On memories, a milestone & not running for the hills
Next Thursday, Robyn and I will celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary, and I am excited beyond measure that, in that time, she has not run screaming for the hills.
Clearly, she must love me.
Sometimes, when we talk, she asks me why I love her. I often reply with what I think are good reasons—you improve my life daily; being around you, even when we argue, brings me happiness; you encourage my pursuits—but I never seem to nail it completely.
This space isn’t large enough to properly answer the question, either, but I would like to expand on one of those reasons: she encourages my pursuits.
Robyn has been my greatest champion with everything I have done over the past five years—in part, I think, because we share so many similar interests.
When we moved into my grandparents’ house, Robyn was new to Hammonton and my oft-confusing string of relatives, especially those with whom I share a name. After the umpteenth time explaining which Joe Berenato was which, she started to write it down in a family tree, thus beginning our ongoing genealogical research—which involved tracking down records and photos, and combing through cemeteries to find my ancestors.
A year after we started, we had enough to give a presentation—with the tongue-in-cheek title “Which Berenato Are You?”—before the Historical Society of Hammonton.
I had always been interested in family history, but never so much as when she became involved. Robyn loved every minute of it, too—especially exploring cemeteries. She has a way of making ancestors come alive, which led to her work at Oak Grove Cemetery.
A while back, I was working at Holy Cross Cemetery in Mays Landing, and it was during that time that I began to write again for this newspaper. When the opportunity for full-time work as a writer opened up, Robyn encouraged me to pursue it, leading me to return to these pages on a weekly basis. I also started working part-time at Oak Grove, which allowed us to work together on a shared passion.
While exploring the lives of the residents at the cemetery, Robyn developed a deep interest in the history of this town and the people of its past. She has, more often than not, been known to become deeply immersed in old issues of the South Jersey Republican, learning as much as she can about the early days of Hammonton—particularly those who are now in our care. Through her excitement for the topic, I have also found a greater appreciation for the early residents of the town, and am often ensconced in research of my own—whether it’s through old newspapers or by rifling through my copies of books on local history.
There are few things in life that you can give someone that are more personal than your name. Not only has Robyn accepted the gift of my family name, she has also embraced my hometown and my culture in a way that no one has before—so much so that she has given me a new appreciation for all of our residents, past and present, and how it all shapes our town today.
Indeed, I have become so invested in preserving and celebrating the town’s history that I recently joined the Historical Society of Hammonton—an endeavor that I owe completely to Robyn.
Now, thanks to her encouragement, I split my time between the paper and the cemetery, writing stories about current events and learning stories from decades past, and I could not be happier.
We work well together in all pursuits, be they career-related, intellectual or familial. When we got married, she brought three children into the marriage, just like I did. We have two grandchildren and a homestead—Mohawk Corner (the name was her idea, incidentally)—where they are all always welcome.
We have a large family with a large combined past that grows larger each day, thanks to her ongoing genealogical research and her penchant for collecting people (she has more aunties than anyone I have ever known).
Being married to Robyn has allowed me to learn about myself, connect with family and with family histories I never knew, and gave me the chance to become part of her family as well—which, coincidentally, also has connections to Hammonton.
Perhaps most importantly, it has enabled us both to create a wonderful present together that marches ever forward to an amazing future.
These reasons—and so many more—are why I love you, Robyn.
Happy anniversary—and thanks for not running for the hills.
Joseph F. Berenato began as a mild-mannered reporter for The Hammonton Gazette in 1997, and returned to that position in 2019 after an 18-year sabbatical, during which he farmed, taught, became a grandfather, dug graves and wrote, but never so prolifically as he has since his return. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on social media at @JFBerenato and at www.jfberenato.com.