A few years ago while visiting my parents, my mother asked me what I thought was a rather odd question:

“Would you like to drive over and take a look at our tombstone?”

Until then, I didn’t know a tombstone was on their shopping list. Sure they were in their late 60s, and you never know what lies ahead.

Still, taking a drive to look at a tombstone for my parents?

Much like the longtime married couples profiled in this month’s cover story, my parents have pretty much always been together. Fifty-four years, in fact, since Sept. 19, 1953.

They were elementary school sweethearts, my mom a year older and farm-raised, my dad a “city” boy, if you can call a town with 1,000 or so people a “city”. They attended the same schools, graduated with a class of 27, wound up marrying before he headed to Germany for military service, and then settled down in what was then a 60-year-old, wood-frame farmhouse on 215 acres of mostly rolling hills and trees not far from where they grew up.

In those rare moments when they weren’t working — my dad with the state transportation department during the day and our little farm at night, and my mom at home — they were together, trapped by choice in a small, drafty house with one bathroom and four children (three of them girls).

If they ever had much money, I didn’t see it. Instead, it was a hard-working life of rising at 6 a.m. to feed cows and chickens every morning, heading off to a job that paid most of the bills, shipping kids off to school, then returning home to feed the cows and chickens again, repair broken machinery, and rebuild and repaint and rework farm buildings.

The only complaining I ever heard came from my sisters and me; for their part, other than the occasional stern look or verbal smack-down, they overlooked the negative and focused on the positive.

After 54 years of marriage, you would think there would be momentary temper flare-ups or finger-pointing yell-fests or maybe even door-slamming, chair-kicking YouTube moments.

If that happened, I didn’t see it. And truthfully, I wouldn’t believe it even if I had.

Imagining either of my parents gone is difficult, so our trip to visit the tombstone that day was eerily quiet. My eyes lost a bit of their focus when my mom pointed out the small block of dark granite, carefully etched with two hearts, joined by two wedding rings encircling their names.

Just above the hearts is an engraving of two people, hands clasped and walking beneath a tree, ready for their eventual trip to a continuing eternity of married bliss.


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