(In memory of my late husband, Larry Johnson)
It was our fifth anniversary. I was working at Saint Francis Medical Center. It was a very long day; I couldn't wait to get off. I knew we were planning to go out for dinner that night for our anniversary. When I got home, I walked in the back door and there on the table was this Winnie the Pooh decanter filled with flowers and balloons. I said, "Oh! A Winnie the Pooh!" He said, "What's wrong, don't you like it?" I said, "Sure, I love Winnie the Pooh. But honey, it's says 'Happy Birthday.'"
"Oh, no," he said. "I'm really sorry..." "Hey," I said. "I love it!" It's the thought that counts. Come to find out, he'd bought it at Schnucks. On the way home, he put this vase between his legs with the flying balloons and flowers. Coming out on Kingshighway, he hit the median and blew out a tire, all because of Winnie the Pooh -- what a sweetheart. Two months later he was admitted to Saint Francis with food poisoning and came out the following Monday terminal cancer. He was told he had six months to live. He died April 30, 2004. Since then, I moved on with my life and married another wonderful man who lost his wife to cancer, too. When God closes one door, he opens another.
It was several years ago while we were living in St. Louis that my friend Sue and I were trying to do something really special for her husband, Jim, and my husband, Len, for Valentine's Day. We had some pretty wacky ideas but settled on a progressive Valentine's dinner. We took our dates (husbands) to a local Chinese restaurant, whipped out a real white tablecloth and put it on the restaurant table, took a genuine silk red rose in a glass vase and set it on the table, got our crystal candle holder and red candle out, lit the candle and put it on the table. Sue and I went to the counter and ordered egg rolls for our appetizers. The four of us relished our treats, served with a Mississippi highball (water on the rocks), then packed our treasures and headed for the salad stop.
St. Louis is known for places of fine dining so we picked the best for the main course…Eat Right Diner (or don't eat at all) is located on South Lindbergh. For the readers who have never been there, it is best described as a 24/7 outrageously greasy spoon. Again, it was the tablecloth, rose and candle routine but we actually got applause from the other patrons dining there. We knew we were going to be full before the evening was over so we ordered to share with our dates one of their signature dishes called a Slinger (fried potatoes with chili, cheese and scrambled eggs on top). Yup, we had yet another Mississippi highball. It was truly divine except for the gas pains to follow. We took our treasures off the table and were on our way again.
The "romantic" evening was nearing a crescendo with only two more stops to make. What could be finer than a treat from Dairy Queen? Ambience is critical for occasions like this. There weren't many customers in the shop in mid-February so we didn't get any applause when we prepared the table for dessert, but we did enjoy our hot fudge sundaes. Certainly, a Mississippi highball was appropriate for this dessert.
The last stop was for a night cap. Now, nowhere in the story did I tell you that these are two men well over the hill. Nor did I tell you that these are very conservative Christian men who are not known for wild nights on the town, but Sue and I couldn't help it. Our nightcap was held at the local Hooters! Of course, we did the tablecloth, rose and candle routine again (at this point the guys didn't even notice -- could it possibly have been because of the wait staff there?). By this time we'd had enough Mississippi highballs so we got a whole pitcher of beer, drank that and laughed until it hurt.
We would have loved for this to have become a tradition but we lost our dear friend Jim to cancer at the age of 63. We still see Sue. We still laugh.
Leroy and Wilma knew each other previously because they both had attended New Bethel Baptist Church, but the romance actually began to blossom for both couples when they began working together at the International Shoe Factory in Jackson. Eugene and Leroy worked and lived together, paying a whopping $7 a week for room and board. The two girls were cousins and they lived together, as well. As the young men got to know the girls better, the boys became so enamored by Wilma and Ruth that they finally mustered up the courage to offer them a ride. It was a day when Eugene, Leroy and a friend "accidentally" spotted the young women walking toward the girls' home. Playing hard to get, Ruth and Wilma turned up their noses and kept walking. "We went by their house later that day, though," said Eugene and Leroy triumphantly, "and then they went riding with us." There's little else that needs to be said because the two love affairs soon turned into warm wedding plans.
After wedding arrangements were all set, Eugene had to take a leave from the Army to come home and get married. About two weeks later, he was shipped out to Germany. For the last 15 years the couples have celebrated their wedding anniversaries together, eating out at different places where the food was good. The Kesters and Browns celebrated their 25th anniversary by taking a trip to Branson, Mo. "We acted so silly, like we were drunk," they say. Leroy, shamefacedly, even went back the next morning and apologized to the restaurant owner for their unruly behavior (they were drinking Pepsi). "The girls just kept on giggling. They were always a couple of giggle boxes anyway," Leroy said. "Well, we grew up poor," said Ruth, "and since we couldn't do much else we just enjoyed laughing, acting silly and doing things together."
Both couples have two children and four grandchildren each. The reason the Kesters and Browns had a double wedding was, "The girls were also so close," said Leroy. Ruth said, "All of our life we always did everything together so we couldn't see not getting married together, too." The two girls were like sisters. The four lovebirds think it's really unique that they are all still living and could celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary together.
The Kesters and Browns offer advice to others considering marriage. "Being a Christian helps. Have intentions to STAY married when you marry." None of the four believes in divorce. "Expect to give more than you take," Leroy says. "It's easy to get married, but it's not easy to stay married. It takes a lot of give and take, a deep commitment and a lot of love." Ruth agreed.