Today my parents celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary – five decades of loving each other and modeling that love to us in their quiet and understated way. I am so grateful for their commitment to each other and to us through the good and challenging times.
My mom and dad both grew up on farms in America’s Midwest, and both went to live in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul in the late fifties. My dad had left home when he was 17, for he wanted to be an artist. He worked hard to put himself through college, selling expensive cookware and sewing machines door to door and being a security guard during the night shift. My mom lived with a few other young women and was a good typist, so she got a job at Minnegasco (that sounds a funny name for a company now, doesn’t it?).
They met on a blind date that my dad’s friend Jerry arranged. At first my mom thought she had been paired with Jerry, but when my dad got into the back seat of the car with her she realized that he was her date. The evening must have gone well, for they went out for my dad’s birthday in October. After that my mom kept hoping he’d ask her out again so she could tell her work friends that she had a date for New Year’s Eve.
That first Christmas, my dad painted my mom a picture to give her as a present, and she gave him a sweater. How did she know his size? “I put my arms around him.”
They dated for three years before getting married, having such a long courtship because my dad had to do some national service, and wanted to get his degree and a job so that he could provide for his wife and any children they might have one day. Two years after they got married, they had my sister, then two years later me, then three years later my brother. Their family was complete.
But times haven’t always been easy for my parents, their love having to weather health-related storms. When my brother was three, he started to have seizures, which was terrifying for my parents to witness. Then he had such terrible stomach pains that he was operated on to see if he had an obstruction or cancer. He was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory disease of the intestines, which is not common in children.
My brother was in the hospital for over a month, and although as a six-year-old I didn’t know it at the time, he was near death. He looked like a starving child from a developing nation, for his stomach was extended and he was so thin. But after our parish priest came to the hospital and prayed over him, he eventually got well.
But his seizures continued, and he was diagnosed with epilepsy. The seizures were the worst when he was a teenager, as his hormones were wreaking havoc on his body and his medication seemed to have no effect. My parents learned what it meant to be sleep-deprived as they cared for my brother during the night, taking shifts while trying to get enough sleep for the next day as my dad went off to work and my mom cared for us three kids.
Their faith sustained them. As my dad said, “Through these great challenges, our faith has kept us strong and in love in our marriage. We’ve been able to forgive each other and live one day at a time, when it would be easy to hide from life. Eventually we got to the place of not even worrying – we would think, ‘Have we done everything we can?’ If the answer was yes, then we would give it all to the Lord and not even worry.
“My favorite bit of poetry goes like this: ‘But every desire we have for God, and every prayer, is like the stroke of a carpenter’s plane, wearing down the boards of our wooden-hearted incredulity. And when the boards are quite thin, we will see that God has been there all along, waiting for us to break through.” (From That Man is You by Louis Evely, translated by Edmond Bonin, Paulist Press, 1964.)
Mom and Dad, I love you and celebrate your marriage.