|Carolyn Sawyer and Andrew Popp, 4 September 1954|
Today would have been my parent's 67th wedding anniversary. I've never done a blog post about their wedding. Not even a photograph. It's time.
They were married at her parents home by her parents' Baptist minister in a civil ceremony attended by her family and friends. More on that. Following the wedding they spent a very quiet honeymoon at Myrtle Beach recovering. There was never a photo of their wedding anywhere in their home. The one wedding album was tucked away in a bookshelf. The day was acknowledged as we got older, but never celebrated in any big way. It was a private time and memory for them, though as we grew older they spoke of it in response to our questions. They remained married until my mother's death in 1999. It was, most days, a good marriage, with sacrifices on both sides. But they had enormous love, devotion and respect for one another. Theirs was the model I have used for my own 42 years of marriage.
Mother and Daddy met in Washington, DC after college. Both worked at the Navy Department, though that's not how they met. Both finished school and very deliberately chose to NOT return to the towns and families they'd grown up with. Both loved those families fiercely.
Dad's best friend was dating Mother's roommate and suggested they meet. His motives weren't pure. Mother never left the apartment and he was hoping for time alone with his girlfriend (later wife). So Dad phoned her, they chatted and he asked her out for a beer. She declined, but graciously enough that he called back. And back. And back. Same story. Finally he asked Ted who asked Margaret who asked Mother why she wouldn't go out with him if she was willing to spend hours on the phone. She answered, "I don't drink beer." Dad called and invited her for coffee. She accepted. The rest is history.
They were from wildly different backgrounds, but met a need in each other beyond their obvious attraction and love. Daddy, child of Eastern European Catholic immigrants, wanted an "American" wife as he assimilated into mainstream culture. Mother, rejecting the bigotry and narrow parochialism of her very southern, pre-civil rights childhood, wanted someone "other". Neither family was thrilled, but my father's family very quickly recognized and accepted the relationship.
Not so my mother's. At least not her mother. Mother had moved back to Tennessee for graduate school. She was teaching and weighing two different proposals. She loved both men. Deeply. We spoke of those days of decision many times as I got older. She was very, very clear about her decision and her reasoning. And that it was the most difficult decision of her life.
Once made, she turned to planning the wedding. Whatever subtle opposition her mother had expressed to her daughter marrying a Catholic first generation American was made clear. No member or friend of my father's family was invited, other than Ted, the best man. My grandmother never mailed those invitations. She cancelled florists and musicians. She launched a full out campaign to derail the wedding. My mother was heartsick, ill, but determined. Daddy finally showed up, uninvited and unwelcome, and announced that if they could not be married at home as Mother wished, then they would be married in his Byzantine Catholic Church in Binghamton, NY. His mother was fully capable and willing to put on the wedding and his priest had already consented. At that point my grandfather, utterly uninvolved by choice, finally spoke up and ordered my grandmother to cease her sabotage efforts and put together the wedding their daughter wanted. More or less. It did not include Daddy's immigrant family. The two families met for the first time at my sister's wedding, decades later.
The effects of this were long-lasting. My father spent very little time visiting my mother's parents. The excuse was always he was working, but the truth told later to us as adults, was that it was easier for Mother to be there with us and without him. She still adored her family, they adored her, and by extension, us. He did make it clear that Grandmother was to stop cross-examining us about church and faith or he would stop our visits. Never Mother's. He knew how deeply hurt she was, but also knew how much she needed her family. And so we grew up.
My sister and I had truly beautiful weddings. Joy-filled, and far more lavish than either of us wanted. Those wedding mattered as much to our parents as they did to us. They believed one of the most important things they could do as parents was to support and celebrate our choices.
As for our family, we are today a very tightknit cohort of cousins, children of the three daughters Sawyer. Those sisters were a force - due in strong part to their mother. They were devoted to each other. Again, due to their parents. My father, particularly, expressed his admiration for all of them. He was careful to make clear that love and devotion could and should survive hurt and pain. It's a model to live by that I have difficulty following, but aspire to.