Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

Better together

Posted by boakley59 on May 28, 2009

Sixty years ago today, on May 28, 1949, William Herbert Oakley married Edna Marie Dudding. He was a handsome, jovial fellow, one of the lucky ones to come back unscarred from World War II, now in the early days of his career at The Buffalo News. She was a determined country girl, following her oldest sister out of the mountains of Virginia to greater opportunity in the big city by the lake.

They were nothing alike in temperament or interests, except that having grown up in the Depression, both knew that you worked hard and long for anything you got, and harder and longer still for anything that you really wanted. And they knew all the important things came in the company of others, with their help.

The important things they wanted were a home and a family. Even those ordinary wants took longer and more help than usual to fill. The young couple could not have children of their own, so they began the long, patient work to be eligible to adopt. It was 10 1/2 years before they celebrated the arrival of an infant son, left with the good sisters at Father Baker’s orphanage. Two years after that, a baby girl came from Father Baker’s to complete the family.

So the real labor of love, the labor of a lifetime, began in earnest, as they worked together to give their two chosen children bigger dreams than their own.

They taught us to work hard and do right, but we also learned an easy kind of hope, a fairy tale expectation that working hard and doing right is enough. We each missed part of the lesson: They gave us big dreams, but we missed the bit where they gave up part of themselves to serve the dream they shared. My sister and I are both divorced, both now remarried. It seems neither of us learned the art of compromise, at least not the first time.

The disappointment of the first failure crippled me, but my second marriage has now been longer than the first, so perhaps I learned something. Still, I have been sick for nearly all of this second marriage and perhaps I have benefitted mainly from low expectations. I have less to give, so maybe it’s easier to give enough. I have less capability, so I have smaller dreams.

To me, it all seems rather unfair to Suzy, but here we are, 11 1/2 years along, looking forward together. I say there is less of me than once was, but I am humbled that there is any of me. Had I been alone when I became sick, I would not have gotten to a doctor soon enough to survive. My parents, my son, my sister were all too far away and busy with their own lives and the rest of the family. On my own, I would not have turned to them in time, either.

Alone, I would be nothing.

But today I can imagine a wonderful day 60 years ago and remember a loving couple who had 57 years together. I honor their joint strength and I can hope that I too may continue to be more than I might be, thanks to so much undeserved love.


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