Unspoken bond lasts a lifetime
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing …
Love has no ending.
” WH Auden
A small stream runs alongside George and Mary Gleason’s house on Aspen’s east end. A talkative, bubbly stream, it runs from a mine on Aspen Mountain, a conduit to the town’s past.
Inside sit George and Mary, 80 years old, glowing from their recent 60th wedding anniversary. According to a proclamation issued by Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud this year, Dec. 29 is now officially “George and Mary Gleason Day.”
The Gleasons were born in Colorado, went to college in Colorado and were married in the state on Dec. 29, 1943. Avid skiers, they started coming to Aspen in the early ’50s as newlyweds from Denver. Forty years ago, they purchased a cabin on Ute Avenue, which has since grown through numerous additions to become their current home.
They have lived there full time since 1984. It is a quaint, sunlit home nestled at the base of the mountain. Inside, the walls are crowded with memorabilia and heirlooms; an antiquated exercise bike stands alone in the loft.
“We were the original second-home owners, I guess,” Mary says. “Although after all this time we feel completely like locals.”
George and Mary show how close history is to all of us.
When they met, in 1942, it was by no means certain Hitler was not going to rule the world. After the war, George spent most of his life as an aerospace engineer, first helping the Navy develop radar and then later the intercontinental Titan missile, playing his small part in an extraordinary conflict in which two superpowers teetered on the brink of mutually assured destruction.
George and Mary don’t pay much attention to such things. History for them is the history of their love; World War II wasn’t so much a battle for global supremacy but a conflict which strained their young marriage, taking them from Denver to Alabama and later to Oakland, where their first child was born.
The past for them is the history of their family, of the birth of their seven children, of whom even now, when all are fully grown, they speak with remorseless doting and pride.
For their wedding anniversary, which included a Mass at St. Mary’s Church, 28 members of their immediate family (children, their spouses and grandchildren) were in attendance. Several of their children still live in Aspen; a daughter sublets the Gleasons’ downstairs apartment.
For many years the Gleasons have led an active senior life. They helped to organize the Pitkin Senior County Outdoor program, which runs outdoor programs such as bicycling and skiing. They’ve won medals in Aspen’s Senior Olympics, and, as often as they can, they’ve taken trips together through Elderhostel, a senior citizen education program that runs trips all over the world, from Taos, N.M., to Burgundy, France.
Life has slowed recently. Nine years ago, George suffered a stroke. It holds him back, but not too much. If he talks more slowly now it only exaggerates his engineer’s exactitude; his pauses give his speech, which is lucid, increased authority.
Mary does most of the talking for him anyway, which works just fine considering her easy chattiness. She’s one of the remarkable few blessed with the gift of gab, and it’s tough to slow her down once she gets started.
When asked what the secret is to maintaining a happy marriage for 60 years, George and Mary smile at each other and hold hands. In their responses, you will learn much about their personalities.
George, ever the methodical engineer, produces a list he has drafted, with stern-sounding things such as “strong religious values,” a “good work ethic” and “a very strong love for each other.”
Mary, whose emotions clearly flow more easily though not necessarily more powerfully, goes straight to her bookshelf to read a passage from a favorite book. She ends with a quotation from the American poet WH Auden, “Love one another or perish.”
In fact, in Auden’s “September 1, 1939 ,” the poem Mary quoted, Auden wrote “Love one other or die.” “Perish,” however, with its implications of life’s atrophy, of life simply wasting away without love, seems the better word choice, especially as George and Mary’s eyes sparkle vibrantly as they talk about each other.
They try to explain the reasons for 60 years of happy marriage, Mary chatting away and George looking very stern indeed. It goes on like this for some time, and many explanations are offered, including Mary’s simple and witty “marry young and live long.”
But it’s clear some things just can’t be explained. Some things are ineffable, beyond the reaches of human language, though not comprehension. How have they stayed happy together for so long?
The answer was in George and Mary’s first reaction, that moment of silence, when this quiet couple joined hands, looked at each other and smiled. They know. They just can’t tell us.
Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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Renters in Aspen are facing rent increases this year but there are resources and COVID-19 relief available on the local, state and federal levels.