Authors savors sweetness in relationships

The Bookworm

“Remember the Sweet Things” by Ellen Greene, c. 2009, William Morrow, $19.95, 288 pages.

He did it again.

Even though he knows it irritates you and makes you want to scream, he persists in doing that which really bugs you. Is he doing it on purpose? You wonder.

Once upon a time, his silly habits were cute. His quirky little rituals made you smile. You bragged to your friends about his peccadilloes.

You barely remember those days. Now, it’s all fighting and ruffled feelings. What happened between “I do” and “I won’t”?

Just so she would never forget, author Ellen Greene wrote down the treasured moments with her husband, Marsh: the wonderfulness of his personality, the specialness of their relationship. In the new book, “Remember the Sweet Things”, she recalls her yearly list.

Growing up as a shy, relatively sheltered girl in Wisconsin, Greene longed for something different. Following graduation and despite parental consternation, she moved to Costa Rica, where she met Carlos and married him.

Though the union produced two children, it didn’t last. The couple fought often and Greene felt shut out from her cold husband’s life. “Me hizo comer hielo,” Greene says, evoking a Spanish saying. “He made me eat ice.”

Following her divorce, she entered into another failed relationship with a man from West Africa whose culture and expectations were vastly different from Greene’s.

Looking for some stability for herself and her children, Greene, who had moved to Massachusetts with the West African, began searching for a new life.

She found one working with a tall, older man who faintly resembled Paul Newman. And before long, they fell in love.

Marsh was a born-and-raised New Englander, resourceful, gentle, intelligent and sea-loving. He was in a marriage that was slowly dying, yet Greene loved him enough to let him go.

He came back.

In the infancy of their relationship, Greene says she began to write down a list of all the Sweet Things her boyfriend-then-husband did. For 21 years, she wrote down “funny, thoughtful things” she noticed: his patience in teaching her kids to ski. The way he loved them as much as she did. Cooking on Mother’s Day. Rescuing Greene from snakes. Planting a cactus garden at their new home in Mexico. Reciting prayers in local Mexican dialect. Holding hands in the hospital.

At a time when watching the news can put you in a bad mood, it’s nice to have something in hand that reminds you to cherish the small stuff. “Remember the Sweet Things” is perfect for that.

Although it would definitely be tempting to depict Marsh as a saint, the author doesn’t do that. She lovingly lists a few of his faults, as well as a pile of her own. She’s willing to disclose their disagreements, but they’re bracketed by those “sweet things” that will make even the most hard-hearted reader melt.

Bring a box of tissues with you when you read this book, especially if you need to make a sweet list of your own. “Remember the Sweet Things” is a book you’re not likely to forget.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.

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