It was January 2000. Sister Deb and I were visiting our parents. The Saturday morning ritual was, butts in the car at 7:30 to go out to breakfast. Lollygaggers were left behind to eat cold cereal.

It was our parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Months earlier, we had asked Dad what he thought of a party in their honor. He said, “Fine, but I’ll be in the cellar.” So, here we were, going out to breakfast as usual.

I asked them, “To what do you attribute your 50 years together?”

Dad just jerked his head in Mom’s direction. Mom didn’t miss a beat.

“You have to be each other’s cheerleader.”

I was surprised.

“If your father wanted to do something, I said, go ahead. Any time I wanted to try something, he said the same thing to me.”

Now, I had grown up in their house. He was a Teamster pouring concrete. She was a homemaker, then a hairdresser, a police crossing guard and lastly a gas station attendant. Four kids. How they pulled it all off is beyond me. I don’t remember hearing encouragement between them. When did that happen?

I had to think about this.

In the ’60s Dad thought it was a good idea to put up a swimming pool. It would be the only one in the neighborhood and ours was already one of the fun places to be. Mom didn’t say a word. She never helped put it up. But she had the iced coffee poured and sandwiches made all day as the ground was leveled and raked. All through Dad’s yelling and laughing at us mandatory volunteers as we got the sides up, she poured and provided with a grin.

Dad thought paneling the cellar was a good idea. That winter vacation, he and Uncle Johnny got it done. Mom had the hot coffee, sweets and sandwiches ready throughout the days. She did the laundry after they were finished for the day to stay out of their way.

In the ’70s Mom wanted to travel to Germany. Her best friend Claire was going to visit her daughter and her young military family. He drove us to the airport and picked us up. How does a wife do that? Because her husband encouraged her to.

When Mom took ceramics, earned her GED certificate, learned whittling or tap dancing, Dad was there for her. He loved that turkey platter she painted, beamed when her GED came in the mail, positioned her whittled fisherman on the fireplace mantle and did a grinning double-take when she walked around the house in her fishnet stockings and tuxedo jacket.

So, maybe I never heard the cheering, but I sure saw it.

I’m glad I asked my mother what the secret to their successful marriage was. Her wisdom has stayed with me and given me such a wonderful way to show my love.