After I had given a slide
lecture at the community college in Sisters, OR, an elderly man walked
up the aisle and, with a twinkle in his eye, quietly said, "Shalom."
I suspect he knew what an incongruity I would find it to be greeted
in such a way in central Oregon. Moments later, his wife approached
me and asked whether I was interested in interviewing any local couples. She
lured me with promises of a panoramic view from their yard of the snow-capped
Cascadian peaks of the Three Sisters, Broken Top, Three-Fingered Jack
and Mt. Jefferson.
Two weeks later, I was treated
to a warm welcome by the Koalkins at their modest home outside the small
city of Bend. The first thing Sunny (short for "Sunshine",
the nickname she acquired in her youth) told me was that between the two
of them, they had made everything in the house. Sid has a freestanding
wood shop beside the house, and Sunny is, among other things, a quilter. They
are remarkable people, with a history of adventurousness, a great love
of people, and a generous streak a mile wide. It was five days
past Sunnys 79th birthday, and a couple of weeks prior
to Sids 90th.
Married later than most
of the couples Ive met, Sid was 45 years old on their wedding day;
Sunny was 34. She converted from Christian Science to Judaism
a few years after they married. When Sid retired, they spent
four years travelling the United States in a trailer, which Sid said is
a great way to put to rest many of the prejudices people have about life
in other regions of the country.
Our conversation ended with
a lunch prepared by Sunny, and a roll of photos taken inside and outside
of their house. On my departure, Sid made me a gift of his
old Rolleiflex camera outfit.
Let me start out by asking you what it means
to you to be married?
I think, basically, a sense of belonging. Assuming a responsibility
for each other.
At first, its the passion. And then its the respect;
the understanding of one anothers space. And the great
friendship that develops with the years. Our values become
Well, fortunately, they were
We depend upon one another very much for our existence.
The first date we went on, we went on a picnic out at the beach. I
was living in San Francisco, and he was living in Marin County. On
the road to the beach, he saw a side road, and said, "lets
go see where that goes." And I
the man Ive been looking for!" (She laughs.)
I was single for 45 years. The
first year we were married, I questioned my sanity. "What
the heck did I get married for?" But my need, my want
for her was so great, it overpowered the insanity part, and I figured,
"this is what I need to make my life complete."
Everybody said, "I dont give that marriage much length,"
you know? Because I was brought up as a Christian Scientist. Though
before Id ever met Sid, Id gone through a Comparative Religion
class in San Francisco, and found that most major religions have the same
basic attitudes about life, they just go about it a little differently. So
I was wide open to learning about his religion, and did quite a bit of
studying; after we married, I converted. And became very active. We
were part of the founding group of a conservative congregation in Marin
They appointed her President of the Sisterhood.
(Laughs.) Such chutzpah. Our
marriage may not have done as well had we lived back in New York
Where there were friends and family that wouldve been against it. The
fact that we were on our own, completely independent to work through problems
without interference, probably
gave us a good basis.
Im eternally grateful that Sid is able to come out with a lighthearted
bit of jest in times of trouble. Hes so good that way. I
tend to be serious; and yet
more gay than he is. I have
a sense of joy that pervades everything I do and think. But
yet when it comes down to serious things, I get mired. (To
Sid.) You dont. Yeah. You
have a good sense of humor that just comes out so easy that
very grateful for that. Basically,
were both reasonable people. And that helps in any relationship,
too. To know that you can depend upon the other person.
I just want to mention one thing about her name, Sunshine. I
have never in my entire life ever met anybody who can find sunshine when
there is none. She can pick up a rock on the beach, and see
the wonders under that rock. Myriad of little creatures, and
so forth. I think thats part of the reason they called
her Sunshine, because that gal, Im telling ya, Ive never met
anybodyand Ive met a lot of people in my lifewho has
the ability to see the good in things.
Well, beauty has many forms. And if you look for it, you find
Looking at those mountains in the morning, and at sunset, gives us such
The sunshine here is something that holds you.
I often wonderI dont recommend that people wait as long as
I did to get married, but
it may have been necessary
in the older days to get married at 14 or 15 or 16, soon as a young woman
was able, you know. A boy had to go to work in his early days,
in the mines and the farms, and so forth. So if they did
live long enough, they became great-great-grandparents. But
I think this going into marriage
That brings up something that I would like to say. The fact
that we were older than the norm when we married, I think gave us a good
basis because we valued our relationship; Im saying we valued marriage
in itself besides valuing each other. Wed had a lot of
experiences. Sid had not been a great one to have a lot of
lady friends, being shy as he was, but nevertheless hed lived enough
years to value what we were building.
Do you feel that the institution of marriage is still necessary?
Yes, I think its necessary, because it establishes a mental attitude
of permanence. Even with divorce being so easy, people think
twice, Im sure, about going through that. (Pause.)
I kinda think so; theres an adhesiveness to the word that holds
people together for the benefit of the children; it takes strength, though,
to hold a marriage together without making it legal, you know. To
realize that family is so important. I think its important;
although I havent anything against those who decide to live together.
I would only like to emphasize the fact that I think who we are is a curious
couple, and this has been a spark for us; were always finding something
to be interested in, and usually together.
Heres something else thats odd. Somehow, we cant
become friends with older people. (Sunny laughs.)
Unless they have that same sparkle.