just happened to be walking by and they invited me in. What transpired in their living room, though, was a double epiphany. First, though they knew my marriage was falling apart, they treated me with loving respect: That was a shock to a guy who thought he was hated by all, feeling such a failure for falling out of love with his wife and being constantly reminded of that by that wife.

That was an immediate salve; the lifelong impact was their HO scale train layout. That they were then attending to it made for easy conversation for me because I’ve always loved toy train layouts. I’ve never had one, but I always dreamed of devoting a half-acre of any house I lived in to such a layout (an Air Force lifestyle in both my childhood and adulthood with moves every 2 1/2 years is not conducive to realizing such a dream). However, the significance of this train layout was the whole-family involvement. It wasn’t just the husband, who built the model trains; his wife worked on houses and scenery, and the kids, in their early teens, contributed their skills to the hobby, too. It was a family passion. Nor was this happenstance, they told me: Husband and wife decided together to share in a hobby, and their children caught the enthusiasm.

I was inspired. When Sarah and I began getting serious about a future together, I made a premarriage-proposal proposal: I asked her to pick one sport and one hobby that we could share. I was good, too: I completely fenced off any influence I might have made via hints or even a list of examples. I just said one sport and one hobby, and let her think it over a few days, which I spent wondering what the hobby might be. I was certain the sport would be American football because that was the sport she was most familiar with as a football-loving-daddy’s little girl who, in her formative years, had a crush on former Los Angeles Rams quarterback Roman Gabriel (a feeling she shared with many women her age). I like football, too, so I was cool with that.

You can't imagine my delighted shock when she chose baseball, my favorite sport, saying, “I want to learn what you find so interesting in it.” Thus began a new lifetime of annual Major League Baseball city visits and Minor League Baseball vacations, a great way to see and feel the roots of America (our nation's federal lawmakers and bureaucrats need to do this, too). Meanwhile, Sarah's still trying to learn what I find so interesting about baseball.

As for the hobby of her choice, you've might already have guessed that one, especially as sequel to her choice of baseball based on my love for the sport. Wrong: It was calligraphy. I wasn't at all surprised. Sarah, getting past a divorce herself, was nurturing her appreciation for what she called the royal arts, building on her longtime fascination with monarchical history. She took up fencing and archery, we did horseback-riding treks, and calligraphy fit right into that interest. I immediately purchased books and a calligraphy kit.

But Sarah got sidetracked. William Shakespeare can do that to people.

It wasn't just that she was fascinated that I was crazy passionate about a writer she loathed in high school. It was that this writer fit right into her own interest in monarchies and English cultural history and her desires to deepen her appreciation of all things royal and Renaissance. Though we were then living at opposite ends of South Carolina (she in Charleston, me in Anderson, a four-hour drive), Sarah requested that I expose her fully to my own interactions with Shakespeare. That started with reading the plays, which I felt we should do together, out loud. As for the order of plays—I see this issue broached often, "which play should I read first?" and people weigh in with one of at least 35 suggestions (nobody picks Pericles, Timon of Athens, Two Noble Kinsmen, Cymbeline, or Henry VIII, though Sarah likely would have opted for the last as our first outing). However, I have a proven method for making such weighty decisions, from what shirt or tie I'm going to wear that day to which baseball teams we'll focus on this year, and I used that methodology to establish the order of Shakespeare plays we would read: I drew from a deck of cards. Thus, we started with Cymbeline.

We set aside a weekend that I would be visiting Charleston to devote to studying all things Cymbeline, and in the days leading up to that date, I decided to cook a meal themed to the play. I love to cook, both from a creative aspect and because it impresses women—at least in those days it did. Because I've never had the physique or the confident pickup manners to impress women, I had to rely on my cooking skills and sense of humor to get laid. Sarah loves to cook, too, but she's more of a culinologist and food historian (her cookbook collection outnumbers our baseball and Shakespeare libraries combined, including the three individual Shakespeare plays series we have). Hearing that I intended to do a Cymbeline thematic meal, she set out to do historic dishes based on Cymbeline, which was quite a challenge given that the play is set simultaneously in prehistoric Briton and Renaissance Rome.

That entire weekend—staging the play in her Charleston apartment and on the Battery, preparing the meals (the genesis for our Shakespearecure project), and shopping King Street for Cymbeline-like matter (the genesis of our Shakespeare Christmas tree)—was one of multilayered passions: like a Shakespeare play, right? Sarah was smitten (with Shakespeare; she already kind of liked me but let's just say I continued to impress her with my cooking), and we started anticipating the next month's play (card says, Coriolanus!). The calligraphy kit remained in its shrink wrap.

As with baseball, we weaved Shakespeare theaters into our travel plans. We have always devoted a room in our homes to these two passions containing various memorabilia, artwork, and their libraries. We used to switch the decor twice a year, to baseball in spring, to Shakespeare in autumn, but now that we've settled into our own house we have turned our basement into the "Green Room" dedicated to both Baseball and Shakespeare in tandem. Furthermore, these two devotedly shared passions have led to more shared passions: food, of course, and wine, cinema, music, travel, home decor, Christmas, and a couple of others I'll generically call romance. Heck, we don't have enough time to fit all this passion into our schedules still front-loaded with our jobs.

Nevertheless, we fit in as much as we can, and looking back we've filled our 25-year marriage with more than a dozen buckets of life experiences. Most important in the perspective of this particular day's celebration is how inextricably entwined we've become through these various passions. I share my baseball geekdom with several friends and, my goodness, I share my Shakespeare geekdom with the entire world. I could hang out with foodies and wine lovers, join a band, and travel in group tours. However, I simply cannot conceive of having nearly as much fun and, well, passion as I do enjoying these activities with Sarah. I lust after other women and sometimes develop crushes, and I could head to first base by convincing myself that they might like pitching duels (my wife doesn't), but the infatuation dissipates when I realize not only that the other woman probably wouldn't enjoy Coriolanus, let alone Pericles, but that they could never give me the memories-imbedded fun that Sarah and I share.

Nationals Park scoreboard, red background, Harris-Teeter Neighborhood Food & Pharmacy logo on top, two lines of type in white: "Happy 25th Anniversary Sarah, my thrill. ILU, Eric" and "Happy 30th Anniversary Sherry! Love, Dan."So, thank you, Mr. Shakespeare (and also Mr. Alexander Cartwright) for this day, which we will celebrate by attending a Washington Nationals–Chicago Cubs baseball game (we sprung for Diamond Club seats) before heading to New York for this year's Major League Baseball getaway (the Mets), a trip in which we'll also take in a production of Measure for Measure. And thank you, Sarah, for your good choices. Calligraphy would have been fun, too, I'm sure.

By the way, six years ago I was at a personal and professional crossroads in my life and was contemplating a website devoted to our Shakespeare experiences. Sarah was the biggest advocate and enabler in my launching Shakespeareances.com. She not only joins me for every play I attend (when her health and service duties don't intervene), she even reviewed a production I couldn't attend when dad-care duty called me away. She also reads every review and commentary before I post them, including this one.

With that in mind, happy 25th anniversary, my love, my wife, my passions.

Eric Minton
June 27, 2017

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