Reflections on Fifty Years of Marriage

By Barbara O’Neal

My how time flies when marital life continues to go so swimmingly well for fifty years!  Elliott and I have been, and continue to be, truly blessed to have each other.

Perhaps you have heard of something being like a “walk in the park.” We consider our marriage to be like to a “waltz in the park.”  Marriage is something one must learn, to do it well, and is lovely to experience with no desire for it to end soon.  There is a comfortable rhythm to our routine and traditions of life together, always pleasing and interesting changes in the flowing turns.  And, while sometimes one of us may experience an occasional dip, the other is always supportive with high lifts following.  We are always moving together in the same direction with harmony, as guided by the music of our lives that keep us swaying to the rhythm:

always caring and sharing, yet giving the other their space;

always negotiating an issue, yet seeking to better the other’s side;

always aware of what is in common, yet respecting the other to differ;

always appreciating our differences, yet seeking to understand more;

always comfortable with the familiar, but being forever intrigued;

always starting a sentence, and aware the other can finish it;

assuredly then, two souls can become, an extraordinary one.  

It all began with a UNC-Greensboro Summer Internship at Boney Architects in interior design, which gave our new beginnings a kick start.  Elliott had been working part-time in the firm since March 1966 as a college student while majoring in Business Administration at Wilmington College, graduating in the spring of 1967.  After that, he went on to pursue a Master’s Degree in Counseling, all the while continuing his part-time work Boney Architects.

When I arrived on the scene in June of 1969, a nice young man walked into the reception area, greeting me with a “Hi, Barbara” as he traversed. That was my first impression of Elliott O’Neal, who would unknowingly become my own “very nice young married man” the following summer.

Our first date was an impromptu Friday evening gathering of some colleagues from the firm motor boating over to Masonboro Island for an evening of socializing.  I particularly remember at one point Elliott and I took a lovely walk along the beach as he discussed stock investments with me.  I remember thinking that it was refreshing to have had a rather intellectual conversation on our first date as we got to know each other a little better outside of the office.  It was August 9th, and I was intrigued, but my summer internship was coming to its end, as it was quickly nearing time for me to return for my senior year at UNC-Greensboro.  However, we continued to date as both of us eased back into our individual studies.  On one occasion while we were dating, Charlie Boney asked Elliott if Elliott had ever thought to ask me for a date sometime.  Elliott beamed that “Yes, he had,” and, that we were dating regularly. We were engaged by October, with plans to marry the following August.  As both of us have lived in Wilmington since our early childhoods, we were married in grand southern style at my Trinity United Methodist Church here in Wilmington on August 22, 1970. On several occasions in retrospect, both of us have agreed that it was the very best decision of our lives.

Elliott continued with the firm full-time upon graduation.  We could have never imagined that such decision would evolve to be a commitment of 54 years so far and counting! A position became available at Boney Architects in the fall of 1971, and I joined the firm as the staff interior designer. I remain deeply grateful for that internship opportunity and the job opportunity that began my career.

During those years, we became parents to two young healthy and active boys, James Elliott O’Neal in 1973 and William Christopher O’Neal in 1975.  I worked in my office at Boney Architects up through the day before Jimmy’s birth, and I was fortunate to be able to work remotely at home thereafter on a temporary basis. When the boys were a little older, I returned to the office.  Elliott and I generally rode to and from work together daily.  We ate lunch together and sometimes with several other staffers during those weekdays. Elliott was in the main building at 120 South Fifth Avenue, and I was in the adjacent “Annex”, as we did our respective jobs. We were the youngest staffers in the firm then.

And, as it were, our O’Neal Family of four have, in their own independent roles, been a part of Boney Architects. Jim and Chris worked for the firm part time during their high school years and the summers in between, and both of them worked for the firm part time when coming home from college for the summers, just as their dad had previously done part time at the firm as a college student. Jim and Chris both were pleased and grateful for the opportunity to work for the firm as runners and additionally doing whatever miscellaneous tasks as were needed.

If COVID-19 should have a silver lining, it is being sequestered together…just the two of us taking the time to remember what the last 50 years has meant to us and being thankful for it. We do not know what our future holds.  However, in reflecting on the past fifty years, Elliott and I think about our loved ones and friends, the joys, the hopes and the dreams we have shared.  And, we reflect on the numerous loved ones that we have lost over these years who have brought us so much love and so many joyous moments together. Some passed suddenly and unexpectedly, and some lived their lives fully.  We feel blessed to have had all of them in our lives; and we treasure their memories.  It informs us to make each day memorable with those whom we share our lives and with whom we give of ourselves to others.  As an admired friend once shared a few years ago: “Each breath is a gift.”  How true it is, especially now with all of us being so vulnerable here on this earth.

May we all be thankful for each day and each breath that comes to us.  May we yet make something of it!  May we all have someone special to share it with, and others that we may make their day!  As my grandmother once said, “Life is so short that it is just a dream.” Elliott and I understand that now.  Fifty years have gone by so unbelievably fast, indeed it seems just a dream.  May all have fifty years that are a such a nice dream.  May we make the most of it in the life that we have yet to be lived!