Grow Old Along With Me by Sharon O’Donnell
My parents are celebrating their 64th wedding anniversary today, Sept. 15th. Over the years, my siblings and I have thanked them for giving us such wonderful childhoods and such a loving example of what a marriage should be; however, I don’t really think we can say it enough. When I think of my parents, I think of many wonderful memories, humorous and poignant. Four years ago, my 2 sisters and brother and I gave my parents a 60th anniversary party, and several of the songs we played there on that day to accompany the photo DVR that we showed ring very true when I think of my parents’ marriage. “When I Fall in Love” states that when a person falls in love, it will be forever. Most of the time, it doesn’t work out this way, but it certainly did for my parents — Sam and Wiloree.
/Grow old along with me/ The best is yet to be/ Those beautiful words from an Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem and featured in a Mary Chapin Carpenter song capture much of what marriage should be: spending a lifetime together as we grow as individuals and eventually grow old, sharing life’s tears and laughter – always looking to the future. Kevin and I have been married for 24 years, but that pales in comparison to my parents. I remember one time when I was in junior high and I asked my mother what was the secret to a good marriage. She told me, “Be good to each other.” I marveled then that the answer could be as simple as that; but alas, I’ve discovered that always being good to another person whom you live with in close proximity 24/7 is not simple at all. It’s actually a rather lofty goal.
My parents didn’t have a lot of photos taken of their wedding back in 1948; my father was in his last year of college after serving in the Army Air Force, and money was tight. But there is one photo of them taken immediately after the ceremony as they are walking down the aisle toward the camera. I used to love to look at their faces in that photo as they were captured right then as they were setting out in life together. They had no idea would the future would hold for them, but there was hope and excitement in their eyes. I wonder now — four children, eight grandchildren, and one great-grandchild later — what they would have said back then had they known what lay ahead for them.
At my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary party four years ago, we placed that photo and several others in a video montage that we showed to everyone. There was another photograph from their courtship days that everyone ohhed and ahhed over. In the photograph, they looked like movie stars of the 1940s. They were both in their mid-twenties, him with a chiseled, dimpled face and black wavy hair, a wisp of it falling across his forehead like Superman; she was a beauty with her curly ash blonde hair falling softly around her shoulders as her sky-blue eyes glistened. Both of them were smiling as they stood with their arms around each other, posing for a friend to take a picture on a downtown Raleigh, North Carolina street.
These were my parents over 60 years ago, and when I look at this photo of them, my heart aches that I didn’t know them then. That they didn’t know me. I look in their faces in the photo and see so much familiar about them, and yet so much I never got the chance to know.
After we showed the video, two of my cousins sang in harmony the religious song One Day at a Time because my mother said that’s the way you get to the 60 year anniversary mark: by taking things one day at a time. That is some good advice from what I’ve noticed about marriages these days, including mine, where we are so busy looking down the road and planning and worrying about what’s coming up, that it can be overwhelming, putting stress on the individuals and the relationship itself.
Kevin and I want to be married fifty, sixty, or more years too. (Did I really just write that?) Both pairs of my grandparents were married for 65 years, so this kind of commitment is natural to me. And the advice they gave was similar to what my mother said: Be good to each other, take it one day at a time, pray. Simple words but not-so-simple actions to fulfill those words.
When my parents’ recent anniversary party was over, the photographer took pictures of my parents out in the church courtyard. I watched through a window as my father puckered his lips overdramatically for a kiss in one of the poses, vintage humor everyone who knows my Dad is accustomed to. Mama laughed, and through the glass, I heard her say, “Aw, Sam!” Then they kissed, and my father put his arms around my mother as they smiled for the camera. And though sixty years had gone by, they still were beautiful and in love.
And now it’s been 64 years, and they still take it all one day at time.