Marriage—‘It’s a Great Adventure’
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“Marriage—‘It’s a Great Adventure’” Ensign, Mar. 1990, 22

Strengthening Marriage


“It’s a Great Adventure”

Dean and Elaine Holbrook have discovered that even opposites can find just the right balance for a fulfilling marriage.

When Elaine is sitting in the car ready to go somewhere, Dean inevitably has to run back into the house one last time to double-check that the lights and stove are off. Last summer they were about an hour away from home, heading out of town for a vacation. Dean suddenly turned to Elaine: “Did you check the stove?”

“I’m sure the stove is off,” she replied.

“But I’m not sure,” he said.

Elaine knew there was no point in arguing. So they stopped, and Dean phoned one of their married daughters and asked her to drive the six miles to their house to check the stove. It was off.

Dean and Elaine Holbrook of Bountiful, Utah, thought they knew each other as well as any bride and groom could. After all, they were born in the same hospital just a few days apart, lived only five blocks apart, grew up in the same ward, and went to school together from kindergarten to college.

But they still didn’t escape the “who-are-you?” stage that all couples experience after marriage. They were surprised to discover that, in many ways, they were opposites. And they uncovered lots of little eccentricities in each other that they hadn’t even suspected.

Now, more than forty years later, they’re still not carbon copies of each other—and wouldn’t want to be. But they’ve discovered a wonderful balance that makes their marriage “a great adventure.”

“We’re All Eccentric in One Way or Another”

“When I drive down the highway,” says Elaine, “I don’t like any cars in front of me; I like a clear view. But when Dean drives, he’ll pull out of the clear lane and move right behind another car!”

“When the kids wanted to get somewhere fast,” Dean laughs, “they would say, ‘We’re in a hurry; let Mother drive.’”

“Once when we were taking off in an airplane,” says Elaine, “one of the girls said, ‘Doesn’t this remind you of Mother’s driving?’”

“Dad is quiet and pensive and slow to action,” says daughter Lisa. “Mom is assertive and energetic. Ask them what their idea of a midnight snack is: Mom will say a hot fudge sundae, and Dad will say a stick of celery with cheese on it. Give them each some money, and one will spend it and the other will invest it.”

“But that’s okay,” says Elaine. “We’re all eccentric in one way or another.” The key is to accept each other with our eccentricities.

Dean and Elaine have learned not only to accept but to love each other’s eccentricities. “Elaine wanted to hang ropes in the trees out back for swings for the grandkids,” says Dean. “I said it would ruin our lawn out there. But her attitude was, ‘Forget the lawn. If the kids have a good time on those ropes, we’re not going to worry about the lawn.’ You can tell by looking that I’m not worrying about the lawn! And the kids are having a good time.”

They tease each other, but it’s all in fun. They feel fortunate that their differences have been limited to little things, rather than major disagreements over values or religious commitment.

Elaine admits that she finds strength in Dean’s slower, more deliberate manner. “He is the calming influence in our home,” she says. “I’m too time-oriented; I’m impetuous to a fault. I tend to move too fast and say things wrong. Sometimes I’ll wish Dean would make up his mind faster. I would have had the decision made by that time—but many times it would have been all wrong.”

Indeed, they’ve discovered that certain benefits come when two unlike people work together. “There’s strength in opposition,” says Elaine, “because then you come to a meeting of the minds and come up with what is best.”

Dean adds philosophically: “I think people lose sight of the blessings of working together. They’ll run into problems and differences and say, ‘Well, this hasn’t worked’ and call it quits. They split up just when they were on the threshold of great things.”

Dean and Elaine are willing to learn from each other. “I often say to him, ‘I didn’t handle that right, did I?’ He’ll say, ‘Well, that’s not how I would have done it.’ And then we’ll talk about it. I appreciate that.

“But more than anything,” she continues, “Dean is my best friend. We have fun together. We laugh a lot. Even the kids have no idea how much fun we have together.”

