The Holly family from Southern Maryland has so many long-
lasting marriages that, to keep track of the milestones, one relative keeps a cheat sheet just in case people start asking questions about who is married to whom and for how long.
At the top of the sheet are Elizabeth, a retired nurse’s aide, and Joseph “Jack” Holly, a retired ice truck deliveryman, who in the fall will hit their 74th wedding anniversary. The 94-year-olds had nine children, including William Holly Sr., a former Patuxent River Naval Air Station employee, who just celebrated his 50th anniversary, and Anna Moseley, a retired St. Mary’s County teacher, who recently made it to her 27th. Then there’s William Holly Sr.’s offspring: William Holly Jr., who will reach his 26th on Thursday, and Janet Wright, who in December makes it to her 25th.
The Hollys were one of several hundred families who filled the pews Sunday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for its annual Jubilarian Mass. About 440 couples who had registered to have their anniversary recognized by the archdiocese have been married for 50 or more years. Eleven couples, including Elizabeth and Jack Holly, made it past the threshold of 70 and beyond, according to the church.
At Sunday’s Mass, the Hollys sat in the front row where many people approached them as if they were celebrities.
“Congratulations. That. . . is. . . amazing,” one young couple told them when they heard that the Hollys had been married for nearly 74 years.
After Washington’s archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, delivered his homily, the couples stood and recited wedding vows, renewing their commitments.
Elizabeth, dressed in a powder-blue suit, and Jack, in a dark suit, said little and instead looked ahead at the altar.
Soon they would be back in St. Mary’s County, where each Sunday everyone gathers at William Sr.’s home to watch television — sports or movies, but usually sports. William Sr. and his wife, Alice, usually do the cooking, and everyone hopes they make their special meatloaf. Jack and Elizabeth are always there, and almost everyone calls them “Pop” and “Granny.” Sometimes, Jack calls his wife “Mama” because he usually does what she says.
Despite the Holly family cheat sheet, so many key details in the epic story of Elizabeth and Jack’s 73-and-some-change marriage have been forgotten or were never asked about.
Like, how’d they meet?
“Daggone, I don’t remember. It was different times,” Jack said.
Maybe at church?
“We liked to go to dances and movies,” he added. “Me and her just got along real well.”
Elizabeth doesn’t recall, either. The descendants don’t appear to have ever asked.
“I don’t know, but my husband may know,” said Glenda Holly, 47, a BAE Systems production operator whose husband is one of the grandsons. “Let me ask him real quick.”
“No, I don’t. Nobody ever asked them,” her husband, William Jr., said.
“I think they met at church,” said son William Sr. “It never crossed my mind. I never thought it was important to ask.”
What about the wedding day? Nov. 19, 1939, at Our Lady’s Church? The Holly patriarchs, at the very least, recalled the sequence of events.
“We went to the church. We got married. We had dinner. That was it,” Jack said.
“I remember everything.” Elizabeth said. “It was snowing to our waists. We had a very good dinner, and then we just sat around. There wasn’t nothing to do then.”
What about the dress?
Well, Elizabeth said, maybe she didn’t remember everything after all.
The hardest parts of their marriage were raising so many children. (One of their children died at birth, and two others died several years ago, she said.)
But overall, her nearly-74-year marriage has been a fairly smooth ride.
“It’s never gotten difficult with me. We kept busy. You get home. You make supper. You go to bed,” she said. “We weren’t rich people. All you got to do is act right. Be right. It ain’t hard.”
One other thing, she said, has also helped them go the distance.
“The Good Lord,” she said, “hasn’t called.”