My grandparents, Bobby and JoJo, marked their 60th wedding anniversary last week, and yesterday was the big celebration. Over 100 people came to celebrate them. I couldn't be there, but wrote this little essay to share.
My dad always keeps pen and paper by his living room armchair, in order to keep tabs on his running List. The List isn’t about just one thing or another, it’s more of a List of General Purposes, or, as he’d probably say, “It’s the L of GP, baby!”
I’m pretty sure this practice is, if not hereditary, at least passed down through familial practice. My dad’s dad keeps his own list, by his own living room armchair, in his own General Purpose way.
On their lists: home improvements, vacation ideas, life goals, books to be read. Thoughts about tax season, which flowers to plant, articles to send to their children or grandchildren. Sit down in one of their chairs, glance at the list, and you’ll probably get a pretty good idea of Life At The Moment.
My grandmother does her own list-making, but hers aren’t so easily accessible. She doesn’t write about possibilities - what she wants to do or see, but instead documents reality as it is, right this moment. JoJo has lists of every book she’s ever read, recipe notes for everything she’s ever cooked, wardrobe highlights so that she doesn’t wear the same outfit to the same vacation the next year, and travel diaries with exact times of each and every pit stop and restaurant meal choices for every individual in the party.
It runs in the family. I am a list-maker myself, as is my sister (Her preferred media: post-it notes. Mine: pen scrawls on the back of my hand). And we’re coming upon a pretty list-worthy occasion: my grandparents, Bobby and JoJo, have been married for 60 entire years this month. So, in the family spirit, I tried to make an occasion-marking list, documentary like my grandma and aspirational like my grandpa. But I ran aground after only a couple of bullet points. The trick is, six decades of love and life together can’t be neatly numbered into a representative document. I can tell you that, and I’ve only been around to witness the latter half.
I could tell you that JoJo and Bobby have been married for 60 years, or 720 months, or 21,900 days, or 525,600 hours, or 31,536,000 minutes. The calculator on my iPhone actually refuses to calculate the seconds, there are so many of them. I can tell you that in those years, they had 2 children, gained 2 children-in-law, 4 grandchildren, 2 grandchildren-in-law, 2 (almost 3) great-grandchildren, and several great-granddogs. But really, the accounting stops there. And even those numbers don’t tell you all that those moments and those relationships involved.
They don’t tell you how many elementary school band concerts and basketball games and golf lessons having all that family translates into. They don’t make mention of the oysters fried every December for my dad’s birthday, the coconut cake made every Christmas or the chocolate chip cookies sent in innumerable care packages to kids off at college.
Those numbers don’t include the years and years of caregiving – for JoJo’s mom, Granny Shaver and for Bobby’s, Granny Etta. They don’t tell you how JoJo was next of kin, social security payee, caretaker and nightgown buyer for her maiden Aunt Anne, a cranky old lady who saved her pennies for the great-great nieces and nephews and spent the twilight of her life alone in a tiny smoke-scented apartment in Roanoke. There’s no way to know from those numbers that my grandparents’ marriage included an extended bout of breast cancer, a triple bypass and a hip replacement, not to mention all those hospital visits for kids, grandkids, and friends. When I had some surgery a few years ago, my grandparents showed up at the hospital at 6am to wait with me during pre-op. They were still there hours later when I woke from anesthesia.
Those numbers can’t begin to tell the stories of friendships that have spanned decades – from an illicit trip to North Carolina for the sneaky wedding of Bobby’s cousin Doug to golfing buddies who’ve known each other since high school; quilting groups and Keenagers, traveling friends and the regular Saturday breakfast crowd. Go anywhere – near or far – with my grandparents, and you’ll be hard-pressed to meet a stranger. JoJo can tell you the genealogy of any given person back to the third generation: “Well, that’s Molly, and her sister was Dolly, but Dolly had a daughter, you know, Polly, who married my third cousin’s uncle…” And Bobby, well, it takes him under a minute to know your full name, your hometown, and your favorite football team. I’ve witnessed the two of them make friends with beach lifeguards, restaurant wait staff, nurses, cashiers, fellow airplane passengers, museum guards, street vendors, the guy behind them in the grocery store line. And it’s not false friendship, either. They are genuinely happy to know you.
My friends love my grandparents, universally. Anyone whose met them, home with me from college or hosting them in my Atlanta apartment, falls immediately in love. When they visited me here in Manassas, they charmed the retiree’s Sunday school class in such a way that one man came up to me weeks later and said, “Well, when I met your grandparents I just knew…there was something special. They were good, good people.”
The number 60 doesn’t tell you how many cards they’ve sent – to friends or grandkids or fellow church people, telling them to get well or congratulations or happy birthday or just – thinking of you. It doesn’t tell you how much of their lives they’ve given away – money and time and advice, how much of themselves has been spent in service to the church, to their family, to their community.
And the number 60 won’t tell you that Bobby no longer uses JoJo’s name in conversation, because feminine pronouns no longer need refer to any other woman. He’ll start in on a sentence these days, without any prior referent, just “we’ll have to see what She wants to do,” or “well, you’ll have to ask Her.” It’s as if, after all these years, he knows that no one would even need to consider another Her as the woman he’s talking about. And we don’t. We know. It’s Her.
60 years is a long time, and my grandparents have filled those years with life well lived – in love, in service, in faith. It’s a gift.
Love you lots, Bobby and JoJo. Thanks for being who you are, for giving us the gift of your love, and for living life in such a beautifully rooted way.