And they said it wouldn’t last …
This week my husband and I are celebrating 52 years of marriage. An amazing feat considering that all odds were against us making it through the first year. However, we took our vows of love and commitment seriously and together with God’s help, we persevered through the good, the bad and the mundane — and somehow we made it.
We had none of the qualifications for a successful marriage. By most standards, we were just innocent babes. Chuck had joined the US Army Reserve right out of high school and I went to college. He was 20 years old and I was 19 when we tied the knot in a church wedding before 300 friends and relatives in 1958.
We knew what most of the guests were thinking, “They’re just kids. They need more education and money. What are they thinking? This won’t last!” Certainly our parents voiced their concerns. My mother was sure that we were going to starve and end up on the streets while dad just smiled and asked how he could help.
Well, in our youthful brilliance, we thought they were wrong. After all, we had each other. And when you’re young and in love, that is everything. Our church and each of my five bridesmaids gave me a bridal shower and wedding gifts were generous. Chuck had a job and owned a car. We didn’t need anything else. Or so we thought.
Our first year we played house on $65 a week and enjoyed being newlyweds. We were poor but happy. Although we had a short honeymoon to Big Sur, the real honeymoon was our carefree lifestyle together those first 12 months. Just the two of us living la dolce vida.
Life was so different than it is today. We paid cash for everything. Milk was delivered to the door. The Helms Bakery truck came by with bread and donuts. We had a tiny savings account but envelopes were our checking account. Every week a $20 bill from Chuck’s paycheck went into the rent envelope; $8 for insurance; $10 for gasoline; $15 for groceries; $4 milk and bread; $3 dry cleaning; and $5 spending money. Our budget was tight but doable.
I count the first 25 years of marriage among the best times of my life. To our great joy, daughter Kathryn arrived shortly after our one-year anniversary. Her brothers Jeff and John quickly joined her. Our family of five was complete by 1963 and forever bound together with love.
Of course, growing kids are expensive and with three of them under the age of four, someone was always sick. Fortunately, our doctors just kept a running tab and we paid monthly what we could afford. Sometimes I could only pay $10 but that was okay. No doctor ever complained or sent us to collections.
Chuck worked long hours in retail to pay the bills and I worked seasonal jobs as a school photographer to pay for things like a freezer and dishwasher that otherwise we could not have afforded.
Money was short but fun was always abundant. Our entertainment was cheap. When the kids were little we played cards on weekends with friends and neighbors. Dinner was potluck during which time the kids ran around like the proverbial wild Indians in cartoons. Later, the kids were put to bed and we moms tried to beat the dads at Canasta or Pinochle. We seldom won (because they cheated!).
A big date night for Chuck and me was dinner and the movies. For months we would save up for the event. First we treated the babysitter and the kids to burgers from the new McDonald’s. Then we went to a nearby dinner house and enjoyed the peace and quiet. Afterwards, I remember sitting in loge seats at the Imperial Theatre (50¢ ea.), holding hands as the lights went down and the screen light up. Life was good.
I always say that we grew up with the kids. We were pretty innocent and sheltered when we married but it didn’t take long for us to discover that keeping an even emotional keel in life is difficult. Chuck’s mother died prematurely at the age of 55. After a couple of surgeries and years of misdiagnoses, our daughter had a major 8-hour surgery at UCLA Medical Center for a rare condition that put her in medical journals and on alert for a decade.
Afterwards, a near bankruptcy on a business venture almost put us over the edge financially. And long before we knew anything about breast cancer, I lost two of my friends to the disease; another to brain cancer. The suffering and death of loved ones was the hardest to face but we hung on to our faith and each other.
The years of Campfire Girls, Boy Scouts, church activities, track teams, cheer leading, choirs and marching bands were a blur of activity. Then, just as we wondered how we were going to pay for cars and college educations, we opened a restaurant. If we thought life was busy before, our new 60-hour work weeks were a whirlwind!
Suddenly, it was over. We looked around and said, “Wow. The kids are grown and on their own, it’s time for ‘us’ again.” We sold the restaurant, traveled a bit and moved to Oregon where we began a whole new lifestyle and fulfilled many other dreams we had put on the shelf. Our family of five now numbers 12. We praise God every day.
Fifty-two years ago, as the world judged us, our marriage didn’t stand a chance. By the grace of God, the world was wrong. We have lived full and rewarding lives — together. Today, our hair is silver; our faces are creased and our steps a little slower. As senior citizens we still hold hands and share kisses in the moonlight, wondering how we got to be so old when just yesterday we were too young!