Thursday, June 14, 2012

Save the last dance

They met in the hallways of Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem in the fall of 1951. Not long after, the skinny young man in the white coat asked the wavy-haired Florida girl if she would like to go to a med school dance with him. 

Two weeks later, he asked her a bigger question: Will you marry me? And on June 14 the next year, she did. 

And the day after that? He graduated from Bowman Gray School of Medicine. All the family was coming anyway, so what better time to get married than the day before you become a doctor?

My mother often said Daddy didn't want to go to Louisville (the location of his internship) alone. So she went with him, and two weeks shy of their first wedding anniversary, my brother joined them in their little apartment with the Murphy bed in the wall.

In those early years, the young Byrums would not often be together. Mama moved with my brother to live with my grandparents, whom she had really only met a couple of times. Daddy joined the Navy, spending his days in the cramped infirmary of a destroyer, tending to the medical needs of other young men his age. He has a certificate from that time that says he crossed the Arctic Circle.

When he came home, they moved to Newport, Rhode Island, then back with my grandparents. Daddy left again, and while they were living apart, my sister was born. 

When my father left the Navy, they looked around for a place to settle down and found a spot just an hour from my grandparents. Within a year, they had a house and another baby, me, Daddy tending to the needs of patients who would come to him for the rest of his career —almost 50 years.

I wrote about them last year here. Little has changed except they are moving a little slower, but I marvel at the fact that my parents continue to grow closer today as each day passes.

This week we have gathered — 23 of us —to celebrate the fact of them and their 60 years together, and that what seems to us to have been a hasty decision back in 1951 has turned into a pretty remarkable life.

Each day someone new has arrived to join our celebration. Grandchildren. Spouses. Great-grands. Earlier in the week, we even gathered in a nearby gazebo to toast the newest union-to-be, all of us weeping after my nephew proposed to his girlfriend. What a joyful moment for us all.

Mama has enjoyed sharing the story of how she met my dad with each new face. Daddy checks his watch and asks who is coming next. By this afternoon, we will all be in place, and we have a few special things planned for them to mark this day in our family history.

Last night, Daddy stood before supper and thanked us all for coming, and for being who we are. He said he was proud how we are living our lives, and though he and my mother could not take credit, they would like to. 


"There was more I wanted to say but I have forgotten!" he said then, tempering the tears that had formed at the corners of all of our eyes with the subtle humor he is known for. I watched Mama sitting in the chair behind him, looking up at him, her blue eyes sparkling.

"Would you like to go to the dance?" he asked those years ago. My mother has never felt she was very good at dancing, but when my father took her in his arms that fateful night, somehow she stayed in step. For 60 years. Imagine.

Happy Anniversary B&Pop B. May the dance continue.

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