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By ANNETTE HARVISON
Valentine’s Day is here, and it’s the day couples celebrate their love. It’s a sweet custom dating back many centuries. But it hasn’t always been celebrated as it is in today’s fashion. How many Valentine’s days have you celebrated with your sweetheart?
Someone mentioned a couple that has been married nearly 70 years. I found their home down a lane fenced with a few blooming daffodils and day lilies waiting to bloom. Further down their drive, before getting in their yard, were a few large trees that have been growing for decades. I could tell the landscaping had been done in the decades before I was born because I recognized some of the style and plants, though I can’t name them.
Mrs. Betty Lou opened the door, and we sat down at the table with Mr. “Hump,” as he introduced himself. He said he earned that nickname in grade school in Leaf when he played Humpty Dumpty in a school play.
They heard I wanted to visit with them for a Valentine’s Day story. Being married that long is quite a feat. They were kind enough to let me into their home for a while to ask a few questions about this thing called love, and I don’t know about you, but I love hearing the wisdom of an older generation.
Vertis and Betty Lou McLendon married April 29, 1950 and have lived in the same home for over half a century. They have raised their children, watched their grandchildren grow and have been seeing their great-grandchildren grow. They have seen the trials and tragedy, and they have lived on the good times. Through it all, they have endured and with a great sense of humor, and still like each other enough to talk about it.
I asked how they met, and Betty Lou gave her husband a minute to recollect his memory.
“That was so long ago I can’t remember,” Humpty said.
The couple met on a blind date. He was a young man from Leaf, and she was a young woman from Benndale. They met at a movie showing.
“You walked in and sat on benches,” Betty Lou said. “They were showing westerns, and everybody wanted to see them.”
The couple reminisced about the times they had during their youth.
“Old people, young people, everybody gathered there,” Humpty said. “On Saturday nights they played the Grand Ol’ Opry.”
He said he can remember when the first power lines came through and they got electricity. Many of us take the flip of a switch for granted but forget how close in our past dinner by candlelight really is. Humpty said he was in eighth grade when his family got electricity, and the first thing he remembered his father buying was an electric water pump.
We don’t think much of turning on the dryer to quickly loosen a few wrinkles in our shirts. Mrs. Betty Lou said her job at home was doing the ironing.
“We ironed everything,” Betty Lou said, “even the pillowcases.”
Not just ironed but starched as well. And not an electric iron. Betty said she used a hot iron made of iron. Both remember wash days at the creek with boiling water and washboards. They know what hard work is, because they grew up in it.
“We grew cotton,” Betty Lou said. “We picked cotton for a penny a pound. I remember the government telling you how much you could plant. They would come and measure your rows, and if you had one too many, they would take it up.”
The couple lived through the Great Depression. They remember during World War II when aluminum food cans were rationed, and items made with rubber were rationed as well. They survived all that turmoil and kept going. They watched with broken hearts as their son buried his child, and they grieved for him and their grandchild. This couple has endured a lifetime of challenges and hardships with courage, strength and love.
The McLendons have made their lives on doing what must be done. Both were brought up in families that worked for what they had, and the family took care of what they had. Both had to grow their own food and tend to the work at home. They did not have time for pettiness. They knew they had to depend on one another to make it, and so they did.
“We couldn’t do nothing,” Betty Lou said. “We had to work together for food and everything we had.”
Both agreed that couples in today’s society face many threats to their bonds. Many of those threats were not a factor 70 years ago. And at one point in society, the idea of divorce was taboo.
“It was a terrible disgrace for somebody to get divorced,” Betty Lou said. “When you got married, that was it. If you made a good choice, that was great. If you didn’t, that’s okay, too, but you stayed in it.”
“It’s not like that anymore,” Betty Lou said. “And we were not tempted by drugs and alcohol. Beer just wasn’t available.”
“We had get-togethers with bonfires, cakes and koolaid,” Humpty said. “If someone was drinking, they were told to leave.”
Times have definitely changed during their lifetime. They have been separated by war, raised two children together, played with grandchildren and great-grandchildren, laughed and cried. They worked to make their little corner of the world a home for their family. Their children have been a blessing to their lives, they said. And when they see a small child or a little baby, they said they wonder what changes will take place in those lifetimes.
Betty Lou said Humpty doesn’t know when their anniversary comes and goes, and Valentine’s Day is just another day for them. They said they have managed to stay together by gardening.
“She works in the front yard and I work in the back,” Humpty said with a chuckle. “When she moves, I move.”
“He hasn’t knocked me in the head, and I haven’t knocked him in the head,” Betty Lou laughed back.
“We have managed on oatmeal, cornmeal and miss-a-meal,” Humpty said, but then added, “The good Lord has blessed us.”
This couple didn’t need to sit beside each other on the couch to show their love. Their public display of affection was that of a mutual respect and courtesy for the other. They shared their story and shared the telling of their story. They still look at each other with care, and their foundation built on love holds their legacy.
We have many couples around the county that have been married more than 50 years. Each of these couples have faced hardships in a changing country, and have managed to stick together through thick and thin. All of these couples have been an inspiration to many in their families and communities. Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you. May your love and dedication continue to impact those around you.