Our 67th wedding anniversary is near (December 20) so you can understand that Kathleen and I are reflecting these days on our long, ongoing journey together.
We remember the modest bungalow on North Street in Niagara Falls, Ontario, where we exchanged simple wedding vows. Kathleen’s sister, Muriel, hosted the event and provided a chicken dinner for the eight who were present. In recent years I’ve driven along North Street several times for sentimental reasons but it appears we have outlived the house that was there.
For that event, I had bought a bundle of plastering laths to erect an arch the bride and groom could stand under for the exchange of vows. What I produced was so unstable that it couldn’t be trusted to stand upright for the whole ceremony. A collapse mid-service would have been a bad omen. My best man, the late Mel Prior, took it apart and rebuilt it.
After a night and day in Toronto we boarded a Canadian Pacific train to travel 1600 miles to my home town, Estevan, Saskatchewan, where Kathleen would meet for the first time my parents, a younger sister, and an older brother and his wife. That plan wouldn’t meet today’s honeymoon standards, but in 1947 life for most people could be simplified and made with fewer demands.
As we learned when we arrived, also two older sisters, their husbands and families, had driven 1200 miles from British Columbia to surprise us. We might say to overwhelm us. Kathleen managed this in her usual gracious way, and when newness wore off and curiosity was satisfied, we had very pleasant family celebrations for Christmas week.
Then it was back to Winnipeg on the Soo line and thence via Canadian Pacific to Toronto. There, we caught a Greyhound bus to travel 15 miles to Port Credit where we took occupancy of our one-room apartment above a garage and across the Queen Elizabeth highway from Lorne Park College.
That tiny apartment was a charming place from which to launch our life together. I went back to my studies and other assigned duties at the college. Kathleen had left her teaching position to settle into a new life. We traveled together on weekends to speak and sing in churches in Southern Ontario and nearby States.
Our first ten years were packed with activity and movement. With Kathleen’s invaluable support and her uncomplaining oversight of domestic matters, I ploughed through two academic degrees; we moved seven times; accepted our first pastoral assignment; and welcomed into our union four children — one born in Ontario, two in Illinois, and one in Kentucky.
Toward the end of our ninth year, after three years in Lexington, Kentucky, we loaded four little children, one a five month old infant, into our Plymouth, and, towing a big springless trailer, we joggled across the continent to New Westminster, B.C. to serve our second church.
It was in New Westminster, while serving a loving congregation, that we learned we would not have the privilege of raising our fourth child, John David. At the end of three days for tests in Vancouver Children’s Hospital, we were told that he would be severely limited in his development and would need the special care of an institution. After three years of Kathleen’s dedicated mothering we surrendered him broken-heartedly to the care of professionals, where he is to the present.
We approach our 67th anniversary recalling many bright occasions and a few times of struggle and even crisis — not with each other, but with unexpected circumstances. Early on, for example, we endured major financial stresses. There was a string of surgeries, and our experience with John David was wrenching, leaving us with a sadness in our hearts that has never gone away. We’ve wept together, suffered sleepless nights together, and endured the anxieties and fears that go with raising a family.
Much more than all of this, however, we have relished the joy of each other’s company, and the pleasures of seeing our children launched into stable, successful lives of their own. Looking back, we declare the life God gave and continues to give is a life of predominant joy.
Looking back also I can identify three constants of our years: from the start, we prayed together daily, a lifetime practice; we tithed to the Lord’s work the first money we owned jointly; and through all those years Kathleen has been my adviser and behind-the-scenes consultant in matters of Christian ministry. To God be the glory.
And the memory of that simple but life-changing event on North Street in Niagara Falls continues in a special way to ignite my joy even yet after our 67 years together.
Long years ago a young man and woman, each 21 years of age, stood under a beribboned arch. An older man in a black suit faced them. In his hands he held a little black book. He read from it words of ritual and asked the couple some questions. They responded in the affirmative, without reservation. He declared them husband and wife. It all took about 20 minutes, but sixty-seven years later the two still live under the wonder of that enduring covenant made before God and to each other.
Photo credit: Jon Rawlinson (via flickr.com)