“Welcome to the Marine Corps, Mrs. Rife!” Thirty years ago today I was swatted with a sword as bird seed was tossed at Fred and me, celebrating our marriage. Swatting the bride at the end of the arch was customary when a Marine got married. Russ was kind and swung lightly. (Maybe he felt guilty for egging Fred on at the reception with the rest of the guys to get him to smash cake in my face!)

The event was a study in contrasts: all the Marine Corps lieutenants and the Navy ensigns in their dress whites; my hippie friend Laura, who wore sandals instead of her usual moccasins for the special day, singing “Annie’s Song” with her guitar.

I didn’t go to grad school and become an art historian and potter as I’d planned when a freshman in college. Instead, I became a wife. Yeah, it seemed a little odd for a left-leaning artist to marry a right-leaning US Naval Academy graduate, headed to become a USMC C130 pilot. I loved the man, not the career. Neither of us knew the full extent of what we were getting into when we married an opposite, but who does when they get married?

The frequent moves made it difficult for me to have a clay studio, so I worked in charcoal, pastel and gouache a lot during those years. A friend at one duty station gave me some paper coiling core leftover from a crafting class she took. I packed it along on a couple of moves, not knowing what exactly I should do with it. Another friend at a following duty station gave me a book on basketry. After much experimentation, I figured out what to do with the coiling core and started making vessels similarly shaped to those I had created in clay. Over the years I had a fair amount of success creating and showing my coiled vessels around the country, having some exhibited at SOFA Chicago with the Katie Gingrass Gallery, and having some pictured in a few magazines and a book.

Fred left the USMC 21 years ago. He’s a very kind, caring and compassionate man, not really a warrior, though he wanted to serve our country. Thankfully he’s kept me all these years, in spite of often being perplexed by what I’m making and my constant barrage of ideas! One of his friends called me “Mrs. Rife, the Marine Corps wife,” even though the role and I weren’t a good match. I never joined the wives club, but I was very skilled at identifying USMC and US Navy aircraft. (Doing so was much easier than distinguishing Monet’s from Renoir’s brushstrokes!) I met many wonderful women, even a few creatives like me, who were married to Marines. I considered myself fortunate to be among those very strong women.

Fred and I have stuck together through all we vowed on that overcast Saturday in 1986 — for richer and poorer, better and worse, in sickness and in health, plus several moves, houses, job changes, and DIY home renovations. What’s our formula? We’re equals in this partnership. Sometimes it’s about him, sometimes it’s about me, but it’s always about us. We’ve made mistakes, hurt each other and said “I’m sorry” many times. We forgive, we move on, and we try not to use past offenses as weapons.

We had a passage from the Song of Solomon read at the conclusion of our wedding ceremony: This is my beloved and this is my friend. Truth.