Marriages made to last

Mass: The Archdiocese of Baltimore honors devoted couples, including the area's longest-married pair - at 73 years.

February 10, 2003|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

At 93, Harriet Kennedy isn't so good with dates and places anymore, but she can recall in detail her wedding to Robert Kennedy, now 96, nearly three-quarters of a century ago.

"It was a beautiful summer day - July 30, 1929," she said in her home on Putty Hill Avenue in Parkville, which the couple has owned for five decades. "It was nice and warm."

Yesterday, the Kennedys were honored at a World Marriage Day Mass as the longest-married couple - at 73 years - in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Since the early 1980s, parishes across the country have recognized couples married 25, 50 and more than 50 years on the second Sunday of February. The Baltimore Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen draws more than 1,000 couples who are invited to renew their vows.

"It's so nice to see so many relatives gather for this," said Bishop W. Francis Malooly, who, by coincidence, grew up a few doors from the Kennedys.

"I didn't realize they were married so long when I was a kid," he said during the blessing at the end of Mass. Later, he added: "They are a true inspiration for marriage."

Surrounded by their four children, and many of their 16 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren, the Kennedys, in wheelchairs, were all smiles as they accepted congratulations from relatives and strangers alike after the Mass.

The eldest grandchild, Alecia Moss, 41, drove about 200 miles yesterday from Greensburg, Pa.

Kneeling beside her grandmother, she took both her hands in her own and said hello.

"Alecia, you came all this way?" Harriet Kennedy said, sounding overjoyed.

When relatives weren't posing for photos with the Kennedys, strangers shook their hands.

"What a pair," Peggy Taibi, 51, said to her husband, Charlie, after briefly chatting with Harriet Kennedy. The Taibis of Bel Air, who were celebrating 25 years of marriage, said they had to meet the longest-married couple.

"You can tell in their eyes and smile that they still feel the love," Peggy Taibi said.

The Kennedys' love story began simply with an introduction by Harriet's cousin while they were working in Florida in the late 1920s.

They married about a year later in New York, when they were working at a hotel in West Point. She was 20; he was 23.

Soon after, they moved to the Baltimore area, where they have been members of St. Ursula Church for 63 years.

Until just a few years ago, the Kennedys were quite active, making frequent trips to their second home on the Eastern Shore, which they sold in 1998.

Both unfailingly watch morning Mass on television, an old Zenith in their living room, but a sedentary lifestyle has been a difficult adaptation, said their children, who all live close enough to help care for their parents at the red-brick home in Parkville.

"This is alien to them," said their son, William Kennedy, 56, of Catonsville.

"They've never been ones to sit in a chair and rock," added daughter Kathleen Littlepage, 63, of Glyndon.

Although they are nearly blind and have trouble hearing, the elder Kennedys still talk to each other as best they can, many times conversing about the past.

On Saturday, the couple sat in his-and-hers recliners and talked about their family tree and Robert Kennedy's successful business, Walsh and Co., which evolved from a seed store to a hardware store over its three decades.

The two have always been loving with one another, said Littlepage.

Harriet Kennedy offered her secret to a lasting marriage: "Believe your marriage vows - love, honor and obey - and never go to bed angry."

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