God and laughter make for wedded bliss

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 2, 2003

Nearly 1.2 million American marriages were dissolved by the courts in 1994- triple the 1960 figure. Experts predict that nearly half of all new marriages will end in divorce. In spite of those statistics, there are a few couples around who vowed their lifelong love for each other and it seems they meant what they said.

Take the Holland Road couple, John and Merle Groves, for instance. They recently passed through one of life’s landmarks; their 50th wedding anniversary.

In fact, the couple was honored Jan . 24th with a celebration in Calvary Baptist Church on Turlington Road. Members of the family and just about every friend they’ve ever made came to share in their special day with all its memories. Their four children, Gene Groves Sr. and Darlene Groves Woods, both of Suffolk, and Kenny Groves of Windsor, and Jay Groves of Virginia Beach, hosted the event. They showered their parents with love and praise for all they’ve done to maintain their marriage and their family.

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While that particular evening was golden, it seems that there have been some moments in the relationship when things were not quite so bright.

Merle Grove vividly recalls one of the most harrowing aspects of their marriage was the incident in which their son, then 2-year-old Kenny, was scalded by hot water.

The Grove family, including their daughter Darlene Woods, can laugh about that incident now, but at the time it happened it was one of those events that only a mother can appreciate.

&uot;I was all to pieces back then,&uot; said Merle. &uot;We rushed Kenny to Obici Hospital. They didn’t have King’s Daughters back then. My son, Jay, had been doing an experiment for school and we were boiling water on the kitchen stove. We went out of the room for just a second and we heard Kenny scream. It was a terrible, terrible time. They didn’t have the treatment capability back then that’s available now and it was a long time before he was over it. That was probably the worst thing that happened to us, but God helped us and Kenny, too.&uot;

Merle was born 66 years ago in Aulander, N.C. to James Abner Cofield and his wife Mary Sue. She came to Suffolk at age 6 and calls this city home. She was never interested in a career, choosing instead to focus on her family. She did hold a couple of jobs, however.

&uot;I sold a little bit of Avon, and I worked at Lipton Tea for about five years,&uot; said Groves. &uot;I was at Lipton around 1968 through ’73. But, I really did enjoy being at home better than anything.&uot;

John Groves was born and raised in West Virginia, Mt. Nebo to be precise. He said he arrived in Suffolk via the old Trailways bus line.

&uot;I came down here to get a job because you couldn’t buy a job up there at that time,&uot; said Groves. &uot;I came to stay with my sister, Zada Cole, who was already living in Suffolk. I did find work at the Ford Motor Plant in Norfolk, and I stayed there 31-years and retired from the plant.&uot;

Groves said he still travels back home to the mountains of West Virginia to visit relatives. He spoke fondly of trips with his wife and children to Summersville to purchase groceries. Their daughter, Darlene, still recalls those memorable events as good fun, a family time of sharing and enjoying the day.

&uot;Summersville was the big town you traveled to when you had to go to the grocery,&uot; said Darlene with a chuckle. &uot;Our family maintains a home in Mt. Nebo, about three miles from Summersville, and we go there each summer.&uot;

&uot;Father&uot; Groves, now 70, said his &uot;home place&uot; has been handed down for more than four generations. The land was first settled by his ancestors who came to America on those early pilgrimages from Europe.

&uot;It’s a log cabin back there where my grandfather was born to my great grandparents who sailed to America,&uot; said John. &uot;It’s a beautiful place, just so peaceful. So quiet and peaceful….&uot;

Groves served in the U.S. Army, stationed in Germany, during the Korean conflict. He noted that coming back home to his beloved family was the most memorable event in his entire life. His eyes softened and bespoke the tenderness of the memory as they brimmed with moisture as he described his homecoming.

&uot;I came home on a bus and they didn’t know I was coming,&uot; said Groves. &uot;I arrived back in Suffolk around 10 at night and I will never forget the feeling of my wife rushing into my arms. She wasn’t expecting me at all and I will never forget it…&uot;

Their marriage has blessed so many people and all those people are captured within the pages of a &uot;memory book&uot; created especially for them by members of the family. They lovingly turn the pages as someone spoke, &uot;A lot of water has gone under the bridge, hasn’t it?&uot;

&uot;That crick (creek) went dry a couple times!&uot; John Grove responded with a wide grin.

While that creek may have dried up on occasion, it surely didn’t take much away from the marriage of John and Merle Groves. The couple has three children with daughter Darlene the obvious live wire in the family. She insists that she is her mom and dad’s most memorable event in their entire 50 years of marriage.

&uot;And, I was a Christmas present,&uot; she boasted with a wide, mischievous grin. &uot;But, having my birthday at Christmas is the pits. I don’t get as many presents!&uot;

Humor seems to be the glue that bonds this family. Laughter springs easily forth from each of them, and smiles are easily shared. Chuckles emanate through the comfortable home and there is obviously room for God in their lives. They speak easily of God’s grace and mercy and His loving care for their family. The couple openly admits that faith has seen them through the tough times and love has carried them along in the good times.

Their advice to the married; take time with each other, with the family and with God. Be thankful for your blessings and don’t forget to share that gratitude with God.