Ed Grisamore

Gris: Easter anniversary a long time coming

When LaWahna and Hugh Smisson were married on an Easter Sunday, it never occurred to them it would be another 62 years until Easter came back on their anniversary.

Of course, you never think about those kinds of things when you’re young and in love, and it’s April 5, 1953. It’s not on your mind when the birds are singing, the dogwoods and azaleas are blooming and you’re headed to St. Simons Island on your honeymoon.

Easter, the most sacred of Christian holidays, hops around like a bunny on the calendar. It is observed on the first Sunday after the ecclesiastical first full moon following the spring equinox on March 20.

Still, it remains somewhat of a mathematical oddity -- there has been a two-generation gap between anniversary Easters for the Smissons, eluding the date they picked to join together in holy matrimony at the Fort Valley United Methodist Church.

Easter has fallen during the month of April for 48 of those 62 years. You figure the law of averages would have caught up. The holiday has surrounded the April 5 date on all sides, landing three times on April 3 and April 6, and twice each on April 4 and April 7. When they married, Easter had been observed 11 years earlier on April 5, 1942. And it will occur again in another 11 years, on April 5, 2026, which would be two weeks after Hugh celebrates his 100th birthday.

“I always think of our anniversary as being on Easter,” said LaWahna. “That’s what I tell everybody. We celebrate it on April 5. But every year, when Easter comes along, we think about it being on that day, too.”

It makes no difference if Easter is on March 29, as it was in 1964. Or if it comes on April 18, like it did in 1954, 1965 and 1976. They felt a certain kinship with those Easters, too.

It has been an interesting conversation piece over the years. Part of their wedding planning was a matter of convenience. It was a holiday weekend. Family and friends were home. They both had time off from their jobs in Atlanta. (Hugh was with the Georgia Health Department, and LaWahna taught school at Druid Hills.)

It was a day when everybody was already dressed up for church. Although Saturday was considered a more traditional wedding day, it was not unusual to get married on a Sunday.

“The florist said she would never do it again on an Easter Sunday,” LaWahna said, laughing.

She was an only child and grew up in Virginia. Her father, William Irving Rigdon, was a native of Fort Valley, and the family had a summer home there. (He was later elected mayor and was noted for his beautification efforts in the city.)

After LaWahna graduated from high school in June 1948, her father told her about a nice young man who had been in the Army Air Corps. His name was Hugh Smisson, and he was working at a filling station in Fort Valley. Her father had gone to school with his father.

One day, Hugh showed up at the peach packing shed where LaWahna had a summer job. He asked her to go with a group of friends to the lake. It was a Monday. They had a date every night that week. On Friday, he gave her his Sigma Nu pin. It was official. They were a couple.

They dated five years before they were married by a Baptist preacher at the Methodist church. Aquila Chamblee, the former president of Bessie Tift College in Forsyth, officiated the wedding. He was assisted by Granville Rainey, the minister at Fort Valley Methodist.

The service ran smoothly until close to the end. Hugh and LaWahna were kneeling at the altar.

“We were almost to the part where he was about to say ‘I now pronounce you man and wife.’ I realized he had left out the vows about ‘love, honor and obey,’ ’’ she said.

She looked up from under her veil and got Brother Rainey’s attention during the prayer. She tugged on the Rev. Chamblee’s trousers to ask him to start over on reciting the vows.

“We backed up on the ceremony,” she said, laughing. “I would give a million dollars to have a tape of it now. All the older folks in Fort Valley loved to tell us we got married twice that day.”

It certainly worked out for the best. The Smissons were blessed with three children -- Dawn, Hugh F. “Trip” and Summer -- 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Hugh graduated from the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta and became a successful neurosurgeon in Macon. His group was the first to bring Magnetic Resonance Imaging technology here. He served as chief of staff at what was the Medical Center of Central Georgia, was president of the Bibb County Medical Society and president of the Georgia Neurological Society. He retired in 1988. His son, Trip, followed in his footsteps and is with the Georgia Neurosurgical Institute in Macon.

The return of this year’s unique “Easter” anniversary comes four days after a joyful occasion and four days before a sad anniversary.

This past Wednesday, they celebrated the arrival of their fifth great-grandchild, Lily Rigdon Pyles. (Rigdon is LaWahna’s maiden name.)

Next Thursday will be the fourth anniversary of the death of their youngest daughter, Summer Neel, who was known for the thousands of pinwheels placed around town in her honor during her courageous battle with cancer.

I asked LaWahna the secret to a long and happy marriage.

Love, honor and obey, she said. It’s those same vows she insisted on repeating that Easter Sunday.

They have been there every step of the 62 years.

Contact Gris at 744-4275.