My Grandparents’ 104th Wedding Anniversary!

In a sense, the person we marry is a stranger about whom we have a magnificent hunch.

Today would have been the 104th wedding anniversary of my paternal grandparents – Mary Agnes and John Joseph.

As you know, all families are odd (you do know that, yes?) even the happiest and mine is no exception.

It wasn’t until this week that my brother Peter and I learned my grandfather’s name for certain.

Growing-up it was unclear what the man’s name actually was. No one – not even my grandmother who had been his wife – could recall his name. My father was 7 years old when his dad died, so I cut him some slack for not recalling his dad’s name. BUT. . .

My grandfather died from walking pneumonia at the age of 33. 3 years before the discovery of penicillin.

Just 12 years after he had immigrated to the US from the hamlet of Tarmonbarry, Ireland.

Just 9 years after he married my grandmother.

Just 8 years after he’d become a father to his only child – my father.

My grandfather was a young man when he died.

So young.

Just a few years older than my nieces are today.

When I was a boy I was fascinated with the lone photograph of my grandfather. (see above)

He was handsome. Dashing. Serene.

He looked like an adult to me.

Now I look at his photo and I barely see an adult.

I see a young man with the future in his eyes.

104 years ago, in NYC, this man married my grandmother. And together they set in motion my own eventual birth.

I know virtually nothing about him.

What his voice sounded like. 

What kind of laugh he had. 

How he looked when he was angry.

Distant relatives used to say that he had been “such a lovely man.” And that all the neighborhood kids loved him.

My grandmother said they met at a party. She played the piano and he played the violin. I LOVED that two-sentence story (and she never offered a sentence more).

I never heard my grandmother play the piano. And if my grandfather had a violin she tossed it long before my brother and I were born.

104 years ago, these two people said, “I Do!” – until death do them part – which came so much quicker than any gathered with them that day could have predicted.

And that’s the thing about a wedding. It is this BOLD – BREATH-TAKING leap of faith.

They leapt.

Sitting here, I wonder why – what made each willing to say before God, “I do.”

My grandmother hardly ever spoke of him.

Where did that love go?

How did that love shape her?

Sustain her?

And what of that love found its way to me. To Peter?

My grandmother never remarried. She devoted herself to my father.

She adored Peter and me.

She feared – and respected – my mother.

She became a NYC Corrections officer and hung-up her billy club at the age of 72.

She was known as the “Rose of Riker’s Island.” Love that!

For a while they loved – in a time when society was innovating and the world was at war – they loved to the place of commitment.

104 years ago, they had no way of knowing that their grandson would, in the next century, officiate weddings and help couples celebrate what they did in 1913 – take a brazen, love-induced leap of faith.

They met.

They laughed.

They kissed.

They stood nervously before a priest.

They figured out how to make a baby.

They loved their son.

And then this man died.

Too soon.

They met.

They laughed.

They kissed.

They made beautiful music together.

And then he disappeared.

Almost without a trace.

She became the Rose of Riker’s Island.

Their grandson became a wedding officiant –

And takes a piece of their love with him into every ceremony.

These were the two most popular wedding songs at the time my grandparents got married!

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