We went to a party honoring Wanda and Ralph’s fifty years of marriage. I remember that it was not so very long ago that, in any couple married fifty years, at least one of the partners (usually the husband) had one foot in the grave. My paternal grandfather barely made it; within a week of their grand celebration, we were mourning the demise of his earthly shell – which, for over a year, was truly a shell of the man he had been. I still believe he hung on just so that Grandma could have her golden moment with her man.
Ralph and Wanda are still as vibrant as two people can be; running circles around us newcomers to mountain life. They exude good humor and a love that can move mountains; I just like basking in their glow. I’ve heard Wanda say that Aunt Mamie taught her how to work, so it’s no wonder she’s still so spirited. She ended our last exercise class with a demonstration of the mountains’ close cousin to Irish step dancing known as clogging. I know that, as a child, Ralph also hung out a lot at Mamie’s. He’s still working part-time at keeping the large retreat center in Coker Creek maintained, as well as being chair person for our Ruritan club’s huge Autumn Gold Festival – this is in addition to recording Wanda’s mountain music for posterity.
Mamie seems to be a big part of the rich soil system of a lot of sturdy family trees, and I know that she still misses her man who left his physical life almost forty years ago. I love to hear the stories of their work and play as a couple -- like when they had to plant their crops by the light of tractor headlamps upon closing their store after nine at night.
Jack tells of how his daddy came over the mountain with the Civilian Conservation Corps and married a gal in Coker Creek. They lived out their lives with no electricity or indoor plumbing, but Jack has such good memories of his parents’ lives that he preserves their lifestyle to this day. Jack’s mother and Mamie’s mom were great friends. He and his brother, Charles, still speak fondly about how they all looked and enjoyed after each other.
We’re expecting John and Mary for an extended visit. This is another couple who seem destined to reach the fifty years of marriage mark. He’s a big bear of a Renaissance man and she’s an opera singer; two more different people you would probably never meet in a marriage, except perhaps in my marriage to Richard. I just love it when Big John does something for his Sweet Mary, and with fluttering eyelids, she trills, “My Hero.”
Maybe what we all need to make marriage work, is to realize that family life is about heroism, humor, and appreciation. Richard and I are relative newcomers to marriage, with only twenty years under the belt of our relationship. We’re fortunate to be surrounded by such a steady group of supporters.