Rita Wilson and parents
Photo: Courtesy of Rita Wilson
If you want the perfect marriage, go to a Doris Day movie. Actress Rita Wilson learns a big fat Greek secret from her mother.
It's a sunny, Sunday California morning. My husband is driving my mother, father, and two of our four children to church. This is the same church where I was baptized with my brother (two for the price of one!), where my sister was married and I was her maid of honor, and where my husband and I were married 20 years ago and both our youngest children were christened in the same baptismal font where, lo those many years ago, my brother's and my cries were applauded and celebrated.

Driving on the freeway, my mother, who is vibrantly curious after 86 years of life and 56 years of marriage, tells us about something she heard on the radio. She had been pondering this question, thanks to the airwaves: If you knew at 25 what you know today about your spouse, would you still marry the same person?

Since it is already a beautiful day, my husband and I add to its beauty by responding instantly, that, yes, we would marry each other knowing what we know now. My father, although not usually available to this sort of discussion, generously engages and answers that, yes, he would marry my mother all over again. My mother, always interested in good discussion, responds delightfully in her thick Greek accent as if she knows the question to the "Double Jeopardy" answer: "Not me!"

Now, please understand that my parents are Greek and Bulgarian. The idea that this is a subject that one would only discuss after five years of therapy never enters anyone's mind. (When you are Mediterranean, you just speak now, argue later...or maybe you eat now, argue later.) Certainly, these two people, who are sitting with their arms brushing against each other, are not about to announce they are splitting up. I'm pretty sure that after nearly six decades, three children, and six grandchildren, they have the marriage thing down. But I have no idea where my mom is going with this.

Before we go anywhere, though, let's start at the beginning. In 1946 my Bulgarian dad "jumped ship" in Philadelphia, making his way to New York City, eagerly learning English while working at the St. Regis Hotel. My Greek mother had escaped from her ethnically Greek but geographically Albanian village during the war, arriving in New York via Athens with her mother, sister, and two brothers.

My parents met in 1950 in New York City at a Greek-Bulgarian dance. My dad eyed my mom across a crowded room and asked her to dance. He wooed her briefly and then asked her to marry him. My mother, still new to the United States, thought maybe she should wait a bit before she got married—sow some oats, or sew some coats, really, because that was her job at a factory. After a few dates, and no acceptance of my dad's proposal, they amicably parted ways.

A year later, they met again. A friend of my mother's saw my handsome dad across the dance floor and declared, "If you don't want him, I do. He's nice." There is nothing like someone else's recognition of a good catch to wake you up. My mom, now another year older, realized that she missed my dad, and that she'd only sewn coats, and had sown no oats. So she pushed her friend aside like some desperate contestant on Dancing with the Stars and box-stepped the night away.

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