My parents were married 75 years ago today. I am likely one of only two people who will remember their anniversary. Dad passed away last May and Mom died six months earlier. Their marriage lasted for 73½ years.
David Williams and Margaret Stone met when my father was a sophomore at Kentucky Christian College and my mother was a senior at Prichard High School in Grayson, Kentucky. They married after my father graduated from college and moved to Advance, Indiana, where Dad preached at a country church while working on his master’s degree at Butler University. My brother was born 14 months after they moved to Indiana. I came along four years later, when my father was serving a church in Huntington, West Virginia.
Their marriage was not perfect. None of them are. My mother could be a delightful individual in public settings, but privately, she struggled greatly. In ways I will never know, she was terribly wounded in childhood and never recovered from those wounds. She brought her pain with her and unfortunately shed it upon the members of her household.
My father was a gentle and easy-going man. He was hard-working, congenial, and terrified of upsetting my mother, which followed a childhood of being terrified of upsetting his mother. We try to work out so much of our childhood pain in our choice of partners. Dad admitted to me only once just how difficult it was being married to my mother. He was in his last few years of ministry in Grayson, where we had moved when I was in high school. Once they retired to Lexington, Dad seemed to have made peace with the realities of what their relationship would and would not be. They settled into a rhythm that suited them both.
My parents loved to travel, though most of their trips were close to home. They went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee at least once a year, but save a single visit to Colorado in 2007, they never traveled west of the Mississippi or overseas. Other than one short visit to Niagara Falls, my mother never left the United States. The vacation they never stopped talking about was their one trip to Hawaii, when they were in their early fifties. They traveled with a tour and went to three of the four major islands. Mom talked about it for decades.
The evangelical conviction that marriage is for life was a given in our family. Evangelical pastors who divorced did not work again in an evangelical church. That rule has caused a lot of evangelicals to remain in marriages that are no longer healthy or viable. On the other hand, marriages were secure, and there was a great incentive to work through your problems instead of running from them. Unfortunately, my experience is that most couples don’t actually work through their problems; they stuff them.
Interestingly, three kinds of marriages tend to survive. Marriages in which there are big fights and lots of passion are surprisingly resilient. The same is true of marriages in which feelings are stuffed and there is rarely any real communication. The healthiest marriages, of course, are those in which there is mutual respect, open and honest communication, and a commitment to work through whatever has to be worked through. They are the least common of the three.
My parent’s marriage was in the second category. Outright conflict was rare. Usually, Mom just made her demands and Dad just acquiesced. It was sad, but like I said, by the time they were in their sixties, we had all made peace with the fact that their marriage was what it was.
I traveled to Kentucky to be with them on their 60th anniversary, a year before I started hormones, when I first began to realize my own marriage might not survive to fifty years, let alone sixty. They went back to Grayson and celebrated with a reception at the church Dad served for 22 years. There was an article in the local newspaper.
The paper is gone now, and so are Mom and Dad. I wish they were here, and that I could be with them today. They gave me life and a strong sense of self. For that, I shall always be grateful.