In just a few days, I will experience something that fewer and fewer people get to experience in their lifetime. My parents did not have this experience it. None of my children or grandchildren have the experience thus far. It’s safe to say that very few people who have known me since I was a young man of 20 ever thought I would see this day. But God willing, I will not have this experience alone. In fact, it is pretty much impossible for a solitary individual to have this golden experience.
On September 6, my wife and I will observe our 50th Wedding Anniversary.
I was 20 and my bride was all of 19 when we were united in marriage at Mountain View United Methodist Church in Kingsport, Tennessee by the Rev’d Fred L. Austin. We actually approached him about doing a “secret” wedding but, to his credit, and as an indication of his integrity, he refused. He insisted that we tell our parents. Which we did.
To this day, I regret giving these dear people only two weeks’ notice before we were to be married on Labor Day afternoon. On the bright side, we saved them a ton of money.
It was a small affair with only members of the family and my best man, the late Stephen Duncan, present. But, as Selina Gomez sang, “the Heart Wants What It Wants.” No one could dissuade us. We said our vows, had a small reception, then, unable to afford a honeymoon, went back to our tiny furnished apartment in a seedy part of town and began, with hesitant steps, the first days of our journey.
It was to be a hard journey for many years. We had no money, no education to speak of, and jobs that paid very little. In fact, I often said, “I rode into the castle on my broken-down donkey, wearing my rusty armor, and rescued the princess from a life of shallow materialism.” She was upper class; I was working class. We were both the oldest children. Not a recipe for success.
I’m reasonably sure that, literally, no one thought we’d be together long. I would say that married life was blissful but people who have been married longer than a minute would recognize that lie. It is said that Mrs. Billy Graham was once asked if she had ever considered divorce. Her reply was, “Divorce? No. Homicide? Yes.” We could both probably identify with that sentiment.
We moved fourteen different times in the first ten years, trying to improve our lot. We both took years to go back to finish school, working and raising children as we did so. We had help from her parents when things got tough and, to a lesser extent, some help from mine. But we paid for our own education with off-campus jobs, grants (for her, not me), the G.I. Bill (for me, not her) and a few small loans. I finished the educational process owing about $1,000; she finished debt-free.
After I graduated from the university with a social work degree, I was assigned as a pastor to four churches where I made $5,200 that year. I used to walk along the side of the rural road to find soft drink bottles to turn in at the general store for a nickel each so we could buy baby food.
While I did that, she completed her associate degree and became a registered nurse. We were still mostly broke, but at least we had a toehold. She would go on to get a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a Ph.D., all in nursing, and all without ever making a “B.” I married an extremely bright and focused girl!
It would be somewhat later before I completed my seminary and graduate training. In the meantime, we had three sons.
I served churches in Tennessee, Virginia, Colorado, Illinois, and Georgia while she worked as a nurse most of that time. Eventually we would settle for good in Georgia in 1983 and, about 24 years ago she became an assistant professor of nursing at the University of West Georgia, eventually rising to full professorship and serving as the Associate Dean of the Tanner Health System School of Nursing at UWG. She retired a few years ago. She was recognized for her work and accomplishments by her first alma mater, East Tennessee State University, and by the University of West Georgia.
There’s a few successes and accomplishments that I have had along the way as well, any of which would have been a great source of amazement for my high school teachers who thought that the best I would ever do was work in one of the local factories. I’d like to think that, as a couple, we accomplished more than we would have as solitary individuals.
In addition to our sons, we have three wonderful and lovely daughters-in-law, three grandsons, nine granddaughters, and not long ago, became great-grandparents. Hopefully, all of them will be able to be with us on September 6 as we mark the occasion. After all, it only comes once in a lifetime, if it comes at all.
My Mom and Dad didn’t quite make it to their 50th as my dad died of cancer 25 years ago. They did celebrate their 49th anniversary and fell just four months short of their golden anniversary. Cindy’s parents have far surpassed that milestone and will both turn 92 later this year.
In our 50 years, one or both of us, mostly because of our respective professions, have traveled to Canada, Ireland, Mexico, the Philippines, Uganda, Kenya, Australia, St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Paraguay, Chile, England, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Holland, Belgium, and most of the states in this country.
That’s not too bad for two kids that no one gave a ghost of a chance of amounting to much of anything once we got married under such handicaps.
It wasn’t easy. In fact, most of life was, as I look back on it, much harder than I imagined it would be. We didn’t get rich but, all in all, we did okay.
People sometimes ask, “How did you make it all these years?” I think they expect to hear a formula or stories of miracles or a heroic tale of perseverance and undying devotion. The real truth is simple: We didn’t quit.
As hard as it got, as much as we endured, we didn’t quit. We just didn’t. We were both headstrong and we were both stubborn. We didn’t give up and we didn’t quit. Which is why we will have, assuming we both make it a few more days, this once in a lifetime golden moment in time.
The minister who married us, The Rev’d Fred L. Austin, lives in Pearisburg, Virginia now and is approaching 90 if he’s not there already. To him, I say, “Thank you. Thank you for blessing our awkward ceremony in 1971. Thank you for seeing the possibilities that even we didn’t see ourselves. Thank you for being there for us as an encourager, an example, and a role model. Thank you for trusting us to God.” To you, in an homage to Rocky Balboa, I say, “Yo, Reverend Freddy! We did it!”
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the pandemic, the church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) He may contacted at email@example.com.]