Alva James-Johnson: Continuing our journey together

June 5, 2014 

Alva James-Johnson

Last week, my husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary. Still can't believe how swiftly the years went by.

It seems like one day we were a young couple exchanging vows in front of nearly 400 witnesses. The next we were middle-aged parents, our world revolving around two teenage daughters.

There were some significant years in between, of course, but everything else is a blur.

To commemorate the milestone, we considered throwing a big bash and inviting family and friends. But as the anniversary drew closer, we opted for something less taxing. So, during Memorial Day weekend, we made a quick trip to St. Simons Island. It was just the two of us. Our daughters were a little peeved that we left them behind, but I gently assured them that they'd do the same to their children some day.

St. Simons Island was just what we needed -- a nice laid-back environment with lots of sunshine and stunning scenery. It reminded us of South Florida, where we lived before moving to Columbus, with palm trees and water both ubiquitous.

We were there for only one full day, so we had to decide whether to spend it on the beach or to do a little sightseeing.

We wanted to learn more about the place, so we opted for a historic tour with Lighthouse Trolleys. Our tour guide, Dick, and the driver, Dennis, welcomed us aboard, along with two other couples. And off we went to explore.

At first, I didn't think there would be much to see on the little island, beyond the usual sun and surf. But St. Simons has a lot of really interesting history, which Dick told with compelling detail.

First of all, it's the size of Manhattan, but with a lot fewer people, Dick told us. We found that interesting since we're originally from New York.

Then there were all the fascinating stories about the island's role in the American Revolution and the Civil War, as well as the plantation era.

But what touched us most, considering the occasion, was the love story that Dick recounted as we stood in front of Christ Church, which has had worship services continually since 1736.

The original church building, built in 1820, was partially destroyed by Union troops during the Civil War but was rebuilt in 1884 by the Rev. Anson Phelps Dodge Jr., in memory of his wife, Ellen.

Dick said Anson and Ellen fell in love and later discovered they were cousins. His family disapproved of the relationship, so the couple married overseas and spent their honeymoon traveling around the world. While in India, Ellen got cholera after eating contaminated food. Before dying, she begged Anson not to leave her, and he promised to stay by her side.

After she died, Anson had her body embalmed and sent back to St. Simons Island, where he served as deacon and later became rector. Her remains were placed in a crypt under the altar of the church.

They were later removed and buried in the church's cemetery. And upon his death, Anson's second wife had him buried beside Ellen, fulfilling his promise that he would never leave her.

When Dick finished telling the story, we all stood quietly in front of the white Gothic church surrounded by towering oaks. Dick finally broke the silence with, "I thought you'd all be in tears by now."

My husband and I didn't shed tears, but Anson's and Ellen's love story reminded us of what real commitment is all about. Even after 20 years of marriage, we're still growing and learning the true meaning of love.

I look forward to continuing the journey -- together.

Alva James-Johnson, ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.com

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