by James W. Petty, AG, CGRS, BS (Genealogy), BA (History).
Mary and I celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary on March 31st, 2002. We made it a big affair, for us at least. A family session at the Provo Temple, a day of activities and play, plus a good movie on Saturday; topped off with a wonderful Easter Dinner with brothers, sisters, cousins, and parents, on Sunday, the day of our anniversary. It was a happy celebration, and will linger in our minds and memories as an experience to be remembered for a long time to come. But it was much more than that. Much, much, more.
Saturday morning as we drove over Parley’s Summit, towards Park City, one of the stops on our honeymoon, thirty years earlier, and then on to Heber City, for some fun, Mary pulled out one of our photo albums, with pictures of our wedding and the events leading up to and following it. She began to tell our sons, the three still living at home (all over 16 now), “Our Story”. Our story is a story of little miracles, as we consider them. Little miracles are coincidences, chance meetings, fortunate conversations, and numerous serendipitous happenings that result in love, marriage, and families. Every family experiences these little miracles. Every couple can relate the chance meeting, “their song”, or that one giant embarrassment on the wedding day that seems to highlight the memory of that special occasion; about which everyone laughs with delight whenever it is mentioned.
As Mary related our little miracles to the boys, they laughed and joked about our clothes and hair styles (I had hair, then), and marveled that we were once their age. Memories flooded back, and I added my two cents’ worth to Mary’s account.
She came from a family that had been struggling; her parents had divorced, and she had to work her way through college doing house cleaning. One of the people she worked for was a lovely English woman named Eunice Bishop, who was the office manager for a local Provo ophthalmologist named Robert W. Petty. Eunice adored her boss and often talked about his son, “Jimmy Petty,” who was serving a Church mission in Florida.
Early in her sophomore year at the Y, Mary experienced some personal and family difficulties that seriously disrupted school for her. She met with the Dean of Women at BYU, who willingly counseled with her about those difficulties. Over the next weeks, Dean Lucille O. Petty became her closest friend on campus, helped her work out a new schedule, and took her case to the administration to find a way to save Mary’s scholarship, and help her get back on track. One of the solutions was to transfer Mary from her disrupted classes, to some of the special “block classes” which were set up to help returned missionaries get into school midway through the regular semester.
Mary attended some of those classes with her twin sister Barbara, and in one such class, Old Testament, taught by W. Cleon Skousen, Barbara got into a three-way debate with Brother Skousen, and a returned missionary across the room. As Mary and Barbara left the classroom, the “RM” from the discussion and his friend caught them at “the Corner” in the hallway of the old Joseph Smith Memorial Building and offered to answer their questions from class. Galen Updike had just returned from a mission to the Philippines, and his friend, Jim Petty, had just returned from Florida. While Galen and Barbara debated the finer points of religious law, Jim and Mary quietly introduced themselves and started a conversation that was to last for 32 years (and counting).
The conversation let to a date, and then another. Mary soon found that I was the “Jimmy” Petty she’d heard about from Mrs. Bishop, and the grandson of Dean Lucille Petty. Numerous little miracles continued to take place. The Petty family welcomed Mary into their home, and provided a safe haven for her. Mary often spelled her name “Mare'” (with an accent over the “e”). When she wrote in her diary, she secretly addressed her comments to “P.C.”, after a childhood infatuation with Prince Charles who was two years older. By coincidence, I signed all of my notes and letters to “Mare'” with “P.C.” (for “Prince Charming”). I illustrated them with a crowned frog for P.C., and a filly with a bow in her hair. In the fall of 1970, we wrote our names “Sire and Mare” in the cement on the porch of Harris Hall at BYU. Last Saturday we returned to that site for pictures, and added a notation on the cement that we were still together after 32 years – a true BYU love story.
The Provo Temple was just being built during our two-year courtship, and it became the focus of our attention. We often visited it under construction and talked about possibilities. When we married on March 31st, 1972, we were the first couple to complete the full service (endowment and sealing) in the Provo Temple.
As Mary related our stories, one of our sons pointed to a picture in the album, and shouted out: “You went to cemeteries on your honeymoon?!” This brought all kinds of response from our other sons. “We were always going to cemeteries!” they said. Visiting cemeteries was an activity related to my interest in genealogy that Mary and I always enjoyed. Not just finding our ancestors, but learning about the history of a community through the records found on tombstones.
By the end of the day our kids had heard the whole story. We had laughed, and we had cried… really. As I looked back on this experience I realized that these weren’t simply stories heard for the first time on that day. We had told these events to our children – year after year. This was family history they would remember forever. And as I thought about this, I remembered from the Book of Mormon, that the Prophet Lehi would relate his family history with his children:
“And now it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had made an end of teaching my brethren, our father, Lehi, also spake many things unto them, and rehearsed unto them, how great things the Lord had done for them in bringing them out of the land of Jerusalem.” (2 Nephi 1:1)
This concept of “rehearsing” history, and teachings, and the scriptures, relates to how we teach our children and families. We have an opportunity to share our experiences, our trials and successes, and our testimonies, in reminding them of who they are – both physically and spiritually. By teaching our children of their past we build a foundation they can build on with their families.
Family stories passed from one generation to another help to connect the struggling, living individuals with the spiritual giants of our past. And not just our distant past. As I reflected on the stories that Mary and I related to our children and to each other that day, I was reminded of how much I loved that beautiful brown-haired coed thirty years ago, and how much more I love her now. I also thought of many couples I know who had forgotten about their little miracles and hadn’t rehearsed their stories for so long, that they no longer remembered what brought them together in the first place.
Tell your family stories. Relive the little miracles of your past. Gather your children together for Family Home Evening on Monday evening and share “Your Story” with them.
Better yet, don’t wait for Monday; do it tonight.
2002 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.