Seventy-two years ago, my grandfather caught my grandmother’s eye at a summer picnic. In order to get her attention, he was putting chocolate striped cookies in his mouth to make it look like he had rotten teeth. Although she did not find his antics that amusing at first, she later agreed to go out with him. World War II was raging and gas was rationed, but he took a bus to meet her and take her out for dates. And over time, my Noni discovered that Papa was a kind and gentle man, and he won her heart.
Before they were married, Noni found out that she had a heart condition. It was a concern throughout their whole married life, but Papa was supportive of her every step of the way. Doctors even expressed concern about Noni having children with her heart condition, but Noni and Papa embraced having children as they embraced everything else with love and courage, and had three healthy daughters.
Noni and Papa had such affection for each other after sixty years of marriage and were always there for one another. It was like they were still newlyweds in their own eyes. For instance, instead of just going out and buying cards for each other, they would make them and write their own verses to each other inside. But what was truly remarkable about Noni and Papa’s love was that they had so much of it that it spilled over to others who needed care and compassion.
When they saw an article in a church paper showing the need for foster parents for children at a local orphanage, they decided to open their hearts to a six year old girl. They later discovered that she had various health problems, like seizures, as a result of having spinal meningitis when with her birth parents. After she had been in their home for a while, Noni and Papa were then faced with a difficult decision. They were given the choice to either adopt this little girl or return her to the orphanage for other placement. Noni and Papa chose to adopt her into their family, knowing that there would be a lot of challenges down the road.
Their home was always open to others. When one of Noni’s brothers experienced financial difficulties and lost his house, Noni and Papa invited her brother and his family (they had eight kids!) to stay with them in their two bedroom house until they were able to find a place to live.
I too was often a recipient of their generous love and I am so grateful that I was able to live with them for a year and a half during college. In a way, I became almost like another child to them with my grandmother nicknaming me “baby kid” since I was so much younger than her actual children. As their granddaughter/baby kid, I was blessed to not only be on the receiving end of their daily love and affection, but to witness their deep love for each other and for God, whom they believed had brought them together.
I still remember the first night I stayed with them. At three in the morning, Noni scared me half to death by coming into my room to put another blanket on top of me! She told me that Papa was worried that I may be cold. How thoughtful. Their love was a love that welcomed this new life, my life, into not only their home but into their lives.
As the weeks unfolded, the details of my life became so important to them that Noni even had a dream about a guy I had a crush on at the time. In the dream, my crush told her that he was going to marry me and when Noni asked where he and I were going to live, he told her Noni and Papa’s address! That made her laugh.
Each night Noni and Papa would pray together and tell each other that they loved one another, and then Noni would sometimes come to my room in her pajamas to tell me goodnight, that she loves me, and “bless” me with holy water, making a cross on my forehead.
Noni and Papa have since passed away, but in reflecting on their marriage, I can see how their example has shaped my thoughts on love and marriage. I saw in them the beauty of a marriage centered by faith. They taught me to say “yes” to the opportunities to be receptive and welcoming. They showed me that when married love is firmly planted, it grows and gives life, joy, love, and inspiration to others.
On a lighter note, their marriage reminds me to not just write off a guy because he makes a weird first impression. Good men with gentle hearts and strong faith do exist. My Papa was one of them and I would be one lucky gal to end up with a man like him.
I am thankful for the gift of Noni and Papa’s lives, for their love for me, and for their beautiful witness of a faithful and loving marriage. Cheers to you, Noni and Papa!