50 years of marriage is a feat not most can accomplish. According to recent studies by the Census Bureau, only six percent of married couples make it to their golden anniversary. Luckily, my grandparents are a part of the six percent.
My grandparents, Karen and Rene Hebert, celebrated their 50th anniversary on Sept. 19, 2020. On Aug. 21 at the Cathedral in Dallas, Bishop Kelly held a mass for 66 couples who celebrated being married for 50 years or more.
My grandparents’ story began in the summer of 1969 in Martha’s Vineyard, a small island off the coast of Massachusetts. My grandfather had recently graduated from the esteemed Culinary Institute of America and was the head chef and manager at Harborside Inn—still a common favorite among the Edgartown locals today. My grandmother was on summer break from the University of Cincinnati and was looking for an adventure. She and her friends went to the island, and she quickly got a job as a waitress at the Harborside Inn. My grandfather was my grandmother’s boss.
1969 is very significant in American culture. It was the year of Woodstock, one of the most famous music festivals ever held, the moon landing and the release of the Beatles’ last album, Abbey Road. It was also a time of civil unrest, distrust toward President Nixon, racial divide and constant change.
My grandparents share their most vivid anecdotes from 1969.
“One day on the way to work, I heard that the NASA astronauts were about to land on the moon for the first time ever,” my grandmother said. “The closest TV was in a bar across from their workplace. When anyone asked, ‘Where were you when we first landed on the moon?’ I wait for their expression when I say, ‘In a bar!’”
“James Taylor was just becoming popular,” she said. “He lived on the Vineyard during the summer, and we went to a small concert up the island to see him. It was maybe 50 to 100 people. After that, he became a huge star.”
Celebrity sightings were common on the island. My grandmother saw Carly Simon, many of the Kennedys, Jim Belushi and others, all followed by the paparazzi.
While my grandmother was starstruck, my grandfather experienced a looming fear. He now shares the fear and uncertainty he had of being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. His number remained high on the list but was never called.
Moreover, my grandfather passed on the opportunity to attend Woodstock so that his employees could go, and he still wonders what he missed. My grandmother recently went into a store at Legacy West where all she saw were bell bottom jeans, cutoff shorts, miniskirts and crop tops.
She said, “That is exactly what I used to wear in the 70s! Been there, done that!”
When my grandparents first met, my grandmother thought my grandfather was cute, kind and responsible. Since he was her boss, she saw how hard he worked and how seriously he took his job.
My grandmother notes the moment she knew he was special.
“One day he loaned me his MG convertible on the island, and I ran over a cement barrier in the parking lot,” she said. “It ruined his car and I felt so bad. He was so nice to me, and I knew he couldn’t afford to replace it at the time. That pretty much sealed the deal for me.”
My grandfather takes a more practical approach. He had spent five summers on the island and was used to the seasonal workers coming and going.
His first impression was, “I thought she was a pretty sorority girl from the Midwest who probably shouldn’t plan to be a waitress for very long!”
My grandparents came from very different cultures and many states apart. My grandmother’s family lived in Ohio and only met my grandfather a few times before they were married. Their home was a lovely, quiet and typical Midwest abode where my grandmother was one of two daughters.
My grandfather’s family is French, and she was the first non-French girl to meet the family—this is a very large, very loud, French Catholic Massachusetts family. They were intrigued by her Midwestern accent and perspective, sense of independence, Catholic faith and her height—she was a few inches taller than all of them. My grandfather was one of five boys, and my grandmother was immediately the sister and daughter they had never had. Both families found joy in their joining families.
Undoubtedly, a 50-year marriage comes with its fair share of challenges, transitioning and changing with new phases of life. My grandparents both understood the struggle of balancing parenthood and a career.
“We moved a lot during the first 10 years of our marriage,” my grandpa said. “We lived in seven states while I was transferred for my work. That required a lot of flexibility. Once we landed in Texas 42 years ago, we didn’t leave.”
My grandmother added, “One of the hardest times was when he was traveling for work and was gone for weeks at a time. It was hard for me to parent two young children alone for the most part. Thankfully, that only lasted a few years.”
Furthermore, they endured challenges through their dedication to their Catholic faith and the love for their family.
When asked how they maintain their marriage, they give endearing pieces of advice.
“It’s important to prioritize your relationship,” my grandmother said. “Be considerate and patient. Treat them as you would any good friend with politeness and humor. The old adage, ‘Treat your neighbor as yourself’ can apply to a spouse.”
My grandfather added, “Take one day at a time. You have to work at a marriage and strive towards stability. Every day is different. Always try to have gratitude for the love of your partner.”