When my parents were about to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, I invited my four siblings to my house for a planning session. We knew we needed to do something to mark the occasion, but we weren’t quite sure what to do. My parents were adamant that they didn’t want a big party. They just wanted us to all be together as a family. We all lived near each other and family dinners and barbeques were not uncommon, so these activities did not seem celebratory enough.
When I reflected about the importance of the anniversary, I wondered if my parents were sad at all….to have had so many years go by so quickly. A wedding day is such a happy occasion, the start of a life journey and I thought maybe they might feel as if the best years of their marriage were behind them. I ached for them. Reaching this milestone meant a long span of memories and entrance into the golden years of their lives. My desire was to use this opportunity to bring them back to those early moments and the joy and hope they experienced at the beginning of their marriage.
We as a family, were transplants to the Albany, New York area. My parents met and married in Brooklyn and because of my father’s career they had lived across three different states during the course of their marriage.
My oldest three siblings were born in Brooklyn and often reminisced about their earlier years there. I had never really been there other than to visit my grandmother once or twice at the holidays and again for her funeral when I was in the first grade. My parents had not been back, themselves, in some time.
As we sat around my dining room table brainstorming ideas, I blurted out my thoughts. Why don’t we take them to Brooklyn, to the church that they got married in – and then out to dinner? As the words were coming out of my mouth I thought maybe it was crazy. But then a look of delight came over my older siblings faces. They, too, hadn’t seen the old neighborhood in many years. They thought it was a great idea.
After discussing the logistics, ultimately, we rented two stretch limousines to accommodate our 20 person family (my parents, their five children, spouses and grandchildren). We told my parents to be ready early one Sunday morning and we all met at their house. When the limousines arrived we explained their agenda for the day and they were equally as excited. We traveled the few hours to Brooklyn as a family, laughing, drinking and snacking all the way to New York City. Our first stop was to attend mass at the church they were married in.
We had notified the church ahead of time and so the priest announced my parents to the congregation. Later, privately, he spent some time with us and told my parents that the priest who married them was still alive, at a nursing home down the road and often came by the church to visit. As I sat in the beautiful surroundings of this old church, I imagined my mother walking down the long aisle a young bride at 21- eager to share the adventure of life with my father.
After we left the church, we took a tour of the old neighborhood where my brothers and sister shared what they remembered. And, back in those days it was common for people to have an iron grate on their front doors with their last initial scrolled in it. We were stunned to see that on my parents very first home the “C” (for Centi) was still there.
We ended the day with a fantastic dinner in Little Italy then began our journey home.
I remember so much about this trip. How happy my parents were, how much fun my kids had with their cousins and laughing at the stories their aunt and uncles would tell. And to be in that church picturing my parents saying their vows and seeing their very first home as a newlywed couple was very emotional. It was a day that I will never forget. It was a day when I learned where my history began.
It was an amazing experience for everyone involved.
I thought what we had given my parents was a tremendous gift, to relive this most significant day, the moment that it all began for them. However, my father would surprise me later by saying (and maintaining until his death) that the day we celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary was the absolute BEST day of his life. Imagine that? 50 years of memories and this was the best day of his life! As I have grown older, having adult children and missing my father, I finally get it myself. My father, above all, valued most the family that he created. He said for him, to go back to the spot where it all began with my mother, his children and his grandchildren was the perfect culmination of the most important years of his life and overwhelmed him with the highest level of pride and joy. I had originally thought that to relive his wedding memory would be what affected him the most- but, it was about his legacy. It wasn’t about the start. All along, it was about the end.