Alpena couple celebrates a half-century of Valentine’s Days

‘A million little things’

News Photo by Julie Riddle Steve and Janie Hansen, celebrating 50 years of laughter and conversation this spring, share a laugh and a brownie in their Alpena home while their dog, Molly, looks on.

ALPENA –The day before Valentine’s Day, a trio of cheerful baristas talked about love at Biggby Coffee in downtown Alpena.

“Being best friends,” said Alisha Bloom, 22, of Alpena. “Best friends is the most you can have in a relationship.”

Near the beginning of their romantic lives, the young ladies were debating the question of what it takes to have a relationship that lasts 50 years.

“Someone who listens,” said Alisha’s sister, Ashley, 19. “And you can talk about anything.”

“Someone who pays attention to you and really knows you,” chimed in Jade Adybel, 20, of Posen.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Steve and Janie Hansen, celebrating 50 years of marriage this year, poke fun at each other at their Alpena home. Laughing is key to longevity of love, the couple said.

Long-term love, even in today’s short-term society, is possible, they belived.

“If you find the right person that cares about you and you care about them, then you guys will last,” Alisha said.

***

The flannel-clad woman with mischievous blue eyes grinned at her husband.

“I’m not saying our marriage is perfect, by any stretch of the imagination,” she said. “But all in all, it’s pretty good.”

Steve and Janie Hansen sat at the table in their lower-level Alpena apartment. A pan of brownies, spread thick with frosting, sat between them, half-full mugs of coffee at their elbows.

Valentine’s Day had been an ordinary day for the pair, their only nod to the festivities of the day a shared box of Hershey’s chocolate.

“I’m not the most romantic person,” Steve said.

Janie responded with a snort.

“That’s an understatement,” she said, chuckling.

The couple will mark 50 years of marriage in May. In a conversation punctuated by laughter, they described together what it takes to spend half a century loving the same person.

Sentences intertwined and overlapping each other, the couple talked of the simplicity of enjoying life by each other’s side. Not ones to seek out extravagant travels, they choose instead to treat each day as a little adventure, one they can take together.

***

The couple’s 50-year adventure began on a bus.

Enrolled in separate schools downstate, Steve and Janie attended the same youth conference when they were in high school. On the bus ride to the event, then-18-year-old Steve noticed the pretty 15-year-old in a nearby seat.

“I didn’t like you – you were a nerd,” Janie teased, winning an affectionate smile from her nodding husband.

A bus ride home and an invitation to grab some pizza later, the two began a journey marked by playful banter, honesty, and determination to weather any storm, and to do it together.

During their first year of marriage, the young couple lived far from family. They credit this year of having to figure things out on their own as foundational to their success as a couple.

“We had to depend on each other for everything,” Steve said.

Janie finished his thought. “You learned real fast. If you have a fight, you work it out.”

***

Their married journey took them from Michigan to Georgia and back again, their joint story filled with children, careers, challenges and triumphs. Through it all, the constant has been each other.

With an easy flow of words, the husband and wife complete each other’s sentences, sometimes talking at the same time in comfortable, parallel synchronicity. The conversation breaks off into innumerable tangents as they stop to squabble lightheartedly about Steve’s unhealthy snacks and who is more of a troublemaker.

Their banter is an essential part of their way of communicating, they both say, glancing at each comfortably other across the table.

“See, that’s the way we talk back and forth,” Steve said, recounting the concerned comments they’ve gotten in the grocery store as they playfully bickered and teased each other. “They think you’re arguing, but you’re not.”

Talking – the non-stop flow of words that comes so naturally though 50 years of practice – has been a key to a strong, joyful relationship for the couple. Steve shook his head as he spoke of other couples they see in restaurants, sitting at their tables, stone-faced instead of communicating.

“How can you not talk?” Janie said. “There’s always something to talk about. If nothing else, this is a glorious world the Lord has given us.”

***

Their voices mingled in warm tones, the pair responded without hesitation when asked whether they are friends, as well as spouses.

“My best friend,” they both responded, with the simplicity and of-course-ness of a well-established fact.

Friendship and fun for 50 years has not meant every day was smooth sailing for the Hansens. They confirmed in chorus that they have had their share of rough times in their relationship. Everybody does, Steve said. For them, even when things weren’t going well, ending their relationship was never an option.

“It was never in our vocabulary to say we can’t do it,” Steve said, thinking back to lessons learned from their days together as newlyweds. “Whatever comes along, you can work on it. You can do it.”

Janie twinkles up at Steve.

“I always say we’re not going to make it,” she said, “but I know we always will.”

In rocky patches of relationships, it feels like everybody else is doing things right and you’re making all the wrong decisions, Steve said. But, Janie chimed in, everybody is just muddling through, doing the best they can.

“That’s exactly what they’re doing,” said Steve, complete Janie’s thought. “Ninety-nine percent of people are just muddling through from day to day.”

Janie swiped the last of the brownie crumbs from her plate and looked at her husband.

“You’re a good man,” she said.

“You’re a good woman,” he replied, his brown eyes meeting her blue ones with a smile.

Asked for tips on maintaining a loving relationship for 50 years, the couple had plenty to say: Communicate, even when it’s hard. Be honest without being cruel. Split the chores. Keep your needs simple. Say thank you.

Whatever you do together, have fun doing it, Janie said. It’s the little things that make the difference in building a relationship.

In unison for once, the pair spoke the same words at the same time, finishing with a grin at each other.

“It’s a million little things.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or jriddle@thealpenanews.com.