“We each feel that as individuals we’re insufficient in many ways,” Dean says. “But we have a good marriage, a good balance.”

“Going Our Own Ways—Together”

“Elaine has told her piano students not to knock—but to come in and make themselves at home until it’s time for their lesson,” Dean says. “Sometimes I’ll rush into the bathroom to brush my teeth after breakfast, and one of her students will be in there combing her hair at the mirror! One night as I was watching the news, a little boy walked up, changed the channel, and sat down to watch his program!”

Elaine has always taught piano lessons. And besides rearing four daughters, she has been involved in church callings, political work, PTA, music associations, and literary and social organizations.

Dean, too, has always been very involved as a father and in church and community service. His job with the Utah State Highway Department has included active participation as a leader in professional organizations.

Neither could have maintained that pace without the other’s support. And each has freely given it.

“Some women complain that they want their freedom,” says Elaine. “I’ve never felt the need for liberation, because I have always had it. Dean often stayed home with the girls when I had to be gone. And I couldn’t have taught piano lessons all these years without him,” she says. “We often have to eat late, or he just starts fixing dinner himself after he gets home from work.”

Elaine reciprocates with her support, and they attend each other’s activities whenever possible. “Still, we’ve enjoyed doing some things as individuals,” he says. “In some things, we’ve each gone our own way, but with each other.”

The benefits go both ways. When they were first married, Dean had little interest in music. But Elaine has helped him learn to appreciate it. “Now I love to go to the symphony,” he says. “And she can go to a ball game with me and have a good time.”

Time Out for Friends

“Once we decided to take a trip with a group of friends,” says Elaine. “Somebody’s brother owned a mortuary, and since we wanted to take as few cars as possible, we decided to crowd into the limo. But, you know, mortuary limos usually travel slowly—and when we got it out on the highway, all four tires blew out, one after another! We were trying to save money, but ended up buying four new tires!”

“That was thirty-six years ago,” says Dean, “and we still get together and laugh about that trip.”

All through school, Dean and Elaine ran around with a group of friends from the ward. And they’re still close friends. This group of ten couples has been getting together monthly for thirty-eight years now. They’ve gone to the temple, studied the gospel, and enjoyed parties as a group. And they’re still at it.

“Having good friends has really helped our marriage,” Dean says. “We have a bond with them; we confide in each other and know each other’s problems and joys. I think people miss a lot when they don’t take time to cultivate friendships. Our children say they wish they belonged to a group like we do.”

“I’m Going to Call Grandma!”

One of the grandsons wanted to go to a show. When he asked his mother for some money, she said he had to earn it. He replied, “I don’t want to. I’m just going to call Grandma.”

He picked up the phone and dialed. “Grandma,” he said, “I need to go to the show tonight. Would you lend me some money?” There was a short pause, and he said disgustedly, “Oh, that’s just what my mother said. No wonder she’s the way she is!”

All four daughters—Kristine (Gill), Julene (Jones), Lisa (Cena), and Andria (Cranney)—are married, are rearing their own families, and live close by. Dean and Elaine are discovering an added dimension to their own marriage as their parental roles change.

“The sons-in-law fill a real void in our lives,” Elaine says. “They are darling with us—every one of them.”

It’s hard not to respond to the Holbrooks’ brand of love. “The first time I stayed there,” says son-in-law Charles Cranney, “Elaine asked what I wanted for breakfast. Jokingly, I said, ‘Oh, steak and eggs.’ To my surprise she pulled a steak out of the freezer and started frying it! I begged her not to, but she insisted.”

Dean and Elaine believe that people need to be reassured and accepted. “The grandchildren particularly respond to this love,” says Andria. “Every effort the kids make—in sports, in church, or in school—is met with praise.”

“And they really support us as parents,” says Kristine. “They’re good at making the kids meet the standards we expect. Mom believes in work, and she gives them a lot of opportunities to work for her.”

