Grandma and Grandpa were married for 72 years.
When ancient Hebrew scripture describes the first wedding of Adam and Eve, the author careful points out that the purpose of the marriage covenant is so that “the two shall become one.” This grand raison d’être is far more than a physical act or two people simply living in close proximity. This “oneness” is a knitting together, a kind of soul-meshing, where two people offer up their lives to one another to create a unique union of wholeness. Over time, the continual giving and taking of self-sacrificial love blurs the lines of individual autonomy and gives birth to a completely new story in this world.
Grandma and Grandpa came as close to oneness as any twosome on this earth.
Grandpa loved the game of crokinole. He must have played the simple game of flicking checkers across a board thousands of times. He would take a board around with him in his car in case the opportunity arose to get a game in. Crokinole can be enjoyed by the old and the young alike, and I remember Grandpa often partnering with a young child against two elderly opponents. Later in life he converted old drum sticks into “cues” to create a new twist on the game. Like most things in his life he did not need to be good at something to derive great joy. His skill on the board was average but his love for the game was beyond evaluation. Grandpa used crokinole to bring people together.
One afternoon when I suggested that my wife Rebecca and I play against Grandpa and Grandma he was glad to help set up the table. By now they were in their late 80’s and seemed to have slowed down considerably. Though Grandpa had played all his life, I have to admit, his game was not good that day, and before long Rebecca and I were winning easily. My competitive nature was somewhat disappointed, so I changed tactics and turned the conversation to their history as a couple. If we couldn’t have a close game, maybe we could at least get some marriage tips.
“How did you first meet Grandma?” I asked as he missed another shot.
“Well, that was a long while ago,” he replied.
This seemed to be an unspoken cue for Grandma to take over and for the next few rounds she began to describe their earliest times. She remembered hearing of a young man named Willy before they met, and she had wondered what he was like. They met each other at a local social gathering and she was pleased with what she saw.
As she spoke her eyes brightened and she gave a kind of sly giggle. “That sounds about right,” Grandpa said, looking at her.
The stories then unfolded, and something marvelous happened. As they described their dating experiences, they gained more energy. Grandma recalled going with Grandpa to church and Bible studies, and she grew more animated. Grandpa, too, laughing at the memories, sat up straighter. It was as if they were growing stronger!
Their voices became louder, their faces more youthful. Their crokinole skills improved dramatically! And then it happened. They started looking into each other’s eyes, grinning like teenagers. Rebecca and I knew we were seeing something very special – my 85-year-old grandparents were flirting with one another! The effects of time slipped away and they were giggling, almost bashful, vying for each other’s attention, delighted with each other and their precious memories. It was a glimpse of wonder around the crokinole board. For a moment, they were young again and the long years evaporated, taking them back to a distant time. Together they were remembering their story right and as a result it was all becoming real to them again. What sacred delight!
What kept my grandparents together all those years, I can only guess. Certainly they were dissimilar in many ways. Grandma had been given a quiver full of ambition, Grandpa had very little. Their personalities were markedly different and their story together was lived through difficult times. Theirs was a loved forged from the hardness of life. A mentally and physically handicapped daughter who lived with them through their lives. A house fire that destroyed their home and finances and hope. On very little income, they had faced countless hurdles raising four boys.
One time I asked them both about the importance of forgiveness. Grandma shared a story about the damage of bitterness when she was young. Grandpa reflected for a moment and slowly said, “I think it is a really good idea.” I have wondered how many times they must have forgiven each other and simply decided, “Let’s move on.”
I remember as a child riding in the back seat of the car with my grandparents. We were going to church, and I would watch them together, noticing the same thing happening, again and again, on each trip. Grandpa would take his right hand off the wheel and rest it palm up, on Grandma’s lap. She would clasp it and they would hold hands for the remainder of the trip. I now wonder, as I did then, what all was being communicated in that simple gesture?
One thing is for sure, Grandma and Grandpa discovered the beauty of staying faithful. The covenant that they had made became a beautiful binding to the story of their journey to oneness. It enabled them to discover a kind of love deeper than attraction, that was built upon their strengths and weakness, their joy and pain. A covenant that could only be described as laying down one’s life for the other.
My wife and I were married on August 8th, 1992, exactly 55 years after Grandma and Grandpa’s wedding. We chose their anniversary, knowing that our best chance to succeed meant getting ourselves on whatever road they had been traveling. And for the next 17 years, until death parted them, we would get a call around our anniversary. Grandma doing most of the talking and Grandpa listening in on the bedroom phone. They wanted to know how we were doing, to say that they loved us, and they wanted to wish us well on our anniversary.