You drive me sane
It can't be that simple. Ask about the problems. Everyone has problems.
"We've had our bumps, I'm sure," Kay says. "I've thought of killing him several times."
Of course you have. Go on.
Ask John Gaver why he married Kay 33 years ago and he says it was to fulfill his needs. Kay says she married John because she loved him. Replies John: Oops.
[Times photo: Bill Serne]
"He can really be an obstinate SOB."
Hell yeah, he is. Go on. Give us examples.
And you wait, and she's thinking about it. And thinking. And thinking. And God love her, she's trying to take a free shot at her husband, but she can't come up with anything that bad.
Finally, there's this: "He drives like a madman. An absolute crazed person."
But even that isn't much of a sore spot.
"I just don't dwell on stuff," she says.
You keep looking for trouble. You look for conflict in their eyes. Search for it in the uncomfortable silences. But the silences are comfortable. Fact is, they're the most comfortable.
Spend an afternoon with them and you'll see it. On Super Bowl Sunday, you watch the game with the Gavers at the home of their friends Jim and Terri Bolton. John spends most of the game on the couch, next to you. Kay sits on the floor, white wine in hand, at the other end of the couch. They watch mostly in silence.
Denver scores. Kay extends her hand to John: "Give me five." Not "gimme," by the way, but "give me." You could cut a steak with that V.
John, licking rib juice from his fingers, declines the high-five. She's okay with that.
They seem to be okay with everything. Of course, you can know only as much about the Gavers' marriage as they're willing to tell. But when they say they don't get on each other's nerves, it's easy to believe them. Perhaps they're lucky or blessed or just meant for each other, but whatever it is, you want some.
How strong is this friendship? This strong:
If they've ever had a serious fight, John says, "I can't recall under what circumstances."
Three reasons to stay married
The Gaver children are grown now -- grown more than most, deriving as they do from sizable stock. Jeff, 31, and Glenn, 23, eclipse 6 feet, and Heather, 27, scrapes it on tiptoe. Jeff lives in Jacksonville, Heather near Orlando; Glenn is back home for now, leading a mostly nocturnal existence while he plans a journey to California with hopes of becoming a screenwriter.
During the years the Gavers have been married, more and more American women have been trying to have it all the husband, the family, the stellar career. Some have actually pulled it off.
But Kay never attempted it: When the children came, she gave up her interior design work to become a mom.
She did it because she wanted to, not because she had to, she says.
"We wanted Jeff more than I wanted to be an interior designer," she says. "Jeff was the priority.''
Kay, the professional mom, did most of the work of rearing the children. She fixed their lunches and bought their school clothes and made sure they got to their scout meetings on time. John's role was to support the family and help out where he could. The Gavers might as well have been the Cleavers, except Kay didn't put on pearls to make dinner.
Though Kay was the main caretaker, bringing up the kids was a shared responsibility, one that brought the Gavers closer together.
"It's so great having someone who likes your kids as much as you do," Kay says. "The best thing about it is you get them to be young adults and then have lots of fun with them. Because you raise them to be people you like."
Some of the Gaver children are now embarking on marriages of their own. Jeff, the oldest, is married and has two sons. In July, Heather will marry David Mandel, a Jacksonville surgon. The Gavers are hoping their marriage will serve as a positive model, just as their parents' marriages did for them.
"All we really set out to be, if anything, was a good value system for our children," John says.
So that's another component. Having children wasn't just a way to test the limits of their patience. It gave the relationship a purpose. The kids weren't just a product of the marriage but eventually part of its engine. They drove the family forward. On such things are civilizations built.
Oops. Now you're on the soapbox.
Taking the plunge
On John's 55th birthday, his first stop was not his Brandon office. It was Skydive City in Zephyrhills, where he signed up for his first jump ever, a tandem dive. That means they strap another person to your back and toss you out of a plane.
John and his Siamese twin did a free fall from 13,500 feet to 4,500 feet, where the chute opened and they floated to earth. John had it videotaped and showed it to Kay later.
"I thought he was crazy and I still think he was crazy. It's nothing I'd ever want to do," she says.
But she has done it, of course. She did it on August 21, 1965, when she stood at the altar of a Methodist church in Omaha and said she would take John Gaver to be her husband, to have and to hold, and so on and so on. On that day, she and John took a giant leap, the kind of leap thousands of couples take every day, too often with disastrous results.
John and Kay are still floating. They have never dreamed of parting.
"I don't know how people could have years together, and all this history, and just go, "I don't want to do this anymore,' " she says.
You have your answers, or some of them, anyway: They're friends. They're committed to each other but haven't lost their independence and individuality. They share values and a love for their children. They don't let little things drive them nuts.
You call an expert and run all this by her. Her name is Naomi S. Korn, a licensed clinical social worker in St. Petersburg with years of experience counseling couples.
Yes, she says, all these things help strengthen a relationship, help make it last a long time.
But Korn, who has been married 30 years, says that when it comes down to it, a long-lasting relationship requires something, well, undefinable.
"It's their style, it's their unique timing and how they are," she says. "If the spark is there for them, it's there for them."
There. That's the rest of the answer. Love is a mystery, and precisely what makes it last can never be fully understood, certainly not by pesky outsiders, and probably not even by the people who are living it.
Which brings you back to beginning. Back to the miracle.
It's Super Bowl Sunday, fourth quarter. The ribs have been decimated, and so have the Falcons. Kay puts her plate in the kitchen and returns to the living room. She is offered a nearby seat.
No thanks, she says. A spot has opened on the couch, next to John. "I've got a victim," she says, plopping down beside him, pulling him close. "It's you, big boy."
Her left hand nestles into the crook of his elbow. She puts her arm around his shoulders. And they sit in silence some more.