Sixty years ago today at 4 p.m. in Unaka Avenue Baptist Church in Johnson City, Tennessee, my parents, Ned Moses Ross and Muriel June Foster, in front of a few family and friends, took their vows of marriage to each other, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health for as long as they both lived.
Although neither of them on that day could have imagined how their lives together would unfold, testing along the way the strength of the unconditional commitment they made to each other, my daddy and my mama were lovingly faithful throughout their union to their promise before God and their promise to each other.
Mama always told the story of how she almost backed out of marrying Daddy the day before the wedding. On Friday evening, Mama suddenly got scared by the thought of marriage.
Because I was a kid, despite hearing this story many times, it never occurred to me to ask Mama what made her so afraid and almost back out of marrying Daddy.
I know it wasn’t worry about Daddy, because they were soulmates through and through. It wasn’t immaturity, because both my parents were in their late 20’s by then, already on their way in their careers. I know for certain that it was not a lack of love on either side.
I suspect, looking back, that Mama just got overwhelmed by stress and anxiety, a battle she fought all her life, and didn’t know what else to do but to think about running away.
Mama said she seriously contemplated getting in the car and just driving away, anywhere, forever. I suppose as the wave of anxiety began to subside, Mama’s rational side took over and she told us she suddenly realized that she couldn’t take the car because it was Daddy’s car and she’d be stealing it.
So, thankfully, Mama stayed put and she and my Daddy began their lives together on June 9, 1956.
Silly little love songs talk glibly about matches made in heaven, but in my parents’ case, I believe that God brought them together and their faith in God kept them together.
Their road together through life was not without its troubles, challenges, and upsets, some deep and some devastating, but they endured it all together, never quitting, never giving up, never forgetting the promise they made to each other.
One of the most devastating things they endured in their early years of marriage were several miscarriages. I don’t know exactly how many there were, but I do know that after Mama’s last one and the tremendous amount of blood she lost during the miscarriage, the doctor told Daddy that another pregnancy could kill her.
Thankfully, that paved the way for my sisters and me to be able to join Daddy and Mama as a family. My parents wanted children, so after several years of unsuccessfully trying to have children, they adopted three, of whom I was the youngest, in fairly rapid succession.
And the best part of being included in my parents’ family was that there was never any doubt that they were ours and we were theirs. We unconditionally belonged to each other and together.
For that, I am and will be eternally thankful. I have never been more loved in my life by anybody than by my parents.
Daddy and Mama were able to spend 42 years together. Daddy died on October 15, 1998, a little over four months after my parents celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary.
Mama lived as a widow without Daddy – her one and only true love – almost 14 years until her death on August 14, 2012. But there wasn’t a minute, an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year that she didn’t miss Daddy and think about him.
I know that because, interestingly, in 2010, Daddy played a prominent role in my deepening understanding that Mama was undergoing some intense cognitive changes that pointed toward a fuller expression of dementia.
I will never forget the early April morning of that year when I walked into Mama’s place and Mama told me I had just missed visiting with and seeing Daddy.
“Your daddy came to see me,” she said, “and we talked all night. He left just before you came in.”
Despite my profound shock at what Mama said, I didn’t visibly react at all, but instead just listened because Mama was very comforted by the thought that Daddy had been there with her.
I had not yet formulated the word “hallucination” into a conscious understanding that it is part and parcel of the journey through dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, and, still, intuitively I knew that Daddy’s visit, however real it seemed to Mama, existed only in her mind.
Daddy’s visit that April day would not be his last to see Mama as she traveled down the road to dementias’ end, but it stands out prominently in my memory because I was reminded of the great love affair my daddy and mama shared in their time together on this earth.
Daddy and Mama sleep now, side by side, in their graves, unaware that today, if they’d both been alive, would mark their 60th year as husband and wife.
However, it seems fitting that I, as their daughter, pause and remember that 60 years ago my parents made a momentous and lasting commitment that would eventually give my sisters and me a place in their hearts, their lives, and their family.
Happy anniversary, Daddy and Mama. I love you and can’t wait to see you both together again. May that day come soon.