Happy 30th Anniversary, Judy & Jerry!

On the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk, Cambria, California

Tomorrow, Adam’s mom and stepdad, Judy and Jerry Merrill, will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary!  For a change, they’ll be at home in Northern California.

Having now toured most of New Zealand, ranged across the Pacific Northwest, and started planning an adventure in Italy, these two intrepid travelers have launched into retirement with both feet, both passports…and one well-used SUV.

Not just because of the mile of hair between them, Judy and Jerry are like the poster couple for Northern California. They share a deep spirituality, a desire for peace and quiet, and a fascination with, quite literally, the Earth.

Judy is a passionate gardener, and in addition to a gajillion bulbs, wildflowers, berry bushes and a fruit tree or two, she and Jerry –who himself grew up on a farm in rural New Jersey — tend a huge lot across the street from their cozy Victorian house in Emeryville. (Thanks to their efforts, we get to munch the first asparagus of the season right out of the ground.) She’s a devoted member of Filoli, a 654-acre garden estate in nearby Woodside, California, and longs to roam across a flower-strewn England, staying in Landmark Trust properties along the way.

Jerry is a geology enthusiast, and rarely goes anywhere without a rock hammer. He knows his schists from his shales, and has an impressive collection of specimens lining his front steps. While up north together last week near Mount Tampalpais State Park, he introduced us to outcroppings of green, crumbly serpentine; now we see fancy bathroom tile in a whole new light.

At home in their garden lot in Emeryville

Together, they love wine, locally-sourced food, long hikes and backroad tooling around the western United States. Quite possibly the only Americans to use an SUV for actual four-wheel driving, they treat their Toyota 4Runner like a mobile tent; when they’re ready for bed on the road, they just lay down a pair of foam mats in the back seat.

For years, Judy was a community college teacher, Jerry a talented carpenter and wedding photographer, but in the last few years they’ve been able to effectively retire. Between a pension and some wise investments (such as a few rental units in Oakland, which Jerry’s fix-it skills allow them to affordably maintain), they now spend their time pursuing enough volunteer work, chores and hobbies to fill a second lifetime.

They also plan incredible adventures in other countries.

Preparing to take flight over New Zealand

It took years to get there, but in early 2009 they finally traveled all around New Zealand for three whole months. With only three small bags between them, they rented a Bongo caravan, stayed on a remote sheep farm in exchange for their labor, sailed the fjords, tramped through a rainforest, strolled windswept beaches, and occasionally stopped at inns made of rocks and tree limbs.

Later in the year they took off for six weeks in British Columbia, including several days on a research boat off Vancouver Island…after which words like “head lice” and “never again” were bandied about. The better souvenir from that trip was a found pair of pirate-themed rubber duckies, and which have found a new life as dashboard navigators in the 4Runner. (I’ve dubbed these well-traveled mini-fowl “Silas & Antoinette.”)

These days, having long ago scrapped their original plan to tour the small towns of Romania, they’re studying Italian to prepare for a mid-2011 journey across mid- and southern Italy. There’ll surely be some Rome, some Tuscany, and some confusion about the pluperfect subjunctive as they blaze a trail of pasta and Chianti in pursuit of Jerry’s Italian heritage.

We’ve traveled all together over the years — to Mexico’s Yucatan, New York State’s Thousand Islands, and all over California, with and without our dog — so I know that in their new era of worldwide “travels with two,” Judy will continue to find great little out of the way places, Jerry will take great photos of them, and they’ll add even more amazing/hilarious chapters to an already 30-year-long love story.

Happy 30th anniversary, Judy/Mom & Jerry!

Silas & Antoinette, poised for adventure


  1. […] my mother-in-law and her husband for one short day before they headed off for a 3-month trip to New Zealand. This is what can happen […]

  2. […] recently, though, we returned with Adam’s mom and stepdad to spend a couple of nights and explore the area more fully. Here’s how you can do the […]

  3. […] leaving this afternoon to make the 6-or-so-hour drive up the 101 to Oakland, home of Adam’s mom and stepdad. We’ll surely arrive too late to celebrate one of Oakland’s First Friday Art Walks, […]

Speak Your Mind