On his birthday.
What does February 7th have that no other day has? In 1964, The Beatles came to the United States to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. Many years later, my husband, Jeff was born on that day. What do those two things have in common? Both The Beatles and Jeff make me weak in the knees.
Today is Jeff Tucker's birthday. It is a day I want to mark somehow, because Jeff is simply ridiculous to shop for. He lacks that … greed, shall we say, that most people have. I certainly have it - I love books and pens and shiny things, such as diamonds, as well as semi-precious stones. But Jeff? Maybe a western-style shirt once in a while, or a mint-smelling soap, but even that, not so much a want but rather a need - we like to be clean and smell well and we need clothing.
I met Jeff when he was 15 years old, and still my height. He was the little brother of my best friend, Amy, in high school, and he liked to hang around us, listening to the same music. Even back then he had the acerbic wit and sharp observational humor of a much older person.
Then he and his brother moved with their parents back to Missouri (they were originally from that area). Amy stayed behind in Colorado, because she was going to college in Ft. Collins. She and I stayed close, and after I moved to Wyoming, with my brand new degree in journalism, we corresponded often. Jeff and I also began writing letters to each other, he already in college, and a foot taller than he was the last time we saw each other.
Slowly, over the course of several years, Jeff and I fell in love through those letters. I can't point to an exact date when that happened, just that in time his letters were something I looked forward to more than anything else.
But we had several obstacles in our way. For one thing, I couldn't say, “Please move here, and be with me,” because Jeff had a four-year, full-ride scholarship to Southeast Missouri State University, which included not only tuition and books, but also dorm room, food, and also a small stipend that allowed him a great deal of independence. For another thing, because he was younger than I, and not Jewish, when we both met in Denver, my mother refused to speak English to him.
However, around the time we decided that I would move to Missouri and go to Southeast to get a graduate degree – and “give this relationship thing a go,” Jeff did one thing – a thing that still reverberates through time and space as THE thing that changed my mother's mind about him. He called her.
My mom doesn't look like a tiger. She can be sweet and funny, and she's not big, so people who don't know her don't know how intimidating she can be. The woman is formidable. There is no other word that better describes her - steel under soft skin, keen intelligence and strength of character that may not be seen, but is there like “The Force.” So for Jeff to call her, out of the blue, to tell her that we love each other; that in order have our relationship grow, we really needed to live in the same state; that he wasn't stealing me away; and that he respected her and my father - well, my mother was impressed. Immediately after talking with Jeff, she called me. I was still living in Jackson Hole, but was already planning the move back to Denver, to gather all my stuff, and move to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where the University was located. She woke me up from sound sleep to demand to know if I had put Jeff up to the phone call.
Once I was awake enough to understand what she was talking about, I told her that I had neither put Jeff up to the phone call, nor had any prior knowledge of it, my mother hung up. But she understood that it took a lot of guts for Jeff to call her, and it was the right thing to do. She had a decision to make. She could continue to disdain him, and push me away as the result, or she could see that he was a person of character and give him chance to be seen, heard, and respected. Since she didn't want to lose me, she decided to go with the latter choice.
I did move to Missouri, I got my graduate degree, and Jeff his undergraduate, then he was accepted and finished Drake Law School, in Des Moines, Iowa. We have lived in Sioux City, Iowa, where our daughter, Riva was born. When Riva was still a toddler, I was pregnant and we decided to move back to Colorado to be closer to my parents and some of Jeff’s family. Unfortunately, our daughter Ruth was stillborn, but then we had Sammy, who is now 17 years old (Riva is going to be 21 years old this April). Jeff passed the bar in Colorado, as well, and has worked for Mental Health Center of Denver as V.P. of Human Resources for almost 20 years now. After 18 years of marriage, raising the kids in the Jewish faith and attending synagogue more and more, Jeff decided to convert to Judaism – obviously this was not a decision I pushed onto him. My parents were confused.
“Why, son? We love you just as you are,” my mother told him. And they do, they absolutely adore him, because he rarely argues with them, he is patient with them, laughs and drinks with them, and is always there, if they need him for anything.
It was Jeff’s wit that made me first notice him, followed by his kindness. He is a gentle, good man. Whoever said that good guys finish last didn’t know him. Jeff is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever known. He may be a Jew now, but I can still tease him about his “Protestant work ethic.” He is crazy smart, smarter than I am, and rivaling his sister in brain power, which they both temper with common sense. I asked him, once, why he doesn’t have the stereotypical red-headed temper. He shrugged, smiled sheepishly, and joked, “I’m a lover, not a fighter.” That does not mean that he is without ambition, he goes after what he wants, and he can be a cutthroat when it comes to basketball or board games.
I love my husband, of course, but more importantly than that, I really like him, too. He really is my best friend, someone whose opinion I seek out and respect. In some ways we are very different: Jeff is social, much more outgoing and has that open, easy generosity of spirit that I’ve observed in a lot of American-born people. I don’t seek out the company of others actively, preferring a more laid back approach of “I’ll just sit here and if anyone wants to talk to me.” Unless, of course, I am hiding behind a book. He has a soft heart and a gooey, marshmallow center, and if I start crying in movies or during services, he’ll tear up a bit, as well, not because of the movie, but because he is sympathetic to my suffering. And more than anything else, I love to make him laugh, still, after more than 25 years of marriage.
So in this, my birthday gift of a blog to my Sweet Baboo, I want to wish him the happiest of birthdays, and many more, and to tell him that he still makes my heart skip a beat when he walks into the room, as well as make me both catch my breath and make breathing easier, as if more oxygen has been added. Thank you for always having my back, taking care of our family so incredibly well, and for loving me. That is the greatest gift I get on your birthday.