Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by John Howard Farmer

Visit the Irvington Baptist Church website

Vows that Count

Life is a matter of generations. We tend to mark the concurring epochs by events important to us individually.

In my case I remember how wonderful ‘twas to become a teen, yet preying upon my heels loomed another terribly important quest; achieving 16 and my first driver’s license. By the time I would be  “legal” I was in a USMC uniform. Who knows what happenstance I was in at 31, that over-documented age that writers, philosophers termed the last age which we might enjoy before growing old. Before I knew it I was 50, then 60, now 70 decades reaching for 80, and who knows?

Let me share a bit of 21 years married to my wonderful wife Hazel. Just a few random thoughts, then you can return to sheltering in place, hiding from a virus.

A few days ago, I was invited by Richard Abbott, pastor of Old Morattico Baptist Church, and Janet Smith, widow of former pastor H. Craig Smith (1953-2020) to assist in Craig’s memorial service.

I met Craig back in 1975 and our shoulders lent us strength on the ways for all those years. It is true enough that we owned mutual hard time and heartaches. But, rather more important, we knew decades of fun, joy and love. We had even officiated in each other’s wedding ceremonies.

I awoke one Sunday morning to find myself suddenly single. Craig got me through the grief and necessary funeral functions appertaining thereto. 

Later, when my love Hazel finally asked me to marry her, Craig met us at the church house. I kneeled in prayer for strength, then feeling so supported, presented her a ring. She informed me when we would marry. Obviously, Craig would be the marrying Sam.

That April 23rd was a stormy, wet night. Many attendees had gathered at the Tri-Star lot and carpooled to Irvington. Walls and pews groaned, the balcony sagged with the weight of wet friends, parishioners and family.

True to the life of that friend and minister, Craig dared to interrupt the well-worn ceremony to ask of Hazel, “Are you sure you want to marry John? I’ve known him longer than you.” After a bit of Tomfoolery from both ministers and vows exchanged, we headed down to the hall for cake and well-wishers.

The crowd was ravenous. By the time Hazel and I had received best wishes and congratulations all the cake had been appreciated, not so much as bits of icing survived.

As planned, we left to begin our honeymoon, stopping at an inn near the Admiral Richard E. Byrd International Airport (Richmond), where other out-of-towners were to hold up.

On the morn of our first day married, last night’s rain had dusted to snow and our black Volvo trunk and hood were advertising plaques should any other resident need to know we were “just married.” All in fun. We were so happy they had joined us, we giggled as we threw our few belongings into the trunk and headed off to the North Carolina mountains and Grove Park accommodations. Later still, we wandered through Gatlinburg, then off to western Tennessee for further family gatherings.

Now, I have restrained to give you the bare bones of the historicity of our Shelton/Farmer union, let’s get back to epochs, generations of events around which families build memories.

Since the 1970s I have had the joy to spend hours, days and more in the care of heart medics, civilian, local (Tingle 1 & 2), and government. Hazel has stayed safe enough on the well charts.

But for our romantic 21st we had tossed about options. We have traveled widely, Europe, Alaska, Paris, Greece, British Isles, Hawaii and America’s National Parks; Mrs. Farmer has even trekked the Great Wall of China (without, me, left home to tend family). So, we’ll make 21 count, right? You decide.

My retired banker bride owns two worn-out knees and is a fan of several noted orthopedic chaps. In truth, she owns more pain than one person should be allowed.

Me, well I have entered an epoch about which I had been a teen, sun warned, often afloat in a flat-bottomed skiff, on the Corrotoman River. “Beware the sun, little boy.” Who me? I was a typical American teen and no ill would dare to harm such innocence.

In January through mid-March, I had skin cancer issues. Several areas on face and neck needed attention, and two places on my back needed deeper pruning.

On our 21st celebration Hazel was resigned to bathe my back wounds twice a day with vinegar water, apply ointment, snug both areas with bandages. My part of the anniversary was helping Hazel into a recliner, applying ice packs to her left knee and ankle. Good thing Baptists don’t dance eh?

But you know what? The fact that we made it this far and can attend each other’s infirmities might be just the reward from Pastor Craig encouraging us to be faithful in sickness and health. Truly it is a blessing to have conquered two plus decades of love. We are a fortunate, blessed couple with a delightfully blended family.

Sure, you can ask Hazel for her side of the story. However, she and I both are God-smacked that he put us together and it is still working!