We are winding along a quiet road in a mountain canyon. Cool air rushes in the windows and brings with it relief from the hot sunlight. To the left and the right we are surrounded by a natural playground. Pine trees stretch toward the sky between red rock boulders. The aspens are just beginning to bud.
We have been in the car for hours already. The boys are troopers, staring out their windows in search of elk. Afternoon drives don’t get much more beautiful than this.
“We’re almost there”, my husband tells me. And then as we crest a hill, there it is. A tiny, unassuming town that one would likely drive through with little thought to stopping.
It wasn’t much, but it was everything.
“I had a friend that worked at a Dairy Queen, it was right there. And that’s where we came into town to hang out.” My husband points, and I imagine him and his friends sipping cokes and watching the sun set behind the Rockies.
“The camp was down there.” He points to a desolate road. “You want to just keep going? We don’t have to go see it”
“No!” I answer without missing a beat. “I want to see it.” I could not begin to fathom passing up this chance to glimpse his history; the Colorado he fell in love with. Finally, I had a chance to know it—to know this part of him. He turned onto the dirt road.
“The evening I flew in,” he tells me, “they picked me up from the airport, and told me not to unpack my bag when we got to camp. We might have to leave during the night. There was a forest fire coming.” I watch the sunlight dance across the forest floor, eclipsed by pines and aspens standing side by side for miles. He goes on to tell me of how he awoke in the middle of the night, smoke burning his nose and throat. Outside the cabin, ash rained over the entire camp. It was a close call.
He pulls into the parking lot and we are met by a gorgeous log building. He drives around back, and down a steep dirt road that takes us further into the woods. “That was my suburban, the one with the roof rack.” One of our boys asks if he went off-roading in it. We drive up a small hill; we are completely surrounded now by pine. “That’s it.” He points to a tiny log cabin. “That was mine. That was my window. I hung my hammock out on that deck.”
I see him laying in that hammock.
We drive through the rest of the camp, and he recounts memories of friends and conversations and adventures. And just a few minutes later, when we pull back onto the main road, I look at my husband and he looks different. Not that him sharing this part of his history changed him—but rather it changed me.
Memories do that; they welcome a person into your past—into what made you into who you are today. In the case of marriage, there are so many years and memories that made up who our spouse is—ones that we were never a part of.
We hear the favorite stories, maybe a few times each, but something beautiful happens when, after years of marriage, you hear a new story. You catch a fresh glimpse into the past—a past you were not a part of, but is a huge part of you now, because you are married to it.
When was the last time you glimpsed a whole new piece of who your spouse is? When did you last learn something new about them?
That day as we wound between cabins and aspens, his memories became mine. This was his life before me. When he flirted with girls and led mountain climbing classes. These were his memories–and through the sharing of them, our histories melded. I could picture now the details of those stories. I could smell their smells and taste their flavors. I could hear his voice in the stories.
It is one thing to get to know the love of your life before you slip those wedding bands onto each other’s fingers. It is a whole different thing to continue to get to know them years after you speak those vows. It takes work.
There is an art to it, I am learning. It is a craft built of intentional conversation and quality time. Many times for us, it looks like a drive through the mountains as I read a book to my husband, or an evening out in the backyard listening to a podcast together. These are the things that conjure up memories and inspire conversation.
It happens when we’re reading a book together, and a story sparks a memory in my husband that he hasn’t thought about for years. He shares it with me, and I cherish it as a gift; this piece of my husband that I never knew.
It happens also when we’re talking about dreams and goals for our future, and of the culture we want to create for our boys. When we talk about what we desire for their lives, it brings up reflections from our own childhood’s, things that perhaps we never thought about before to share with each other. Maybe the stories just seemed so minor. And maybe now, after years of marriage, new perspective, and raising children together, those stories have a place.
Whatever role these memories play—whether the sharing of them adjusts our direction, or we share them simply to reminisce and welcome our spouse into the part of who we are—they are a gift.
What if this week you set out to learn three new things about your spouse?
What if you poured a couple glasses of wine after the kids go down, and sit out on the deck while sharing your favorite stories from camp growing up?
What if you pick a new book to read together, and see what kind of memories it sparks?
What if, if it’s possible, you drove through their childhood neighborhood, or favorite place that they vacationed as a child?
What if you grab a pen and paper, and write a list of 5 values you want to instill in your children, and talk about how those values were instilled in you as a child?
What if you just sat and stared at the stars together until a story finds it’s place between you?
What if you take a memory that your spouse has shared with you time and time again, and dig deeper? Ask about what happened before, and after that memory, or about how it changed them.
After years of marriage, it is sometimes difficult to think of a unique gift you can give your spouse, or an original way to bless them. The gift of sharing a piece of who you are with them—one they’ve never known—that is a gift they’ll forever cherish. And you will, too.