She thought he talked too much. He was unbothered.
When my parents met at Greater Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church 31 years ago, they were two totally different people. He was a school teacher and an active church member with affections elsewhere. She was a new convert and trying to find her way through multiple new experiences. One fateful night, my godmother, Darlene, was not able to make it to Bible Study and my mother, who was not a licensed driver at the time, needed a ride home. When the announcement was made, my father happily agreed to do it.
That one night was the beginning of something special, though it may not have been recognized immediately. My father knew what he saw when he looked at her but she needed a little time for affections to grow. Roots of love did not take long, however. Less than a year later on Monday, February 18, 1985, they gathered in the office of the late Pastor D. Lee Owens and a few other witnesses and declared their decision to love each other for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death does them part. Here we are thirty years later and they have, to this day, made good on that declaration.
There have been many things that have happened in this thirty years – parents have passed, siblings have passed, ups and downs, health scares, disagreements, career changes, changing finances, raising two children, adopting several other children, witnessing the marriage of one child, witnessing the birth of a grandchild (and embracing several other grandchildren), and so much more.
My parents have been able to show me many different things through their marriage – love in action, the lack of rigidity in gender roles, mutual respect, compromise, maximizing on each other’s strengths, and the overpowering will to keep going. When I was younger, I thought my parents had the marriage that had no problems because I never saw them argue and I rarely saw them disagree in front of us. I came to idealize love in some ways and I do not fault them for my sophomoric views – they tried to expose us to good and protect us from burdens that should not have been ours. But I have come to cherish my parents’ marriage and love more in my adult years when I’ve been able to see some of the tension, see them have to decide to work through things, see their personality differences clash in the face of certain circumstances. I have learned more in seeing the imperfections and flaws of their union more than I ever did by seeing just the good. It was not what transpired in the moment that was important, it was what happened after the moment that matter. They always came back together for resolution. No matter what my parents have gone through, they have always been determined to be a unit. That takes a lot of wisdom and humility, which is more work than a majority of people are determined to put into a relationship. The power dynamics in my house were pretty simple – no one used their “power” to hurt, manipulate, or lord over the other. Within this determination, they have been able to ensure that bouncing back from various circumstances were the achieved goal.
My mother handles most of the business and finances of the household. My father does more of the day-to-day cleaning and laundry. My mother cooks (when her schedule permits) but my father is not afraid to burn a few skillets himself. My mother works hard to balance a demanding job and her other responsibilities at home and at church. My father makes it easier for her by driving her to work everyday, picking her up, and driving her to other things for the most part (appointments, the store, etc.). It’s not unusual to see that my father has bought my mother a card or some flowers just because. And my mother makes it a priority for her to use her gifts and talents to be the enhancing factor for my father’s ministry. When they began dating 31 years ago, my father opened doors for my mother. To this day, he still does (and she waits for it). She relishes in being his and her indelible value to his life reduces him to tears of gratefulness often.
When my father became a pastor, my mother embraced his calling and all that it would personally mean for her. This was probably one of the best presents she could have given to him. As my mother’s job has become increasingly demanding with hours and expectations, my father has supported my mother ceaselessly and ensured that she does not have to carry those burdens completely on her own. This was probably one of the best presents he could have given her. This has been the pattern for the G. Burtons. They have learned, through trial and error, what to give to the union to keep it working and growing.
Though they are not perfect and though their union has not been perfect, it has been one of the highlights of my life to watch and learn from their example. I do not know what was going on in their minds when they took their vows thirty years ago. I know very little about their hopes and dreams and what they may have imagined life looking like today as they stood before the preacher on that day and smiled. But I do know that where they find themselves now is a great place – in the fact that they still enjoy each other’s company, in that they have no problems being empty nesters, in that they still try to find new ways to love each other. And today they are celebrating, not in some super extravagant way, but in their own unique and intimate way – the way they have operated in their marriage from the beginning.
She thought he talked too much. Now she’s glad he said something…and he’s glad that she said yes.
From the Girl with Black Pearls –> Happy Pearl Anniversary, Mom and Dad! I love you both.