It’s Black History Month and the week before Valentine’s Day.

Marietta and John had been together for almost 50 years, 50 years come Valentine’s Day. They had five children but had never married. Common-law marriages had been acceptable, and John and Marietta felt that no piece of paper from the government – a government that once upon a time wouldn’t even recognize marriages between black people as legal – could validate their love for each other. As far as Marietta and John were concerned, they were married. Their love for each other confirmed that, and that was that.

“You are my life, my one desire, my heaven!

You are my heart’s first love and happiness!

I love you more than any earthly pleasure, I love you, I love you!

For all of time and of eternity…

Your thoughts are mine and I think of you only

Pledging my heart to bring you happiness;
Whatever God has destined life to show me, I love you, I love you!
For all of time and of eternity…” (*Danish poem by Hans Christian Andersen; translated into German by F. von Holstein; Words and music by Edvard Grieg – Norwegian composer, 1843-1907)

But…unbeknownst to Marietta, John had been thinking other thoughts, thinking about how he wanted that piece of paper to declare his love for Marietta before one of them passed on. So John and his children arranged a date with their minister to marry John and Marietta.
On Valentine’s Day, John struggled down onto one knee in front of Marietta, who was seated in their living room.

“What are you doing, you old fool?” Marietta said as she playfully pretended to push John away.
“Marietta,” said John, “Will you marry me?” Before she could answer, John took her hand and slid an engagement ring on her finger. Marietta covered her mouth with her other hand. She was speechless.

“I’m waitin’,” said John, “You ain’t answered me yet.”
Marietta shook her head up and down. She grabbed John’s head in both hands and kissed him on the mouth.

That’s more like it,” said John, “Now help me up!”

“Love me, I care not what the circling years To me may do. If, but in spite of time and tears, You prove but true…Love me, and let my life take up thine own, As sun the dew, Come, sit, my queen, for in my heart a throne Awaits for you!” (from “Love’s Apotheosis,” Paul Laurence Dunbar, African-American poet, (1872-1906)

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...