Grandparents' 50th anniversary means more than just 1 day

Posted: Sunday, July 25, 2004

Fifty years is a long time.

Though it seems like an obvious statement, the more I think about it, the more astounded I am by the length of a half-century.

In the past 50 years, humankind has seen the advent of color television, cable TV, satellite TV, computers, VCRs, DVDs, eight-track tapes, cassette tapes, CDs, MP3s and the Internet. Airplanes have replaced trains, cars and hitchhiking as common means of cross-country travel. We've sent machines, and even people, into space. The U.S. military has passed through World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq (twice), not to mention a plethora of Cold War battles.

The world is an entirely different place than it was 50 years ago, and the differences aren't just in politics, geography, transportation and technology. What is perhaps one of the saddest and most profound changes in the past 50 years is Americans' attitudes toward marriage and commitment.

Fifty years ago, marriage most often really was a "'til death do us part" commitment. Children grew up in two-parent homes with extended family usually nearby.

These days, such a "traditional" family is very much in the minority.

That's why it amazes me to realize that next week, my grandparents will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

Joyce Rasmussen and Norman Colvin couldn't have been more different when they met in the early 1950s.

She is a full-blooded Dane, with both sets of grandparents immigrating from Denmark in the late 1800s. His family had been in the United States for generations, hailing from various points in Europe.

She was the oldest of four children, in every way the "responsible" one. He was the youngest of 13, and a bit of a "wild child."

She was a prom queen, attended college for about a year and likely could be called a "goody-goody."

He dropped out of high school, and stories of his youth include driving far before his 16th birthday, riding horses miles across the countryside and generally messing around. Even today, there's a twinkle in his eye reminiscent of the mischievous youth he must have been.

But they say opposites attract, and so my grandparents did.

Grandma admitted last week that the basis of their relationship had little to do with like personalities. In fact, she said, it definitely started out as a physical attraction.

That's not hard to believe. The picture from their wedding shows one of the most beautiful couples I've ever seen. Even today, neither of my grandparents look like the septuagenarians they actually are: Grandma's face bears only the faintest age wrinkles, and she literally has fewer gray hairs than I do (OK, her hair is not quite natural, but the skin definitely is). Grandpa, though a bit hard of hearing, remains fit and strong, continuing farm work, horseback riding and hunting trips regularly.

All my life I have recognized the attraction between my grandparents. I remember my grandma once telling me of her first meeting with one of Grandpa's aunts: Grandma and Grandpa were kissing in the garden when the oh-so-proper aunt came along and caught them. "I've never been so embarrassed," she said. The story always seemed apropos for the relationship I saw between them. While some may think of their grandparents' private lives with an "eww, gross" mentality, I only hope that I will be so lucky in my senior days.

Nonetheless, everyone knows physical attraction isn't everything. When people say opposites attract, it may be true; but it takes work to keep opposites together.

Again, 50 years is a long time. I can't imagine my grandparents' lives were easy: Working outside the farm, maintaining the land my grandfather was raised on; bringing up three children; taking care of ailing parents; and making ends meet all the while. There must have been so many ups and downs, I'll never hear all the stories and I certainly can't relate them all here.

What I do know is that a 50-year marriage isn't built on luck. All the love aside, I've certainly seen and heard my grandparents fight. They aren't perfect individuals, and they aren't a perfect couple (and I'm sure they'll forgive me for saying so).

"It helps to have love and patience," my grandma told me last week. "You have to start out with love."

But that's not the end of the story.

"I feel like it truly takes a lot of forgiveness along the way. You have to understand that 'This, too, shall pass' when there are problems.

"It helps to have children you love together and know everything you do can affect them.

"You have to know God's put you in a certain place for a certain reason, and when you accept and live by that, you get through."

Ultimately, she said, marriage is an endeavor that requires faith, forgiveness and, most of all, commitment.

"I'm really concerned about how kids give up too fast these days," she said. "It takes stick-to-it-iveness."

And when you stick-to-it through all the ups and downs? You end up where my grandparents are now, with my grandpa confessing, "It doesn't feel like 50 years at all."

So, Grandma and Grandpa, congratulations not just on making it 50 years from that one wedding ceremony July 31, but also on 18,263 days of renewed commitment to one another.

Happy 50th anniversary.

Jenni Dillon is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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