According to a list that designates a particular material for each year of marriage, my 25th anniversary will be Silver and my 50th, Gold. Whether medieval Germanic peoples, Victorian-era monarch admirers, Chicago librarians, members of the American National Retail Jeweler Association, or some time- and culture-melding combination of the above, whoever compiled the list of traditional wedding anniversary gifts had a businessman’s shrewdness and a good head for marketing. Gem dealers and jewelers secured the most spots (Turquoise at 18th, Aquamarine at 19th, Ruby at 40th, etc.). Paper mill owners made out pretty well with Paper taking the #1 spot, since the 1st anniversary is the most frequently celebrated.
Apparently, my last anniversary (16th) was Tourmaline, which I had to look up. (It’s a “mineral of variable color that consists of a complex silicate and makes a striking gem when transparent and cut.” If you’re into atoms and molecules, tourmaline is (Na,Ca)(Li,Mg,Fe,Al)(Al,Fe)6B3Si6O27(O,Oh,F)— “complex” silicate, indeed.)
My husband and I certainly will not celebrate our next anniversary with a party, lest all the guests abide by this list and bestow upon us gifts of Furniture (17th). Charles and I, being minimalist “non-consumers” (as recent dinner guests put it—but we’re more tickled by our friend David’s tag: “tightwads for God”), would count Furniture gifts more a burden than a blessing.
The 17th anniversary tradition is not the only one we’ll break. For us, Leather was the “negative 1st” anniversary (instead of the traditional 3rd). As a sort of engagement gift, Charles (two-time Montrose County Fair Grand Champion in leathercraft) gave me a knock-me-down-gorgeous leather Bible cover approximately one year before our wedding day. He made that Bible cover in 76 hours within two weeks (impressive for a college student on summer vacation).
I might have wanted an 11th anniversary party, though. The 11th is Steel, and time would prove that a few extra stainless steel pots would have come in handy. (Have you ever tried to steam green beans . . . without first putting water in the pot? Professor Brainard of “The Absent-Minded Professor” wasn’t the only absent-minded one.) May those 4-quart Farberwares rest in peace.
Depending on your marital longevity, you can receive gifts of Wood (5th), Ivory (14th, but we strongly discourage poaching), Lace (13th, but what would the husband get?), or Oak (80th). Like the Steel anniversary, the Oak appeals to me. I would love some oak bookcases, less striking in color but stronger in build than the teak shelves in our living room. But on our 80th anniversary we’ll be 101-going-on-102 and may have some trouble moving heavy furniture.
Those with a more practical bent (what would we do with all that Pearl on our 30th?) might prefer the “modern” list over the “traditional.” For example, the modern alternative for Paper (1st) is Clocks (to symbolize timeless, eternal love, which some may find more gag-inducing than inspirational). The husband-wife writer or artist duo would especially look forward to their 7th anniversary (Desk Sets/Pen & Pencil Sets).
If I created this gift list, every year would be Paper. As a girl, I used every bit of paper available for doodling and lettering. My mother liked to enter those 1980s mail-in sweepstakes; every 3″-by-5″ index card you turned in with your name and address hand-printed in block letters counted as one entry (no maximum). Mom, knowing I loved to put pen on paper, “let me” write her sweepstakes entry cards. My brother’s first gift to me was a blank journal (“For doodling,” he specified). I taught myself calligraphy. I gorge on origami projects, especially Nick Robinson’s. Browsing the paper selection at Meininger Art Supply had me literally salivating as if I were perusing Marigold Cafe‘s menu instead. I secretly wrote poems (which, minus the “secretly” part, I still do) and piled those sheets in a closet shoebox. I once wrote a poem about paper, but I can’t imagine myself being inspired to write on, say, sapphires or diamonds.
Yet to say that every anniversary should be Paper is not the same as saying that every year of marriage should be like the first. Our honeymoon didn’t last forever, nor would I want it to. I was a giddy newlywed who floated through the romantic heights of our first year or so, but to have every year like that is like leaving the apple seedling in a little pot. Where would be the upward growth or the depth of anchoring roots? We would be stuck in the shallows of superficial relationship. Only by walking through the heat of refining marriage-fires could we come out stronger. No wonder the 80th is Oak.
And yet, from the trees we make . . . paper.