When Kristine had three babies under two, Dean and Elaine would often go to her home and tend while she and David went out for an evening. “They would sometimes give us tickets to go places to relieve the pressure they saw we were under,” Kristine says. Elaine still shows up at her daughters’ homes occasionally and tells them to go shopping or do whatever they want while she stays with the kids.

Dean and Elaine’s home is the gathering-place for the whole family. Sometimes the daughters and their husbands will go over on date nights—just for a relaxing evening of TV and popcorn. And the grandchildren love to go there to play or to have slumber parties with their cousins. “Sometimes they’ll just come over for the afternoon with a friend to watch a video or study or something,” says Elaine. “They like to, and we like them to.

“We decided we wanted our house to be a place where the girls and their husbands and families could come in and out and eat and take a nap or do anything they wanted,” she says. “We didn’t want it to be the kind of house where they come on Sunday for half an hour and sit on the couch.”

Enduring Adversity Together

“The night of the flood, I thought we had lost literally everything,” says Elaine. “I reached over and put my arm around Dean and thought, ‘We started from scratch once, and we can do it again.’”

In May 1983, Dean and Elaine suffered a major setback: A creek swollen with spring runoff jumped its banks and crashed through their basement windows. Within twenty minutes the basement was filled to the ceiling with mud and debris that oozed up the stairwell onto the main floor. Much of the house had to be gutted. Lisa, packed and ready to leave the following week for her mission, lost everything. The Holbrooks’ thousand-volume library, family pictures, scrapbooks, and genealogy—irreplaceable treasures—were gone. Concrete-like mud, several feet deep, covered the yard.

The destruction was overwhelming. As a young couple, Dean and Elaine had cleared the trees off this land and built this home. They had worked for years to make it a beautiful, peaceful place. A year earlier, they had finished paying off the mortgage. Now they would have to start building all over again.

But a spirit of calmness came over them. “As we look back on it,” says Dean, “we wonder why we weren’t more upset. And the neighbors who were affected were also taking it well, as if the Lord’s Spirit were descending over the whole ward.”

“We’re not saying we didn’t get upset,” says Elaine. “There were lots of problems. But during those first hours, we felt a calmness.”

Dean and Elaine met this crisis with a courage that brought them closer to each other and to the Lord. Kristine remembers her mother saying: “I’ve always been proud of my pioneer and Mayflower ancestors and the strength and courage they had in times of great struggle. Now it’s my time to be that kind of person. I owe it to those who have gone before—and to those who will come after.”

Family, friends, ward members, and strangers immediately rallied around. People came in with buckets and dug out the heavy mud before it could completely harden. Dean and Elaine lifted the heavy buckets along with the rest, trying to salvage whatever scraps of their lives they could find. The stench from the muddy mess was overwhelming, but people stayed and worked—and kept coming back.

“You couldn’t have paid people to do what they were doing—even if you’d had the money,” says Elaine. “I looked at them and thought, ‘You are giving me life!’”

Friends from the study group came and put in a new sprinkling system. “One day we came back from somewhere and found that they had resodded the back yard!” Dean says. “Elaine and I went and bought a couple of hamburgers and sat out on that green lawn to eat. We had to have a picnic on that grass immediately!

“We tried to look at things in the true perspective,” he says. “Although we had suffered a material loss and suddenly had unexpected monetary obligations, we adjusted to that and found out that it wasn’t as hard as we thought it might be. When we got into the rebuilding process, we were immediately in a positive mode again, because we were building. We were building and going forward.” For months, they worked side by side on their home. Six months after the flood, they were able to move back in.

Dean was amazed how far their money went during that time. Tithing came first, then Lisa’s mission expenses, then the regular bills. Any extra—and there always seemed to be some—went toward the rebuilding. “I’d figure we could do just so much with the income tax refund, for example, but I’d end up doing twice as much. I couldn’t figure on paper how it could happen like that.”

