"Junior" Taylor and his wife of 50 years, Shelby, recently received a book of sentimental letters from friends and family members.

He calls her Mamma. She calls him Paw.

They met on the plant floor at the Du Pont nylon factory five decades ago, and dated for a couple of years before tying the knot. In the winter of 1965, they married at a preacher's house inRinggold, Ga. She wore a simple white dress, and two of her sisters were bridesmaids.

"Junior" Taylor and his wife, Shelby, both 73 and retired, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in January, an achievement only about 5 percent of the married couples in the United States can claim, according to census data.

The couple's three daughters wanted to take them on an ocean cruise to mark their golden anniversary, but Shelby didn't want to be away from their home in Middle Valley around the holidays.

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Mark Kennedy

So the sisters -- Mitzi, Tiffany and Tonia -- instead rented a cabin in the Smoky Mountains in January and began planning a more intimate and sentimental gathering there. There would be 14 in the the travel party, from the youngest grandchild to the honorees themselves. Now that people are living longer, 50th anniversaries have become relatively commonplace. But to anyone who has experienced the joys and challenges of married life, 50 years together ranks as a singular achievement -- a testament to lives well lived.

The Taylors had their photograph on the cover of the North Hamilton County Community News Weekly on Feb. 25, and the caption contained this sentence: "A memory book of letters fromfamily and friends was presented to the 'golden couple' on their special day."

It turns out the book contains about 40 missives from friends and family members which, taken together, represent a remarkable collection of memories and testimonials.

Every marriage is a mosaic of tiny memories: the trampoline that Daddy bought, the way Mamma would call out to the girls down a blind driveway, a moment of fatherly patience remembered forever.

The Taylors say there's no one secret to their long marriage.

"Just sticking it out, sir," Junior says. "Lovin' each other."

Shelby lovingly turns the pages of her memory book. The letters from her three daughters are among the most personal; and they provide a window into the Taylors' successful half century of marriage.

Tiffany, the middle daughter, writes:

"Daddy, you worked two jobs my whole life so I could enjoy vacations, be a part of Girl Scouts, get a trampoline, attend cheerleading camps, get a class ring, go to college.

"I was often teased that all I had to say was say 'Daaa-Deee' and I could get anything I wanted. Well, I guess that is true. I did get what most kids can only dream of: the best daddy in the world."

Tonia, the youngest child, wrote that she had to become an adult to understand how her parents reordered their lives for their children.

"I really understood the sacrifice when I began teaching and some of my sixth-graders could not play sports because they did not have anyone to pick them up after school. Now, as a parent I understand even more."

Mitzi, the oldest daughter, remembers a day when her father showed the forbearance that's the proof of unconditional love.

"My hardest memory was when I totaled Mamma's car. While I was waiting for Daddy ... all I could think of is that I could have easily killed my sisters. Expecting major punishment and humiliation when Daddy got there, all he did was come up and ask me if I was all right. Then he dealt with the mess I'd caused.

"I've wished so many times he would have grounded me or hollered at me. But he did the hardest thing, he loved me."

And therein, it turns out, is the foundation of every successful family.

"Just sticking it out, sir. Lovin' each other."

Contact Mark Kennedy at or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter@TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at