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The Anniversary Present

by David DeFord

In early 1978 my mother and her siblings realized that their parents would celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary in June. They considered hosting a typical reception and giving the usual gold-colored dishware to them. But for this unique couple the typical celebration would not do.

Since I had researched our family history for a few years, my mother asked me to compile and publish our family information—some family stories and pedigree charts. For the best effect, this covert operation needed to remain under wraps until the reception.

As do most projects, it grew. In tape-recording their memories, I realized this marvelous material must be included in my little book. Next, I interviewed their kids, grandkids, co-workers, and townspeople.

Beautiful stories emerged. My grandparents met in a basket factory in Bloomington, Indiana. My grandfather, Willie, often jumped a train and rode it across town to visit my grandmother, Wilma.

She cried as she described her fourth pregnancy and her surprise when the doctor delivered one beautiful daughter, and then another—unexpected twins.

Willie’s employer told of his youthful delight when my grandfather would seize him and give him a whiskering. He described how Willie would grab him and rub his rough whiskers across his tender little-boy face. He hardly knew whether to laugh or cry. He said that even after he had grown and become president of the stone mill, Willie still whiskered him occasionally.

Willie didn’t make it easy for any of his daughters’ suitors. My father described picking up my mother for dates. He waited uncomfortably for her while my shirtless grandfather sat in “his chair”, his face hidden behind a newspaper. My dad could only see the paper and the massive arms holding it. The silence increased the tension—or was it terror? Occasionally, my grandfather jerked the paper away from his face and silently glared grim-faced at my father. No words were exchanged, but the message was clearly sent.

My mother sought her father’s permission to marry, but he withheld his blessing because my mother had not finished high school. Thus, she made clandestine plans to marry at the home of Wilma’s mother. Shortly before the ceremony Willie, still covered with limestone dust, walked up the sidewalk and sternly entered the house. Everyone froze. As he took my frightened mother in his big arms, she wept and pleaded with him to approve. He tenderly replied that he didn’t object to her marriage, he just hated to lose her. The tender moment broke the tension. When he released her from their embrace, white stone dust coated her red velvet dress as if she had rolled on the beach. “But it was worth it,” she told me.

Other stories followed, like the time the twins burned down the outhouse while secretly smoking cigarettes; how terrible Willie felt when he accidentally broke the ribs of a friend while playfully bear-hugging him; and the evening my grandfather surprised his kids after work when he opened his lunchbox to reveal a new puppy.

Upon completion of the interviews I compiled the stories into a small book, and included pedigree charts of our extensive family history. In addition to the book, I created twenty minutes of taped excerpts from the oral interviews. My grandparents still knew nothing of my activities.

Asked to serve as emcee of the long-awaited celebration, I played the tape of recorded stories and declarations of love. Then I showed them the book.

Moved by the deep expressions of love, my burly, stone-cutter grandfather wept openly. We had succeeded in making Willie and Wilma Justis feel our sincere love and appreciation.

But the anniversary story didn’t end that day. Less than a month later, my powerful grandfather, who had such superhero strength, suffered a massive heart attack and died two days later.

We took his sudden death very hard. Yet, we felt comfort that we had taken the opportunity to express our deep feelings for him before he left us.

Related Quotes

Someone has written, "Love is a verb." It requires doing -not just saying and thinking. The test is in what one does, how one acts, for love is conveyed in word and deed. David B. Haight

Duty makes us do things well, but love makes us do them beautifully. Zig Ziglar

If a thing loves, it is infinite. William Blake

Love... [is] a lack of personal selfishness. Theodore M. Burton

Sincere love is something that sacrifices-not something that indulges itself. Sincere love is responsible. It would never knowingly hurt, but would heal. Richard L. Evans

Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence. Erich Fromm

Love you know, seeks to make happy rather than to be happy. Charles William Gordon

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