Five decades have passed since 1972; the year time stood still -- twice. It is the longest year in recorded history, having two leap seconds added along with the additional 24-hour day of a leap year. Additions are made to maintain alignment between the Earth’s rotation and our human construct of time. It could be thought of as a type of deception, a way to make natural events fit our perception of them. 1972 was in fact a year of deception, including the Watergate break-in, the fake biography of Howard Hughes, and the year the Hostess cake company advertised Ring Dings as “freshly baked.”
It was the same year Mom and Dad stood before a justice of the peace and exchanged their wedding vows.
They never had a wedding reception, and never celebrated a single anniversary. In fact, my siblings and I never knew the date of our own parent’s wedding. When asked, Mom and Dad would respond coyly, “oh, it was in the spring” or “we were married around April fools’ day”. It wasn’t until I began researching family history for the memoir that I found the actual date. My clicking and scrolling through ancestry.com ended abruptly as I stared at the computer screen in disbelief. I was a love child; nearly three years old before Mom and Dad were married. Was I the reason they kept the date a secret?
It was Maya Angelou who said "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Why, after so many years together, hadn’t they ever celebrated their wedding anniversary? I couldn’t say for sure. But I knew after all this time, if there was going to be a party, they would not be the ones to plan it.
In this respect, 2022 became the year I wised up. In the spirit of Maya Angelou, I knew better. And I decided to do better.
First, the clandestine invitations went out, then the legwork began. I gave them both fresh haircuts and bought Mom a new outfit and new shoes. To cover my tracks, I used the ruse of early Mother’s/Father’s Day gifts. Everyone contributed in some way, and everything came together seamlessly – the food, cake, decorations, music, video, and the on-time delivery of the guests of honor – everyone had a part. All arranged without compromising the secret plan.
On the day of the party, family and friends gathered in anticipation. When the happy couple walked through the door, we all cheered and shouted “surprise!” It took them a few moments to figure out they were the guests of honor, and we were celebrating their golden anniversary.
The room radiated the significance of the occasion. We had draped buffet tables with regal gold cloth and guests brought gold-themed gifts and decorations. The tradition of honoring the 50th wedding anniversary with the precious metal dates back to the 1500s, when women in Germanic countries received a gold wreath. Gold symbolizes prosperity, strength, wisdom, and commitment. It has some phenomenal physical characteristics – no metal is more malleable and ductile. Metallurgists can stretch a single ounce of gold into a wire that is 50 miles long. Like the impressive work of spouses stretching countless moments of patience to sustain 50 years of marriage.
I glanced around the room that evening and thought about the many ways that Mom and Dad’s marriage mirrored the character and symbolism of gold. They enjoy prosperity, although not in the traditional monetary or possession sense. They are two people who don’t want much for themselves yet are richly connected to family and are grounded in a strong sense of home. Their lives are marked by the wisdom of simplicity – lives that are not necessarily easy – but aren’t overly complicated by longing or regret.
Mom and Dad exemplify the strength of gold as they have been submerged in the unfathomable loss of children and returned from the depths of crushing grief to raise five resilient daughters. Their path has not been without unanticipated detours, massive construction, and repairs, but their commitment to family and to each other is unwavering – no matter what you need, no matter what time of day, no matter what else they were planning to do – you move right to the front of the line.
Everything about the party fit perfectly with their attributes – lively, spontaneous, and authentic. The energy of the room moved me to give a short toast. “To the bride and groom, despite the fact that you fleeced me for 50 years about the date of your wedding – I was nearly three when you were married – I’m willing to overlook that. Here is a toast to two incredibly strong, intelligent, and resilient people, who taught us the greatest lesson there is to learn – we have the strength to rise above anything. No matter what adversity comes your way, never, never give up. Happy 50th anniversary – and many more! We love you!”
After the toast, Mom and Dad each said a few words. Dad remarked about how surprised they were that everyone kept the party a secret, especially Robyn. He spoke about blending the families they already had, and then starting one together. Mom spoke candidly about some wrong turns before she met Dad, and with ease and zest about her path in life. And then spontaneously, one by one, each person in the room spoke about how Mom and Dad had touched their lives. It was a priceless opportunity to hear the gratitude that is most often felt, but not said, until funerals.
With the soft launch of the memoir last year, and so much emphasis on honoring the past – here was an opportunity to truly celebrate the roots of our family strength. I’ve never seen Mom and Dad enjoy a party so much. We all sang “The bride cuts the cake” and cheered them on as they took turns, just like newlyweds, cutting their wedding cake and feeding each other.
My husband Eric turned up the music, cleared some floor space, and encouraged Mom and Dad to dance. We watched them hold each other as they swayed and turned slowly on the dance floor, in sync with the Willie Nelson song, “You are always on my mind.” I looked on as they chatted and laughed, finally able to enjoy their “first dance” as husband and wife after 50 years of marriage. I felt tears of joy creep down my cheeks. My sister Renee noticed, leaned close and placed a hand on my shoulder. “Come on,” she whispered. “Let’s join them.”
I thought about love and about gold; about all they’ve overcome as a couple, and led us through as a family. Amidst the most difficult hardships to endure, they always return to each other. It could be their love the 13th century poet, Rumi, foresaw when he wrote --
“This turning toward what you deeply love, saves you.”
Soon everyone at the party gathered around the Golden Anniversary couple. Finally, after 50 years, it was their moment to shine – and they gleamed in pure, 24-karat style.