Saturday, August 29, 2015

133 Years of Marriage: One Family's Story

Today is the 133rd anniversary of the marriage of my great grandparents, Johan August Jonasson and Maria Bengtsdottir in Chicago, IL.   Theirs began a love story filled with hope that extends even to today.

Johan and Maria were both born in Sweden and emigrated to America, like so many Swedes of their day, hoping to find a better life.  The situation was tough in those days in Sweden, and many, many Swedes came to America -- more than a million from 1821 to 1930 -- a huge number from such a small country.

Francis Marie Dahlstrom Johnson, the daughter-in-
law of Johan and Maria, and my grandmother
My father remembers that his grandfather, Johan, had been married once before, but lost both his wife and their child in childbirth.  Sometime later, he met Maria, and they married and moved to the Door County peninsula of Wisconsin.  Among their children was my grandfather, Joseph Nathaniel Johnson, who married another Swedish girl, Francis Marie Dahlstrom.  Joseph, Francis and my father and his siblings were born in Wisconsin.  

Johan (who became known as John Johnson as it rolls more easily off American tongues) and his son Joseph were farmers who earned a hard living from the land, and from manual labor around the mid-west.  Joseph moved his family to Florida during the depression, partly because he was unable to make enough money to continue the payments on the farm, and partly for his health.  My father, Glen, was raised in Orlando and went to college in Ohio.

In Ohio, my father met Mary Ilene Davidson, and they married in 1949.  I arrived in 1950.  As an aside, my father and mother have visited Sweden several times, and my wife Linda and I also went to Sweden....for what became an almost three-year stay.  In that time, I visited the areas where my great grandparents lived and even Johan's small country church, the 800+ year old Church Kungslena.  The great apostle Paul speaks of the "great cloud of witnesses" who look upon us now from glory.....and I like to think our return to Sweden gives them pleasure.

Today, our daughter Katie has been married to Steve for almost six years.  They have a three year-old daughter.  And just two days ago, the most recent descendant of Johan and Maria arrived, the son of my brother's son and his wife.

This is the hope-filled part: in the 133 years since Johan and Maria exchanged vows, all but two of the marriages of their descendants continues today, or a parting has come with death.  

Was it luck that nearly all of these marriages survived?  Was it something transmitted down the family line of how Johan and Maria lived their lives together?  Was it their faith in God, a faith that has also been largely adopted by their descendants?  Was it a combination of these and other factors?

I suspect the answer to that is unknowable.  But with these eyes I have seen how the love and faithfulness of long-married couples impacts the generations that follow.....and even others around them.  And I have seen how shared faith in the Maker of marriage invisibly cements the bonds of life together.

And so I believe that the example of the marriage of Johan and Maria lives today in my marriage and the marriages of my kin because of what was passed down to us.  And I pray and believe that hope will live on in my children and their children.

This I also believe: all of us who marry can transmit a powerful legacy of family faithfulness.  If our forebears had good marriages, we can transmit that through our own marriages.  Even if they didn't, or even if our first or even second marriages ended in pain and divorce,  we can still begin a legacy -- or support a legacy in others still running the race -- a legacy that will last a century or more.  

Like Johan and Maria....married on this day 133 years ago.

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