It was 63 years ago today, on December 22, 1946, that Champ Ruffin and Sara Abbott stood in their pastor’s living room in front of the Christmas tree and became husband and wife.
An intimate affair, the wedding was attended by only three or four witnesses; I am aware of the existence of no items that commemorate the day--not even a photograph of the happy couple. The few details that I know of the event I know only because I heard the parties speak of them.
As is characteristic of strong marriages, Champ and Sara brought different but complementary strengths to their union: he was smarter while she was wiser; he was tougher while she was stronger; he was complex while she was simple; he was more worldly while she was more spiritual—but they were both very attractive.
Their son took after his father in being smart rather than wise and complex rather than simple; he took after his mother in being strong rather than tough and spiritual rather than worldly—but he took after both of them when it came to looks.
They were laborers—textile mill workers—who did honest and good work and who made enough money to pay their bills and to buy an occasional used car and to take a once-a-decade trip to Florida.
They were church-goers—they went to Midway Baptist Church—who were there every time the doors were opened and sometimes when they were not.
They were children—he to Asa Lee and Mardelle Ruffin and she to Sandy and Nora Belle Abbott—who were good and faithful to their parents in every way imaginable.
They were siblings—he to nine brothers and sisters and she to one sister and one brother—who were esteemed highly and loved dearly by their family members.
They were parents—he a largely silent but always steady witness and she a firm but kind nurturer—who loved and cherished the only child for whom they were ultimately assigned responsibility.
They were sufferers—the other child who died before really getting started, the accident that split his head and broke his neck, the cancer that maimed and sickened and saddened and ultimately killed her and that broke his heart—who praised God anyhow and who remained faithful anyway.
They were lovers—they hugged and kissed each other even in front of their impressionable young son—who in openly sharing the joy of their love with each other taught that son of the joy of married love with its commitment, its fidelity—and its fun.
They pledged to be true and loyal to one another as long as they both lived, and they were until the day she died—June 22, 1975, exactly twenty eight years and six months from the day they married.
I lived with them for the last sixteen years and nine months of their union and I am deeply and humbly grateful to have been their son and to have been raised by them and blessed by them.
The way I look at it, while today would have been their 63rd anniversary, they are really at 28 years and holding.
Champ died four years after Sara did.
I think sometimes about the answer Jesus gave to those clever Sadducees who offered him the scenario about the woman who married seven brothers in succession as each of them in turn died and then asked, “In the resurrection whose wife will she be?” to which Jesus replied, “They are neither married nor given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven.”
I know that the resurrection to which the Sadducees referred has not yet occurred and I know that there is finally no way for me to know, until I join them, what the present state of my parents is and whether or not they know each other and just how different that state will be on the other side of the resurrection. I also think I know that in eternity the time strictures to which we are captive here won’t be applicable.
I say all that to say that I don’t know if this 63rd “anniversary” has any meaning to them—but I imagine not.
But I’ll tell you what has meaning to me, 35 years on the other side of their last wedding anniversary and 31 years into my own marriage: the witness that they bore and the lessons that they taught about how two people, when they love God and love each other and when they follow Jesus and are faithful to one another, can, in very simple and profound ways, leave a lasting mark.
I have spent 51 years now trying to be my own man, or, better put, trying to be the man that God means for me to be.
Still, in so many ways, I am and will always be Champ and Sara Ruffin’s son.
So consider me marked.
So consider me grateful.