An old bottle of champagne is tucked behind the leftovers in my refrigerator. Over the past 25 years, that green bottle of bubbly with a tattered label and questionable taste has moved with my husband and me from Summerville, South Carolina, to Newport, Rhode Island, to two cities in Virginia. It’s not an expensive bottle of champagne; it was probably bought at a grocery store for under 10 dollars.
In the summer of 1993, when Jay and I had been married just shy of three years, the Navy brought us to our first house in South Carolina. The champagne was a housewarming gift from our realtor. We needed a drink after wading through the first-time home buying process, but I wanted to unpack and decorate our new home before we celebrated. As is the case with young house-poor couples, that process took far longer than I anticipated. Months, then years, went by. The champagne got pushed to the back of the refrigerator and was forgotten. Life went on.
Seven years later, we put the house on the market in preparation for moving to Rhode Island for a few months while Jay was in officer school. After Rhode Island, we’d be heading back to Virginia where we had spent the first years of our marriage. It didn’t seem right to open a bottle of celebratory champagne when we were sad to be leaving our first home. The only thing more nerve-wracking than buying a house is selling one, so I suggested we commemorate our home ownership experience when we came full-circle and sold the house.
We arrived in Rhode Island in January 2000 and the Summerville house sold quicker than we hoped. It was a time of transition and we were focused on buying our next house, so the champagne stayed in the refrigerator. In August 2000, with the champagne in a cooler, we left Rhode Island behind and bought a home in Chesapeake, Virginia. As is the way with Navy life, Jay promptly deployed while I was still unpacking and, once again, the champagne went into the refrigerator and life went on and on. Jay retired from the Navy in 2015, and in 2016 we moved, hopefully for the last time, to Richmond, Virginia. With everything we had to do, from selling the house to buying a new house and moving our kids, pets and two decades of household stuff, we never even thought about the champagne. We’ve been in our new home for two years now and the champagne still lives in the refrigerator. I say “lives,” because I don’t think we’ll ever drink it. There have been many bottles of champagne opened over the years to celebrate birthdays and babies and anniversaries, but this one has meaning none of the others have had.
There have been times when we’ve been tested—by deployment, miscarriage, illness or surgery—and I have said, “When we get through this, we’re going to drink that champagne.” But after the tumultuous time has passed, the possibility that it could always have been worse has kept me from opening the bottle. So it stays in the refrigerator, a reminder of our years and moves, experiences and challenges.
I don’t know what 25-year-old champagne tastes like—and at this point I hope I never find out. It has come to symbolize what a wonderful, resilient life and marriage we’ve had. As long as that bottle of bubbly lives in my refrigerator, I know we’re doing OK.
Kristina Wright is an author and essayist who lives in Virginia with her husband and their two sons. She spent seven happy years in Summerville, South Carolina.