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CHALLENGES | THE STORY OF A MARRIAGE

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There’s just something special about June that makes it the peak of wedding season. Here in the Upstate, sunny skies and warm breezes make June an appealing time to many Southern brides. Selecting a wedding date is simple compared to the intense planning and elaborate options couples face when it comes to creating their dream wedding. Indeed, weddings should be celebratory and memorable! However, it is often forgotten that a wedding day is just the beginning. That day marks the first page of a very important story, the story of your marriage.

Bill and Anne Lewis, who will soon celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary, have many chapters in their story. While every wedding anniversary is special, 65 years of marriage is a rare and wonderful accomplishment these days. In recognition of such commitment, I asked Bill and Anne to share a little about the history of their marriage with Upstate Exposures Magazine.

It was a simple trip to Table Rock State Park in 1952 that brought Bill and Anne together. Bill, a Staff Sergeant in the Air Force, was stationed in Greenville at the Donaldson Air Force Base at the beginning of the Korean War. One September evening, Bill and some fellow airmen decided to go to the lake at Table Rock. A used parachute in tow, the airmen thought it would be a great replacement for a beach blanket. Apparently, everyone thought so. The young airmen and their parachute caused quite a stir as they stretched it across the sandy beach. They had also captured the interest of several ladies from Liberty, who were visiting Table Rock that afternoon as well. Anne was one of those pretty ladies that took notice and Bill invited her to sit with him.

Bill and Anne, both in their early twenties, began courting. They fell in love, and the rest, as they usually say… is history. However, with a 65th wedding anniversary approaching, the history of their partnership bears repeating.

Over the course of the next five months, Bill and Anne quickly developed a close relationship. They also learned a great deal about one another. They realized that it was going to take a lot of dedication, motivation, and cooperation for a Carolina girl and a Jersey boy to find common ground.

I asked Bill how his family felt about Anne when he introduced her. He said, “I grew up in a large family of farmers and in the early 1950s they had no concept of South Carolina or Southern talk.” Bill continued, “I took Anne up there and she was a hit because she talked slow, like a melody. Everyone wanted to follow her around and listen to her Southern accent.” Anne smiled and nodded in agreement. She was always frustrated at their constant interest in her slow Southern drawl, unsure if they were embracing it or mocking it. Bill reassured me that Anne won the hearts of friends and family. He admitted, “They were fascinated with her, a Southern belle.”

Anne added, “When it came to Bill, my mom loved him when she met him. My dad never said too much. But my 80-year-old grandmother did not like him at all!” Bill and Anne laughed at the memories of his attempts to win her grandmother’s approval. Anne grew up in a family that was in sharp contrast to Bill’s. She described her household as a very strict environment. She said, “My grandfather was Superintendent of Woodside Mill in Liberty in 1926 so we lived in the Superintendent’s house.” Anne described her expectations, “We weren’t allowed to dance and we couldn’t wear pants. We wore dresses to school and we had to be in church four times on Sunday.”

Bill laughed and added, “Anne grew up with maids and telephones. Their life was very different.” Bill described himself as a New Jersey airmen who liked dancing, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Atlantic City Beach. In contrast, Anne reiterated that she was a small town, Southern Baptist girl, living in the Superintendent’s house. They were very candid as they reminisced about the younger versions of themselves and how they had lessons to learn on compromise.

Anne acknowledged, “Bill and I had some very big adjustments.”

Unfortunately, Bill received orders to go overseas to Korea and Okinawa. The face of war hastened the timing of their union and Bill and Anne decided to get married on February 7, 1953, just five months after they first met. After five weeks of counseling, they had a simple wedding ceremony in the base chapel at Donaldson. A one-night honeymoon in Greenville followed. Shortly after Bill was deployed, Anne found out she was expecting their first child. Bill explained, “I was in Okinawa feeling sorry for myself. I got a stack of letters, and put them in chronological dates according to when Anne posted them. I got half way through and found out I was going to be a daddy!” Anne stayed with her parents in Liberty until Bill returned from Korea. Knowing that nothing could take the distance away, Anne leaned on her family to help her deal with the challenges of pregnancy and parenting during his deployment. When Bill returned home 18 months later, he saw his daughter for the very first time. While Bill and Anne experienced reunion happiness and celebration, they also experienced a lot of adjustments as they transitioned into married life and parenthood.

