Teenage love, it’s magical, all-encompassing, and consumes your very being—for the teen, that is. For the parents, it’s a different story altogether. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been through it all, making us see it more cautiously now and through a different lens.
I’m reminded of a time when I was in my mid-twenties and dating my soon-to-be bride. The two of us had gone to visit my maternal grandmother, who was in her eighties and a widow. As the visit progressed, the conversation steered toward my relationship, which led to my questioning my grandmother about her memories of my parents getting married. Her response was far from anything I had expected to hear.
You see, my parents married while they were still teenagers back in the 1940s. In fact, they had eloped, because they knew their parents would likely advise them to wait till they were somewhat older. It was a romantic story, or at least it always seemed that way whenever they talked about it. How they and their best friends drove to South Carolina and were married by a minister whom they knew, and who would marry them under the circumstances. Upon arriving back home two days later, both were nervous, so each went separately to visit their parents to share the news—only their parents were already aware. Mom would tell the story of going to her dad’s place of employment and waiting for him by his car in the parking lot at quitting time, scared to death. One by one, people who knew her came out of the building and upon seeing her decided to wait by their cars to watch what was about to take place, obviously being aware of her surprise nuptials. There were several people standing and staring, expecting to see what they anticipated would be a parental scolding for making such a rash and impulsive decision on something that is a lifelong commitment.
Eventually, the door opened again and out walked her dad. He spotted her immediately but showed no emotion. He simply strolled across the parking lot as if it was any other typical day. As he approached her, she was trembling with fear, but he just opened his arms wide and told her to come to him. When she did, he gave her a huge embrace, much to the chagrin of all those waiting to see an argument ensue. Not on this day. It was a special ending to a very special story and one that we as children had heard many times. The couple went on to have four children, ten grandchildren and, for the moment, two great-grandchildren. They were married for over fifty years, renewing their vows at their fifty-fifth wedding anniversary celebration, this time with all their family in attendance.
On this visit with my grandmother, however, I was able to hear the rest of the story, the part I hadn’t heard before. My grandmother spoke with great conviction as she recalled the memory. The raw emotions she felt seemed to come back to the surface as she spoke. She explained how disappointed she was at the time with her daughter, who was supposed to attend college and only then, after graduation, make a decision about whom she would spend the rest of her life with. My grandmother felt like she had had something personally taken away from her, and not just her daughter’s advanced education, at a time when not many women went to college. She felt the experience of seeing her daughter walk down the aisle had been taken away. It was a strange conversation because, on the one hand, I could totally empathize with her feelings over what she had lost. Yet at the same time, I existed because of this union occurring with this precise timing, so I couldn’t feel too bad about it. It wasn’t too long afterward that she was able to gather her emotions and begin to realize how it had affected her life positively. She turned and looked at me and said that regardless of the pain she had felt at the time, she knew now that she was blessed many times over watching her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren all grow up and come together as a family. She said it was a very special gift to have, and one that she didn’t fully realize on that fateful day, but God has a way of making things right in the end.
It just goes to show there are two sides to every story, and it’s not until you become a parent that you fully appreciate what a parent goes through, even as you come to accept things in the end as all for the best.