Feb 152009

My grandparents, Dudley and Shirley Wilber, married in 1942.  There were real challenges at the start — both barely out of high school, family opposition, little money to their name, and Dudley was off to military service just a few weeks after the wedding.  For the next two years, Dudley was moved every few months.  Shirley followed closely behind, finding a new home and new job at each new post.  The couple saw each other only on weekends, but at least it was a chance to be together in the face of the constant threat that Dudley would be deployed overseas.  When their first child was born, Shirley returned to her parents’ home to raise her alone while they waited for Dudley to go to war.  The couple didn’t begin a “normal” married life — living in the same home as a family — until the war ended just before their 3rd anniversary.

(Grandma and Grandpa served as witnesses to our wedding. Here, a 1942 photo on display. Photo by Punam Bean)

After 66 years, Grandma and Grandpa remain genuinely in love.  In fact, Grandma recently told me that their relationship has taken on new depth in their old age, as health troubles cause them to rely more and more on each other’s support just to manage daily life.  Grandma’s advice for keeping a marriage strong over 66 years?  “Hang in there.”  No marriage is always easy — couples inevitably face rough patches — and when troubles happen, “You just have to hang in there.”

In light of their long history, I think of my grandparents whenever I hear Bruce Springsteen’s beautiful ballad “If I Should Fall Behind.”  Though the song mentions an upcoming wedding, I believe it speaks even more to a couple who has dedicated the time and the effort, the love and the care, to travel side by side over decades.  On this day when we celebrate love, it never hurts to remember that the grandest love stories may be the ones happening around us every day.  Happy Valentine’s Day, Grandma and Grandpa — with love and thanks for your inspiration.

We said we’d walk together baby come what may
That come the twilight should we lose our way
If as we’re walkin a hand should slip free
I’ll wait for you
And should I fall behind
Wait for me

We swore we’d travel darlin’ side by side
We’d help each other stay in stride
But each lover’s steps fall so differently
But I’ll wait for you
And if I should fall behind
Wait for me

Now everyone dreams of a love lasting and true
But you and I know what this world can do
So let’s make our steps clear that the other may see
And I’ll wait for you
If I should fall behind
Wait for me

Now there’s a beautiful river in the valley ahead
There ‘neath the oak’s bough soon we will be wed
Should we lose each other in the shadow of the evening trees
I’ll wait for you
And should I fall behind
Wait for me
Darlin’ I’ll wait for you
Should I fall behind

Wait for me.

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