In tribute, I dedicated last weekend's WND column to them.
Diamond anniversaries: Rare as, well, diamonds
Once upon a time in 1931, a baby girl named Lucille was born into what would eventually become a huge family of 13 children.
This wasn’t a happy close-knit family, though. The children were terrorized by a brutal alcoholic father and a blind mother perpetually cowed by his rampages. He habitually beat the holy tar out of his children, leaving one or two of Lucille’s brothers with mild brain damage as a result.
The family frequently starved. Isolated in the bayous of Louisiana, her father was a fisherman who often drank what little income he had. With so many children, the family seldom had enough to eat. Lucille was so thin that even in her mid-20s she weighed a mere 87 pounds.
Knowing she had to get out of there, Lucille knew her best option was education. Just about the only job opportunities open to women back then were teaching or nursing. She became a nurse.
She grew into a woman of uncommonly fine common sense. Much of her education outside of nursing was self-taught. She learned to sing. She grew to love classical music. Most important, she made herself a promise never to treat her future children as she herself was treated during her childhood.
She knew what a mistake it would be to marry someone like her own brutal father. Instead, she concentrated on excelling in her chosen profession. At age 26, she met a nerdy man named Michael when they both sang in a church choir. Lucille recognized that, nerdiness aside, here was a man who would be an excellent father and husband. She was right. Michael turned out to be a man with a brilliant mind and a kind disposition.
Sixty years ago this very day – on August 30, 1958 – this couple stood in church and made vows to each other before God and family.
I’ve seen the black-and-white photos. There stood a skinny woman in an all-lace dress, facing a man four years her junior in front of a priest. Probably both of them were nervous.
Almost exactly four years later, following the birth of their first son, I was born.
My parent’s married life wasn’t always easy. It was plagued with recurrent health problems with my mother, who underwent a dozen major operations for various ailments, some of which can be traced to the abuse she experienced as a child. (One year as a joke Christmas gift, my father gave her a “gift certificate” to our local hospital.)
My mother suffered through multiple miscarriages and staggeringly difficult pregnancies, so complicated that after three live births my parents gave up having more biological children and adopted my youngest brother to complete their family. My father survived a cancer scare and then a grave heart attack that nearly killed him.
They faced serious financial hardship when my father left his corporate job and started his own business about the time the 1970s recession and oil crises hit. But they persisted, working together to overcome the obstacles fate threw in their path. My father’s cool head for business and sound ethics meant his company gradually grew, despite the economic slowdown. My mother could have gone back to work as a nurse, but she knew the importance of staying home with her children.
My parents always put family over profit. While their wallets were often thin, their hearts were full. They tempered their challenges with humor, love and marital devotion. They gave their children the blessings of a stable home, something I took for granted until I reached adulthood and recognized it for the gift it is.
They cheered us on our childhood activities and kissed the booboos when we failed. They sacrificed financially to send us to college. They were always there for us. I could always count on that, and still do.
Their example is the foundation for my own happy, stable marriage. Without the illustration of what true commitment was like, I doubt I would have been as fortunate in my choice of husband. Now the gift is being handed down to my children, their grandchildren. And so the legacy continues.
This is not a big story of earth-shattering importance. This is a small story about two people in a world of billions. But these two people – along with the millions of other small stories out there – are the real hope for a better world. Small stories add up, and that’s why I’m writing this.
Long-term stable marriages are increasingly rare in this country as the culture of divorce takes over. My mom will be 87 in a few days, and my dad just turned 83. The gratitude I feel toward my parents for the example of six decades of marital unity can’t be underscored enough.
According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University, only seven percent of marriages make the 50-year mark. How many make 60 years? I don’t know, but I suspect these “Diamond anniversaries” are as rare as, well, diamonds.
What’s the secret for 60 year of happiness? It starts with love, of course, but it’s more than that. My parents knew they were compatible in critical areas such as faith, finances and family, and that helped immeasurably toward marital harmony. Just as important is respect. My folks have never torn each other down; they’ve only built each other up. Even in hard times, they knew divorce was not an option, so they buckled down to make things work.
Last month my parents came up for a visit here on our Idaho homestead. My Dad treated us to Chinese takeout (a rare indulgence), and my husband and I sat around the table with them and enjoyed the food. Afterwards, Dad opened his fortune cookie. The slip of paper read: “The gift of contentment is in your near future.”
“Already have it,” Dad said with a smile, and dropped the fortune on the table.
I saved that fortune. Why? Because it SO encapsulates the love my parents have for each other and for their kids and grandkids.
Happy Diamond Anniversary, Mom and Dad. I love you.