The greatest blessing was that Lisa’s life was spared. She had been tired and thought she would go to bed early that night. But Elaine encouraged her to stay up and help distribute soup to men in the ward who were posted as sentinels along the creek bank lined with sandbags. “You need to see the Relief Society in action,” she told her daughter. Now they see that if Lisa had been downstairs in bed, there might have been no way for her to escape.

“I do think angels were with us through that,” Elaine says.

“A Listening Ear and a Kind Heart”

“In family prayers,” says Andria, “Dad would always ask the Lord to bless our home to be a sanctuary to those who entered. And it really has been a sanctuary for us—and for many others.”

Dean’s parents, both in their eighties, live a few blocks away. “My mother goes down at least once a day to visit or take them shopping,” says Kristine. “And Dad goes down every evening. If my parents are going to be out of town, they’ll call one of us and make sure somebody is going to stop in to see them.”

The Holbrooks’ doors are open for others as well. Family members tell of Dean and Elaine’s compassion over the years—such as taking care of a woman’s newborn twins when she had to remain in the hospital; inviting in a stranger and giving her a warm meal; giving free piano lessons to interested Indian-placement students in the stake; taking elderly people shopping, to the doctor, or to plays. The daughters reminisce about the many times people have come to their parents’ home for dinner, for gatherings—church, political, or social—“or just for a listening ear and a kind heart.”

“It’s Not Sensational”

“You don’t have to go out of your way looking for spiritual things when you have a good marriage,” Dean says. “They’re just happening all the time. They’re just part of your life.”

“The Spirit prompts Mom and Dad to do things for people, and they act on those promptings,” says Kristine. “For them, it happens naturally. It’s not a sensational thing.”

“I remember getting a call from Elaine during an especially difficult time,” a close friend says. “I was feeling overwhelmed with life and very alone. Even though I hadn’t confided my problem to her, she knew just what words of encouragement to say to me. She read me a scripture and helped me know I had loved ones praying for me and reaching out to me.”

Several family members speak of priesthood blessings Dean has given. “Mom has said that when she hears Dad give a blessing,” says Kristine, “there is such a spirit that it’s almost like he’s not doing the talking. He seems to know just what the Lord wants said.”

Elaine’s Spiritual Living lessons and Dean’s lessons to the high priests are filled with insights from their lives and from the scriptures. “We’re not perfect, by any means,” says Dean, “but we try to be of service and do our part. We have our shortcomings, but we’re trying to improve.”

“An Adventure”

“I think it really is an adventure,” says Dean, “for two people to get married and say, ‘We’re going to raise a family, make a home, develop ourselves—and we’re going to do all this together.’ You go through life mediating your differences—but building and going forward. And every period of life is a new adventure. First you’re raising your young children, then you’re into the teenage years, then you’re marrying them off, and all at once you’re grandparents. Every one of these phases is a great adventure.”

Riding a “bicycle built for two” is a quick way to see if your marriage has balance! (Photography by Phil Shurtleff.)

Rearing four daughters is another way. “We often joke about how different our approaches were,” says Elaine. But a blend of two parenting styles was just the right balance. At the piano are Lisa Cena and Andria Cranney; standing are Jenifer Gill (granddaughter), Elaine, Julene Jones, and Kristine Gill. “There is a great deal of caring and sensitivity in Dad and Mom’s marriage,” says Kristine. (Photography by Phil Shurtleff.)

Dean and Elaine are great fans of their sixteen grandchildren. And the kids are great fans of Grandpa’s cookie jar. Top left: Jared and Gary Jones (standing), Rachel Gill and Nathaniel Cranney (sitting). Dean is holding Elizabeth Cena. Right: Carl and Rebecca Cranney (standing), Marianne Gill and Stephen Cranney (sitting). (Photo by Philip S. Shurtleff.)

Flood of ’83: Mud filled the basement to the ceiling. In this photo, taken through a hole volunteers made in the wall to get into the room, mud was still up to the countertops. (Photo by Julene Jones.) But Dean and Elaine felt a spirit of calmness and began cleaning things up, building again, and “going forward.” (Photo by Clark Richardson.)