Barbara and Ray Lewis have a lot of reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving – 70 of them, to be exact.
The couple married Nov. 23, 1947, so in addition to the traditional turkey day feast, they’ll be celebrating 70 years of wedded bliss.
She was born in Texas, he in Ohio, but they met in Indiana, and 3 1/2 months later, they married.
Barbara was traveling with a group of students who were going door to door inviting people to special church services. It just so happened that the services were being held at the church Ray attended in Fort Wayne.
“He made a point of meeting all the girls,” Barbara, 94, said, smiling.
Ray, 92, was finishing up his engineering degree at Indiana Tech and had indeed met all the girls in the traveling group, with one exception. An exception he rectified as quickly as possible.
“He saw me because I was wearing a big black hat,” she said.
Ray doesn’t recall the hat, but he does remember approaching her and saying, “I believe your name is Barbara.”
He’d done some reconnaissance.
When he discovered Barbara was staying with a couple who’d asked him to photograph their newborn son, Ray an avid amateur photographer, decided now would be the perfect time to take that photo – even though the child was now a year old.
The family asked him to stay for dinner, and he didn’t hesitate. He also invited Barbara on a triple date the next night.
“There wasn’t much to do in Fort Wayne in those days,” recalled Barbara. “We went to the drugstore and had a soda and then walked to the park where they had a lighted fountain. We watched the colors change.”
She still has a postcard featuring the park and the fountain.
The next day, his sister, Mary, came to visit. She was dating Ray’s roommate, Ted. Eventually Mary and Ted would wed as well.
They arranged a double date.
“Ray thought that gave him an excuse to sit by me in church Sunday morning,” Barbara said.
The church meetings concluded, and it was time to say goodbye. Ray went to the station with her.
“Barbara had to be the last one out of town,” Ray said.
That was fine with him.
“I wasn’t ready to turn loose of her just yet,” he admitted.
In fact, he made her promise to write to him. She agreed on the condition that he would write back.
As the train began to pull away, he stood outside her window and used his finger to trace the words “please write!” in the dust.
Back home in Texas, Barbara checked her mailbox every day.
“If there wasn’t a letter, I let him have it,” she said.
But Ray was taking his finals and the pressure of the letter-writing got to him.
“I got tired of that kind of romance,” he said.
So, when Barbara told him that she and her parents were moving to Erie, Pennsylvania, to help establish a church, Ray was delighted. Erie wasn’t far from his Ohio hometown. He quickly hopped on bus to visit her. Well, she did most of the visiting.
“She did all the conversation, just like she does now,” he said, grinning.
They both got jobs at General Electric, and one September evening Ray borrowed her father’s car and took her to see Lake Erie.
“It was a moonlit night, and the waves were breaking over the shore,” Barbara recalled.
It was the perfect place for a proposal. When she said yes, Ray went straight home to borrow money from his mother to buy an engagement ring.
They married on a Sunday night, just after evening service in the middle of a snowstorm.
She wore a dress and headpiece made by her mother and the preacher’s wife, and they caught the last train of the evening to Cleveland for their honeymoon.
While there, a duck nearly derailed their happy future.
They went roller-skating, and the rink was giving away live ducks and turkeys.
“Wouldn’t you know it – my name got called for a duck,” Barbara said.
Now, she happened to love ducks and even had pet ducks while growing up on her Texas farm. They resolved to ship the duck home.
“It was going to be our first possession,” she said.
Alas, there were no shipping crates to be found, and they finally had to sell the duck for a dollar to a guy at the Express Station. He said his family would be having duck for dinner the next day.
“That broke my heart,” Barbara said.
She shot a glance at her husband.
“I’ve never forgiven him!”
But they both chuckled at the memory.
That sense of humor got them through many moves in the next seven decades. Ray was a mechanical engineer for oil refineries, and they lived in 13 states and four Canadian provinces.
“Every place we were sent, I decided that’s where we’d retire,” Ray said. “I’m happy anywhere I am.”
His happiness grew along with their family. Daughter Linna was born in 1950, followed by Kent in 1952, Leslie in 1954, Laurie in 1959 and Lorinda in 1964.
Since they lived in so many snowy places, the family developed a passion for skiing. Great skiing opportunities led their son to move to Spokane, and 11 years ago when Ray finally retired, the couple joined him.
“I retired many different times, but they kept asking me back,” he said.
When it comes to advice for those who wish to achieve their own happily-ever-after, Barbara proved practical, Ray philosophical.
“Always make the bed together as soon as you get out of it,” Barbara said. “Making the bed takes five minutes instead of 10, and it’s very effective in introducing your husband to household chores.”
Ray said, “Don’t think about it (marriage) in terms of 70 years – think of it in terms of one year at a time, and go with the flow.”
Then he grinned.
“I’m still finding problems with her,” he teased.
Barbara smiled, acknowledging that Ray is her friend “most of the time,” but then grew serious.
“Marriage is so much more than friendship,” she said.
She looked at Ray.
“He’s one of the best men who ever lived.”