To them, their story is probably somewhat unremarkable. To me, it is the most remarkable story I know, and it continues to unfold on a daily basis. It is the story of true love. It is the story of devotion. It is the story of “till death us do part.”
James Thomas Swaggerty, Jr. and Lois Jewell Turner Swaggerty will celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary on May 24, 2014. My mother was a young 18-year old woman, my dad was just a few weeks shy of his 21st birthday with they went against her father’s wishes and eloped to Georgia to become husband and wife. Their life story is probably quite similar to many others in this “greatest generation”. A strong work ethic, coupled with a determination to never give up has propelled these two people their entire lives. My mother is from a large family. She had 9 brothers and sisters and her parents were yet another testimony of strength, determination and grit. My father lost both of his parents during his childhood. He and his 3 sisters successfully fought to stay together and in touch. My dad longed to give his family everything that he never had as a child, but most of all he wanted us to have roots and stability.
Mom and Dad’s marriage produced 3 children, 4 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren (to date). I don’t know if the word “divorce” was ever part of their vocabulary, but I do know I never saw any signs of wanting to give up or a dwindling of love between them. There were plenty of hard days, and I am sure there had to be times when they each wondered if it was worth it, but I know I can say that I have never seen anything but deep love and respect between them. Even today, being around them both, you see the love and devotion they have for one another. I think often of the stories I have been told about those first few years of their marriage. Daddy was called out of the reserves and back into active duty in the Navy for the Korean War. He left behind his wife and young son. After he became stationed state-side, Mom took my brother on a cross-country train ride to California to be with Daddy. She remarks often about my children’s determination and wonders where it came from. I only have to think about that story to know where we all get our strength.
These last few years of marriage have been filled with their own challenges and difficulties. My Dad has advanced Alzheimer’s. He resides now at the Ben Atchley Veteran’s Home. Mom has watched this disease ravage my father’s mind, memories and body for quite some time now. I know she fees the hurt of what has happened to him all the way to the depth of her heart, and she would trade places with him if she could. She is staunchly devoted to him. She is his strongest advocate for the very best care, and up until about a year ago, she devoted 24 hours a day, every single day to his care. If ever I wondered what “in sickness and health” meant, I certainly know now. Mom took those marriage vows from 67 years ago quite seriously, and she believes they are a covenant between her, Daddy and God. She intends to fulfill them with every breath she has left. Daddy is still aware of her presence in his life, and we cherish those moments when we see a gleam of recognition in his eyes or a beautiful smile on his face. As you can guess, the one he is most likely to smile for is his beautiful bride. His face will still light up when he sees her come into a room.
The legacy of love my parents have given me, my siblings and my children is truly priceless. In a world of instant satisfaction and throw-away marriages, they are a testimony to commitment and love. I honor them on this anniversary and praise God for their presence in my life.