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50 Years August 10, 2011

Posted by markgeil in Family, People.
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Sunday evening I had the distinct privilege of attending a party for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. They were married on July 21st at 7:00 in a small Church of the Brethren in Virginia back in 1961. Here’s the happy couple:

 

They were teenagers, 18 and 19 years old, with the sparkle of young love in their eyes and unsuspecting of the future ahead of them. They were two hours away from buying a farm, in keeping with their lineage and the typical expectations of the area, before someone else got a loan before them because he had a cosigner. They would have been a good farming couple, but God had different plans. Dad has always been good with his hands, with an aptitude for engineering and building stuff, so he landed an apprenticeship at General Electric. Then they really ventured out into the unknown when he got a job at IBM and they moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. That’s where I was born, and my parents still live in the same house I grew up in.

My brothers and I were called upon to give speeches at the party. Here’s mine:

 

Hi, my name is Mark.

Most of you don’t know me because, well, I’m the third child.

There is no photographic record of my childhood.

My birth was an inconvenience because I apparently interrupted one of my brothers’ little league games.

Steve used to call me “the tax deduction”.

Mine was a life of hand-me-downs and also-rans. Of patches sewn on top of patches on the knees of old blue jeans. Of used Nerf footballs that already had little chunks of foam torn out.

Yes, my brothers got all kinds of attention, what with Steve running into his brick walls and Eric choking on his chicken bones. Was I jealous? No, of course not. Well, I’ll admit I was insanely jealous of Steve’s authentic Batmobile, complete with Batman costume and cape.

 

 And I was a little jealous of the pictures. Steve and Eric, in their cute little monogrammed sweaters and caps, in a professional portrait studio. Me, naked in the back yard by the swing set.

 

 [I’m the one on the horse, with the curiously elliptical head.]

How is it possible, then, that I have grown up to become at least marginally well-adjusted? It’s safe to say that Mom and Dad had a lot to do with that. I suppose I’ve exaggerated a bit, and they did give me some attention during my childhood. In fact, as Sarah was putting together the slide show, I even noticed actual pictures of myself! One in particular made me smile.

It’s a picture of Steve about to shoot his beloved younger brothers.

 

 It was taken at an old Pony Express Station in Nebraska when I was 5 years old. We were passing through on a trip to California, in a mini-Midas RV with a big orange stripe on the outside, following our Triple-A TripTik. The Pony Express station wasn’t on our route, but I really wanted to go. And Mom and Dad said, “Sure”, and we left the TripTik route behind.

I had a great time at that Pony Express station, dreaming of cowboys and galloping horses on wide open plains. I bought a little wooden model of a fort, I think, and spent several quality days putting it together.

Here’s what this picture symbolizes for me. First, let’s not miss the point that our dear mother consented to a five-week trip across the country crammed into a mini-motor home with our whole rambunctious family of five! And then, seven years later, she did it again, and this time the majority of the occupants of the RV were teenage boys!

And let’s not forget that Dad saved up vacation for years on end so we could take those trips. And that he, from such humble beginnings, was able to establish such a wonderful career that afforded us so much.

They’ve both taught me so much about sacrifice and selflessness. About priorities. And about the kind of love that will say, even to an oft-forgotten third child, “Sure, let’s go to the Pony Express Station.” I make decisions now with my own children, and sometimes, when they’re good decisions, I stop and realize, “That’s exactly what Mom and Dad would have done with me.”

In reality, my childhood was grand. We had the run of the neighborhood, a fertile landscape for games of Cowboys and Indians or football on that knee-scraping cul de sac we simply called
“the circle”. We had adventures, like lowering each other into the storm drain to chase a wayward ball. We chopped wood and made forts, and rode our bikes down hills that looked impossibly steep to 8-year-old eyes.

And all through it, we had a Mom and Dad: to keep us in line when we needed it, to bandage the scrapes and pull out the ticks. To encourage the creativity and freedom, and to make sure there was always a safe refuge in that dear little house on Woodlea Drive.

Mom and Dad, you loved us like Christ first loved both of you. You taught us what a good marriage is all about, and what it means to be a good parent, and the beautiful flock of grandchildren here tonight is your legacy. Thank you for everything. God bless you, and happy anniversary!

 

I could have gone on and on about what great parents Mom and Dad were, and are, and about how many lives they’ve touched in their own simple way, but I didn’t need to. The room full of family and friends were a living testimony. Following our speeches Dad said a few words, though tears, and went back to his seat to join his beloved bride when applause turned into one of those spontaneous and completely sincere standing ovations that are so rare. Mom and Dad sat and held hands, and though she heard the applause she had not noticed the standing. Dad prompted her to turn around, and her look of appreciation and surprise is one I’ll long treasure.

Here’s that flock of grandchildren I mentioned, nine great kids who love their “Ge-Ge” and “G-Dad”. May we be so highly favored that, like my mom and dad, our lives and our marriages impact generations.

 

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