The fellowship hall at my grandparents’ church is like most others, too bright walls, rectangular fluorescent lights, carpet with disorienting patterns designed to hide spills and stains.
I unknowingly sit down next to the pastor, and he asked for my connection—who I am, why I deserve to be at Jim and Hazel Figy’s 65th anniversary party. “So,” says pastor Paul, a ceaseless smart aleck, “you’re the Jim Figy who knows how to spell and use punctuation?”
Before we eat, grandpa stands to say a few words. He is tall, a picture of the hearty Figy stock who settled the hellish swamp of northwestern Ohio. Still strong and proud, though at 86, he doesn’t move quite as quickly.
He tells a story about talking to a woman during the past week, at a family vacation in Michigan, who was amazed by my grandparents’ 65-year marriage. The woman asked how they made it work.
“I told her, ‘Two words: Yes, dear.’”
This is August, two months before their actual anniversary—October 5, 1949. But because everyone is so spread out, we have to make the times we have together count. The week before the party, most of the family went to Michigan together. The day after, we had our annual Figy family reunion, at which the Jim and Hazel Figy’s make up almost the entire under-40 demographic. An army of grandkids.
We celebrate significant birthdays months before, trade Christmases and Thanksgivings with our other families. We come from Indiana, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, to gather in a tiny town called Wauseon. It’s halfway between Fort Wayne and Toldeo, hidden inside the monotonous cropland.
We cross more than distance to be together: We cross ideology, politics, religiosity. We make it work, like grandma and grandpa made it work these past 65 years—the give and take, the Yes, dear.
No matter what, my grandparents remind us to be thankful that we have each other, food, clothing, shelter, and so much more. Some people have much less, they remind us before Thanksgiving dinners. In their eyes, you see people they’ve ministered to around the country and around the world. But you also see people they’ve been, the different phases of their lives in Wauseon, living through the Great Depression and war. They work hard. They’ve always had to, and know no other way.
When my grandpa was just a kid, he filled his time with Boy Scouts and helping his family, by working on and off the family poultry farm. First, he sold seeds for ten cents a pack, and he got to keep five. Then he took on adult work, as the war created left neighboring farms shorthanded.
When I interviewed him in 2011 for an essay about Boy Scouting during that era, he told me:
When I was twelve years old, in World War II, our neighbor down the road grew sweet corn for the canning factory in Wauseon, and you had to jerk that by hand. I remember Sam coming down the road and saying, ‘Alfred, do you think you would let Jimmy come down, and we’ll put him between two adults and we’ll give him a role? If he gets behind, we’ll help him catch up.’ And dad says, ‘No. I don’t mind.’ They paid me twenty-five cents an hour, and I got a great big dinner. Do you realize that was more money than my dad made that day?
I stored my money from selling seeds and Christmas cards, and I’d say, ‘Mom, can you take me down to the store?’ And I’d buy a ham and two quarts of ice cream and treat the whole family.
That’s why you’re grandma and grandpa are so frugal: We grew up with nothing. That’s one thing you learn, growing up—you learn what molds character, you learn why people have the opinions that they have. I realize that I’ve rambled a lot, but these are things that have stuck by me.
Oh, well, that’s history now. I was blessed. I look back, and I wouldn’t take anything from my experiences.
Today, I’m grateful for one thing—having such incredible grandparents.
They send an email, semi-regularly, to us grandkids to check in. This week, grandpa encouraged us, per usual, to “give it both barrels.”
“Those of you in school I imagine are head over heels with challenging study assignments. That is ok. That is the way you learn,” he wrote. “Those of you that are working probably wonder about your boss sometimes and can’t figure out: Why are we doing it this way? Well, that too is a learning experience. Life is full of those situations.”
He closed the message saying he’d better stop or we will think he’s becoming senile. Well, grandpa, even if you are, we’ll love you anyway.
Happy anniversary, and many more to come.