Editor’s note: John Holland is a proud Army Brat. His father served in the U.S. Army for 27 years, retiring in 1967. He died in 1997 from complications from Parkinson’s. John is the proud son of parents who taught him the true meaning of love. Below is a speech he delivered during as a Toastmaster a few years ago.
She was the eighth child of a family of nine children. He was the only son of a family of five children. Both came from different backgrounds but each had something in common: a dedication to love one another for more than 50 years.
Through sickness and in health, happiness and sadness, long periods of being separated and countless moves around the world, their love for one another never faltered. Their love was so great for one another that they had 5 children together spanning 19 years.
Despite the moving, separation, the hard times where all they ate at month’s end were chicken pot pies, hot dogs, sauerkraut and fish sticks (we are not even going to talk about Spam) there was never a harsh word between them. Of course, that didn’t include their children.
The life of an Army wife is never easy. Margaret had to be wife, mother, maid, hostess at parties, and the director of moving. Not to mention all the other little things that a mother and wife have do from day to day.
James was a professional soldier. His Army career spanned 27 years and extended over 3 wars: WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. He was stationed in six foreign countries and 9 states.
For a military family, moving usually meant packing up the family and seeing to the logistics of where and when to be at the new location. Visiting uncles, aunts, cousins, mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers was usually taken into account wherever the family went.
But through it all, you never heard a harsh word spoken between them. Of course, that didn’t include their children.
In 1967 the Vietnam War was becoming a major part of the news in the United States. Margaret had seen her husband off to war plenty of times before. Each time he had returned. But James was getting older and their love for one another was getting stronger, so James decided to take a teaching job in South Carolina. His old pal from Yale had called one night and offered him an assistant professorship in international studies and James jumped at the chance.
This time the move would be their last, and the house they bought together was the first house they had ever owned. How James sweated over the $36,000 price tag. But through all the moving and all the hardships, the fruits of their labors where coming home. So the family of the three remaining children still living at home and husband and wife moved to Columbia, South Carolina. The last place on earth their second son thought they’d ever live.
But through it all, he never heard a harsh word spoken between them. Of course, that didn’t include the children.
Life at the University was a lot like being in the Army. Margaret had to host facility parties, attend different functions with James and, as always, keep up the house and be a mother.
But life was good. Margaret’s husband was safe and secure in the academic world of USC. She no longer had to worry about James going off to war and possibly never returning. What she and James didn’t know is that his period of good health was to be short lived.
James began to experience these strange sensations in his muscles. Ever so slowly, his motor coordination began to fail. Margaret and James simply shrugged it off as a sign of old age and went about their daily life. They had each other, and that was all that mattered.
And through it all, he never heard a harsh word spoken between them. Of course, that didn’t include the children.
As time went on, James couldn’t ignore his declining health any longer. In 1983, he finally decided to see a doctor. The doctor was sympathetic but told him that he had the beginning stages of Parkinson’s.
Parkinson's disease is a progressive neurological disorder. In Parkinson's disease, cells in the brain that produce the neurochemical dopamine degenerate, causing tremors, muscle stiffness or rigidity, slowness of movement and loss of balance. It usually only affects the voluntary muscles and although medication masks some symptoms for a limited period, eventually the medications lose their effectiveness, leaving the victim unable to move, speak or swallow.
Parkinson's is the biological opposite of Alzheimer's disease: While Alzheimer's destroys one part of the brain, leaving the body intact and functioning, Parkinson's destroys the body's ability to function, taking away the physical abilities necessary for daily life while leaving the mind a prisoner inside its own body.
James was determined that he wasn’t going to let this enemy defeat him. Standing beside him for the fight of his life was his wife.
James was a fighter. A professional soldier, he fought in WWII against the Nazi’s in Italy and had seen action in Korea at the DMZ. In Germany in 1961 when he was a Battle Group Commander, a company of his battle group faced the communist in Berlin. He was the embodiment of “Never give up and never surrender.”
The battle with this insidious disease lasted for 14 years. And even though the outcome would not be victorious in the normal sense of the word, Margaret and Jim never admitted that defeat was an option.
It wasn’t until the enemy out flanked Jim’s vital organs that he was able to retire from the field of battle and go home to the Lord. Margaret, his loving wife, was always at his side. She never once thought of herself. And in the end, her only regret was that she had to wait another 3 years before she could join him.
Their children are now spread out throughout the United States. Their first and only home has been sold and their property divided. But the memory of their love for one another lives in the hearts of each and every person they touched.
And through it all, my parent’s love for one another shines more in my heart today than at any time before.
Now, as a parent, I can see that those words that I thought once were harsh had really been words of Love and Encouragement.