After Bill returned from service, he went to work in the newspaper business. He worked for the Easley Progress for several years. After that, he owned the Liberty Monitor. In pursuit of a change, he went back to school to obtain a teaching certificate. He taught graphic arts. During that time, Bill and Anne were busy raising a large family as well. Bill said, “We have four wonderful children, three daughters and a son. The funny thing is that each one has a boy and a girl so we have eight grandchildren.”

Bill smiled and looked at Anne. He said, “We’ve had a good time.” I asked Anne and Bill about the times that were hard. Bill said, “We can have a spat…” and Anne finished, “and it’s over in five minutes.” Bill exclaimed, “We can’t always agree on things when one is from New Jersey and one is from South Carolina!” On a different note, he quietly remarked, “The only regret we have is we didn’t get to travel like we would have loved to because of our health. Anne had breast cancer and I had prostate cancer.” Cancer, another life changing, challenging, adjustment for these two, is a concern that’s never too far from Anne’s mind.

I asked if either one had advice for young couples dealing with adversity, such as sickness, economic woes, or any kind of conflict. Anne stated, “Seriously, you don’t give up. I’ve learned that myself. For example, finances can be hard. You must learn to weather it. Young people want everything right now. Those things are material things. You can get a lot of pleasure out of getting them together and working for them, can’t you Bill?” He nodded in agreement.

They had additional advice to share with couples getting ready to tie the knot. Bill had advice for young men in particular. He advised, “Make sure you have a job and stability before you get married or a career to sustain you. These days everybody wants the big house, the big car, and then there’s the big hole that you can’t get out of.”

Anne added, “As for young ladies, make sure you marry someone that’s a Christian and somebody that you know will put you first.” She continued, “And when it comes to having children, it is so different now. Wait! Give yourself some time first to focus on each other because when that first child comes, that attention is divided.”

These days, Bill and Anne are living a restful life of retirement in Liberty. They are thankful for the health they have at the present and enjoy the large family they have as a result of their 65-year marriage. While Bill enjoys his yard, he feels they have come to a point where they can’t do all the things they used to love to do. Bill said, “We don’t go like we used to, nothing special on the weekends, not at 84 and 85.”

Anne continued, “But we love to go outside and sit under the deck. We have birds and hummingbirds that will come right up to you. We like to feed the birds.”

Bill joked, “I’m not sure that feeding the birds is what you dream about doing when you’re 85!” He explained, “Most of the time we don’t even know what day it is! We can’t live without our calendar. It has our history in it.” For most of us that want to break free from the chaos of being too busy, their peace and inactivity sounds heavenly.

At the end of the interview, I asked Anne for a one sentence summary of her best marriage advice. I asked, “After wartime, four children, career changes, and cancer battles…just to name a few of the many chapters you have in your own story, how did you manage 65 years of marriage?”

After a few minutes of thinking, Anne looked over at Bill and stated, “It took a lot of prayer, patience, understanding, and forgiveness.” She concluded by saying, “and we’ve had a good life.”

Bill nodded in agreement and replied, “Yes, I have no problems with my life… none at all.”

THE STORY OF A MARRIAGE

All couples, newly engaged or long-time married, can learn a lot about living and loving from Bill and Anne’s story. They seem to know each other better than they know themselves. They can correct each other’s memories and finish each other’s sentences. Quite simply, they are best friends. Their story reveals two people that, with God’s help, learned how to love and support each other through the many seasons of life. All things considered, Bill and Anne are proof that when Christ, commitment, and compromise are top priorities, the story of any marriage can have a “happily ever after.”

Heather Reeves, Challenges Column Contributor

Heather Reeves, a 5th grade language arts teacher, lives & works in her hometown of Liberty, SC. She is a graduate of Clemson University & her family enjoys cheering for the Clemson Tigers. Heather also enjoys gardening, crafting, traveling, & spending time with her husband and daughter.

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