Everybody has a story: Childhood chums reunite, marry in Texas

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Sixty-one years ago, on March 9, 1951, was the last time Joe and I had seen each other.

We lived in the same neighborhood in Deerfield Township, near Backus, Minn. We rode the same bus to the same school. In a very small community, we knew all the same kids, or their older or younger brothers and sisters.

His mother and my mother were best friends. After the death of his father, his family moved to Wisconsin. Later, Lillie Sheldon and Joe came back for a visit and spent the night at our house.

I can still hear Mrs. Sheldon saying to my parents, after breakfast, “I had always hoped one of my sons would marry one of your daughters.” She had three sons, and there were six of us girls, but as I continued washing the breakfast dishes, I realized my four older sisters were married with small children and my younger sister was only 3 years old. Who was she talking about? I definitely was not interested because I was going to college!

A short time later, my mother received a letter from Joe’s mother with an address for Joe. He was in the Army in Korea; would I write to him? Mother persuaded me to write, just as a friend, which I did. After Korea, he came back to live in Wisconsin. I was away at Bible College in Minneapolis. Others in my family had contact with his family, so I heard of the family, but not him.

What would his mother say?

He had been married 56 years and had five grown children when he was widowed. Companionship was a very important part of his life.

I owned my own home, and enjoyed my art work and church, where I had been the director of the children’s ministry. Having been married twice, I wasn’t anticipating another relationship.

In January 2010, he had moved back to Pine River, Minn., with his brother. He visited his nephew, Herb, a former classmate of mine, who was married to my girlfriend Rita. Rita gave Joe my phone number and address. A few days later, he called and wanted to know if I remembered him. I did!

And that began a regular, long-distance relationship. Thank goodness for Verizon cellphones, as we were both on that system, which offered free calls between plan users. In July, he moved to Texas, to be closer to his daughters.

We continued to talk several times a week, and on March 13, 2011, over the phone, Joe asked me to marry him!

Through talking of our lives and our families, we learned that we each had an adult child living in Fort Worth, Texas, only three miles apart, so it was decided that I would visit my son, Dean, and Joe would meet me there.

I flew to Fort Worth. Joe had been sick and was not able to meet me. Two days later, I took a bus to San Marcos, Texas. Joe met me there. He had booked a bed and breakfast room for me downtown. It was only three blocks from the courthouse. The next morning, he came back, and we walked over and applied for a marriage license. The clerk asked when we wanted to be married, and I blurted out, “today.” She informed me there was a 72-hour waiting period, but she could give us a form to fill out to take to another building, so a judge could waive that waiting period.

Now, it was 95 degrees outside, but I didn’t mind the walk in the heat. After taking care of all the paperwork, another clerk asked us where we were going to be married.

“We don’t know” was our answer. She informed us that there was one opening left at 2 p.m. with a justice of the peace. We took it. We went out for lunch, and when we returned, we were ushered into a courtroom with a justice of the peace in a wheelchair. She had a broken ankle. Thus was our wedding.

It was back to the bed and breakfast, where we packed my suitcase, and a move to his apartment by taxi. He called his oldest daughter and told her we had gotten married. She yelled, “You did what? I’m coming right over!” Forty minutes later, she was at the door to see what her father had done. Since his rent was paid up for 11 more days, we spent it packing him up and getting ready for our honeymoon.

Our honeymoon trip was to be via Amtrak back to Vancouver, with a stop in Minnesota. The train couldn’t go beyond Minneapolis-St. Paul because of the Red River flooding, so we got off and went north by Greyhound bus.

My brother met us at the bus station, then took us to the farm and Deerfield Township, where we grew up. My older sister has a cabin nearby, so we visited there, and also saw Joe’s brother Dave and his nephew Herb and his wife, Rita, my old girlfriend, the one who gave Joe my phone number.

Thus started another leg of our honeymoon. We went to my family reunion of more that 100 relatives in Boulder, Colo. What better wedding reception can you have? When the reunion was over, we took Amtrak from Denver to Vancouver, for the last portion of our honeymoon.

We thank God for all of these wonderful memories. We have had to learn more about each other -- I am a diabetic, and Joe has a pacemaker -- but we don’t feel handicapped. We are ready to live life to the fullest.

What would Joe’s mother say if she were here today -- 61 years later?

Everybody Has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Email is the best way to send materials so we don’t have to retype your words or borrow original photos. Send to neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA 98666. Call Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.