Recently, we asked for love stories to fit around Valentine’s Day. Using Huckleberries online, a Spokesman-Review blog, we received an outpouring of stories. Stories that were funny, poignant and wonderful testimonials to what a little work in a relationship can create.
One, however, was at first unusual, then astounding. Jim and Jana Tritto don’t just show love and affection for each other; they have a family of 20, with eight still at home.
Jana originally married Mike in 1975; both had two children from previous relationships. Jana, wanted more children, but she and Mike were unable to have any more. They tried adoption, but it was too expensive.
Finally, discussions with local officials provided an unusual result. They were told, “Hey, if you want fast service, we can have a child for you tomorrow. The only problem is that they are special needs kids.” Mike and Jana talked it over, and started adopting. When the dust settled, in addition to the four they already had, 16 more were eventually adopted. Some left to be out on their own, a few died from birth problems that couldn’t be overcome and eight are left.
Then tragedy struck. Mike suddenly died, leaving Jana, after 20 years of marriage, alone with the eight kids, all needing constant attention. Five years went by and Jana met Jim. We’ll let Jana pick up the story from here.
“Jim, looking like Sam Elliot in cowboy boots and hat, walked over as I chatted with friends. He introduced himself and in a smooth, confident baritone said, ‘We need to be dating.’ How storybook, how romantic! Since I was totally unfamiliar with dating etiquette, all I could do was laugh in his face and sputter an embarrassed. ‘I don’t think so!’ in my most sarcastic voice.
“I had been alone for five years, prior to that, happily married for 20 years to my best friend since old hippie days. We were growing up and planning on growing old together. His loss was sudden, devastating, life-changing; but I had adapted well. I wasn’t interested in another relationship or dating, wasn’t looking, wasn’t interested. In fact, this cold January night in 2000, was the first time I had ventured out socially … outside of church or work or Costco.
“This cowboy was relentless. He wouldn’t leave. He took my hand and we danced to some country song playing on the jukebox. There was no dance floor. I had never danced like that before and tried to protest that I didn’t know how, but he just said ‘Hang on to me now,’ and we waltzed between the tables.
“I tried to tell him that if he really knew anything about my life, he would not be interested. He wouldn’t drop it, so a couple of weeks later we met for coffee at that same spot. I wanted to explain that my life wasn’t mine, I still had eight of our 20 kids at home … kids with disabilities, some quite significant, and I would be responsible for all of them for life. And, if that wasn’t enough to send him packing, I told him that I didn’t drink, dance or date. Since he didn’t run away screaming, we decided to turn coffee into dinner. Here comes the acid test. We went to my house, where the care providers were helping the kids finish a spaghetti dinner … it was everywhere.
“This man was greeted like a long-lost, rich uncle by all the kids. They shared handshakes and hugs and spaghetti sauce with him. He never flinched. He acted (and I’m sure it was an act) like he loved every minute of it. At dinner I answered questions about the kids and their lives and how they came to be part of our family … he told me about his kids. We both talked about our hopes and our heartbreaks. It was a nice dinner.
“It was a beginning. Jim came back to the house the next day; we had made no plan. He remembered every one’s name, they remembered his. I think that was the moment I thought I might have a keeper. We took long drives, he taught me to dance, we met each others’ families, we learned each others’ ways. We spent the next year and a half talking and planning, learning to trust, being cautious, neither of us wanting to err. We looked at homes, wanting to have space for the families and for a garden and horses. We finally found our little ranch, spent six months remodeling and building fences before we could move in.
“We tied the knot quietly, privately at the Hitching Post in September 2001, the day after 9-11. We laughed and cried; we exchanged bent up old rings that made the minister laugh when he looked at them. We went to our new home and sat on the porch … everything was the same, but everything was changed. Once, one of the kids had asked Jim if he was going to be her dad … he explained that he would be her stepdad when we got married. That night we sat on the deck … followed the twin towers tragedy, all the more painful, since Jim had worked there some time ago.
“We had been married less than six hours, the kids were getting ready for bed when a tentative little voice called through the screen door, ‘Goodnight, Dad.’ Oh yes, that shy whisper put it all in perspective. Nothing matters more than family. We can get through anything as long as we are committed to each other.
“One year later, we finally got a honeymoon. Over dinner, Jim took my hand like he had on the night we met, looked into my eyes, and said, ‘It hasn’t all been good.’ It didn’t quite come out the way he wanted, I know what he meant, but I couldn’t help but laugh at him all over again.
“So, that is our story. No, it hasn’t all been good, most of it has been great! Not a day goes by that we don’t marvel at the road we walk and the life we live. Our wonderful children, our little ranch, and the love we found in each other when we weren’t even looking. We laugh, we cry, we work hard together, we can argue a bit, too. We will grow old together, surrounded by our forever-children, who will remind us each day and each evening, that nothing in this world is more important than this.”
If there were a prize for the most successful love story, this I’m sure would win it hands down. There will be other love stories told next week, but this one is special. The couple’s eight children range from 25 through 42 years old and will never be able to leave. They are her forever-children.