It was a proposal that could only have worked given its partners: my father, the most principled of pragmatists (which is the profile of a small farmer still farming), and my mother, the most eternal of optimists (which can only explain her 30 years of teaching English to rural high schoolers). As I understand it, there was no down-on-one-knee, hand-over-heart scene; no particularly inventive presentation of a ring (though I’m assured there was one). Forget the drama of the old question and answer; this wasn’t so much a proposal as a proposition – long-considered and risk-evaluated – to be taken (or left) as quietly as it was made.
“I think we can make this work.”
It was so unromantic as to be nothing BUT romantic – this idea that my father, Roger, offered and my mother, Charlotte, embraced while college students in the early-60s at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. And 50 years later (just a few days early from the actual anniversary of January 2nd to kindly accommodate us out-of-towners), here we are in west central Illinois (Pike County, to be exact) celebrating its continuation. Principally and pragmatically, my two younger sisters and I (along with each of our spouses and combined eight children) would attest to their success; by most measures, it seems Rog and Char made it work.
As a kid growing up in the pregnant bulge of Lincoln Land, I attended more 50th wedding anniversary receptions than I care to remember. The weekly county papers always had at least one announcement of a couple’s fiftieth big day coming up, and growing up outside a town of 1,200 people, we almost always knew them. Still, there were worse things to do on a Sunday afternoon (and there was cake, and the punch was usually good).
Anymore, however – whether in Pike County or elsewhere – the 50th wedding reception has gone the way of the dodo. In these days of no-fault divorce, the marriage vows ending with “’til death do us part” tend to mean “or until something better comes along.” Never mind the 50th anniversary milestone; as a culture, we’re seeing fewer 40ths…30ths…20ths…even 10ths (not to mention plenty of folks who aren’t even taking vows in the first place, or are sadly confused as to with whom they’re taking them).
There are plenty of examples of marriages that have fallen apart and failed for all kinds of reasons, but I’ve always been equal parts grateful and inspired that my parents’ is one that hasn’t. From the beginning, they set out with little more than an idea and a hope of getting, being, and staying married. It wasn’t complicated (except when it was), and 50 years after having said they would, by God’s grace, they did. They made it work.
Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.