On July 9, 1950, a dashing young sailor married a high school prom queen whose beautiful heart rivaled her smile.
They set off to travel the world for the next 20 years; Washington, D.C., Japan, Taiwan, California, Hawaii and Spain. My grandfather, the sailor, John Alistair Goodbrand, was a cryptologist in the U.S. Navy, retiring from Rota, Spain, after helping to build the communications station there. The beautiful young bride, my grandmother, Wilma June Van Slyke, was two weeks out of high school, the norm for back then.
They went on to lead a wonderful life together: three daughters, four grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren, and in July of this year, our family will gather to honor and celebrate them and their seventy years of marriage.
I asked my grandparents recently what the secret to their long and happy marriage is. Some of their answers surprised me, some of them seemed completely logical, and a few made me laugh (and blush!).
Here they are.
“We had a simple wedding. I made my dress, my sisters were in charge of flowers and a little decorating, a small group of family and our closest friends attended. I think this is how we tried to live our lives; simply and within our means. We had everything we needed and we were happy with that,” my grandmother explained to me one evening.
The next advice my grandmother cited was the importance of maintaining a positive attitude, in marriage and in life. “Your grandfather is an entrepreneur at heart. After his career in the Navy we did everything from raise beef cattle, to starting and running a business in construction and excavation, to building and managing a restaurant. Honestly, there were times I’d think “Oh, Lord, what has he come up with now!” But we’d delve into projects together, we’d support each other, and things always worked out.”
The third bit of wisdom my grandmother shared is the importance of carving out time to nurture yourself and your relationship with your spouse, something that really struck home for me with three active children and schedules that often have us running for 12 or 13 hours a day. Taxiing kids to sports, activities, clubs and such on top of work and running a business leaves me passing my husband like a ship in the night most weeks. And eight hours of sleep seems foreign to me with laundry and cooking to do after a long day. It’s so very easy to stay incredibly busy. “When you’ve raised your children and they leave your home, you’ll still have thirty years or more with your husband and the rest of your life with yourself. Don’t lose sight of who you are as a person and who the two of you are as a couple,” she said.
My grandfather has gleaned some perspective of his own in his 90 years. “Don’t sweat the small stuff and laugh as often as you’re able,” he said. And having known my grandparents for thirty-eight years now, I can certainly vouch for them laughing, both when things are good and when things are tough. They have not led a life without challenges and a few heartbreaks, I doubt any of us have.
“There’s a song that your grandmother really loves, ‘Little Things Mean a Lot,’ by Kitty Kallen,” Grandpa said. “I think the simple message in this song has been a sort of mantra throughout our marriage. In the song, she sings about being there for your partner; calling to ask how their day was, being there for support through happy times and hardships, how much a loving hand squeeze can mean. Love is really not about grand gestures or fancy material things, it’s about being present every day.”
On a recent video chat with my grandparents, who flee to Florida for the winter months, my grandfather was telling me about what they’re planning for their 70th anniversary get together in July. A low-key gathering with all of their family at a modest home in the country; visiting, games, and some fishing. When I replied “Seventy years, my goodness,” my still quick-witted grandmother returned a quip from the background exclaiming “Seventy years, sometimes it feels like a hundred!”
There is the humor they both spoke of.
And while I’m so thankful for everything my grandparents have taught me and instilled in me over the years, a deep love of fishing and the outdoors, as well as how to bake a killer strawberry rhubarb pie, simply being able to see how they’ve lived their lives has been the greatest blessing of all.
It’s not a fairy tale, it’s a tale of true love.
Sarah Ferguson lives in Cherry Valley. Readers may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.