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Just dropping by: Right or left at Oak Street

Yevet Tenney Published on 28 February 2011

My parents will be married 69 years on the 12th of March; that’s a record in this modern age of buy and toss, where people talk about love and commitment but the underlying tone is of self-indulgence.

Those folks were made of sterner stuff back then. They were fashioned out of the spirit that led across the ocean in the Mayflower to the Revolutionary War, through the Civil War and into the Great Depression.

Commitment was a tradition and love was an afterthought, back in those days.

Nowadays, wide-eyed teens dress in white, march down church isles and murmur the “‘til-death-do-us-part” vows they’ve heard on television and feel like the hero and heroine of a fairy tale that will last forever.

After the trip-to-the-Riviera honeymoon, they wake up to find themselves a bedfellow to a stranger. The first thought is: “Who is this?” The next thought is: “This is not what I expected.

I must have made a mistake.” Then they start singing a semi-modern hit song, “Somewhere Out There.”

When I was a teenager, I heard another song that fit the situation perfectly. The country singer in his best twang, backed by an electric guitar that swooned with a crying-in-the-beer melody, asked this question,

“Right or left at Oak Street, that’s the choice I face everyday. I don’t know which takes more courage, the staying or the running away.”

Many young married people don’t even ask that question anymore. They just run away, searching for the “elusive dream.”

We are so programmed by the media that we don’t even know when we’re quoting a star of a favorite soap opera, the latest rock singer or a Budweiser commercial.

I wonder what we can call our own if even our thoughts belong to the media.

It wasn’t that way when my parents took their vows. They knelt and made their vows to God and man, and they expected those vows to last for time and all eternity.

I’m sure they felt like the hero and heroine of a fairy story that would go on in perfect loving bliss forever and ever. I’m sure they woke up to reality after their honeymoon to Holbrook, Arizona, where they spent the nights sleeping out under the stars on a cattle drive.

But their reality check was a call from Uncle Sam, singing loudly in anthem chorus, “we won’t come back till it’s over, over there.”

At 19, Daddy, dressed in his khaki military uniform, kissed his pregnant wife good-bye, and boarded a train that wouldn’t come back till it was over, over there.

It would have been easy in two years for a young passionate soldier to forget the vows he made on a silvery night, with the moon shining in his eyes, to a sweet Western girl of 15.

It would have been easy to close his eyes to commitment and say, “I may die tomorrow, I better have some fun while I can. She will never find out, and if she does, she will forgive me.

After all, this is war.” My dad didn’t say that. In fact, his commitment was so strong that his outfit dubbed him “Deacon”.

My mother could have said, “He is gone, and he may never come back. It may never be over, over there. Let Grandma care for her new grandchild.

I brought the baby into the world. Isn’t that enough? Besides, Mother has raised 10 children, and she knows how to do it. I need and deserve to have some fun in life. After all, I am only young once.”

But instead, she watched the planes fly over, with a prayer of faith on her lips and a cry of longing in her heart. She took in laundry and cleaned houses to earn and save money. When Daddy returned from the military, she showed him their beautiful two-year-old daughter and a house free and clear to start their new lives together. Commitment came before self. Loyalty and love reigned above self-gratification.

As the years fled by, there were many Oak Streets where Daddy and Mother could have chosen to go left instead of right.

There were times when the money was so scarce that the wolf at the door would have starved if it hadn’t been for prayer and sacrifice.

There were times when the kids made choices that would cause even the pope to shudder, but my parents pulled together instead of pulling apart.

They were a team of Clydesdales dragging a wagon. They shouldered the yoke with a passionate desire to pull more than their share of the load.

They didn’t worry about the blisters on their hands or the knots in their backs. They were merely concerned with the comfort and ease of the other. Tired hands rubbed aching backs and calloused fingers wiped away tears. That is love!

For close to 70 years, my parents have walked hand-in-hand, marking a clear path for others to follow. They know that their commitment will be emulated by their children and their children’s children for generations yet to come.

Lies will never endure and the truth will never die. My parents know they can only make the world better if they make themselves better.

That is why they look back and remember those who went before, those who were fashioned out of the spirit that led across the ocean in the Mayflower to the Revolutionary War through the Civil War and into the Great

Depression. They understand profoundly that commitment is a tradition, a legacy of love, that it is an afterthought and a before-thought and all the thoughts in between. Love is commitment. Anything less is merely an infatuation with self-indulgence.

On March 12, 2002, two brothers and four sisters will celebrate with our parents, as they mark sixty years of love. We will come as families bound by the eternal law of commitment.

There will be married grandchildren who carry great-grandchildren in our arms and toddle around our feet. We will resemble our parents’ physical traits and their patterns of speech.

We will talk about memories and share almost-forgotten events. We’ll sing the songs they taught us to sing and pray the prayers they taught us as we knelt in family prayer.

We will celebrate as they taught us to celebrate. When the celebration is over, we will hitch up our wagons, shoulder our yokes and renew our desires to pull more than our share, because our parents cared enough to continue to turn right at Oak Street, even when it meant self sacrifice and personal pain.

They understood that their song was not a song of question, but a song of answer, “Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel.” They understood that time justifies all things, and the more you give of love, the more you have it in abundance.  end_mark