When a California girl with pierced ears met a black sheep boy in tiny Reardan, Washington, sparks flew. Sixty-eight years later, the fire still burns for Betty and Larry Plummer.
“She was a loner and so was I,” recalled Larry.
Though he said he missed more days of school than he attended, he did manage to escort Betty to the junior-senior prom.
“He was panting at the door to take me,” Betty said. “I was one of the first freshmen to go.”
Larry didn’t have enough credits to graduate, and found work in a nearby sawmill. He was sure of just one thing – he wanted to marry Betty.
“I only had one girlfriend. I couldn’t afford any others,” he joked.
At 17 and 18, they knew finding someone to marry them would be difficult, so they decided to elope to Reno.
They made it to Winnemucca, Nevada, where they stopped for gas.
“A guy at the service station told us to wake up the town clerk, so we did,” Larry said. “He gave us a marriage license for $2, and went with us to the justice of the peace. I gave him a $5 tip. The whole trip cost us about $42.”
He only earned $1 an hour at the sawmill.
The clerk asked them how old they were. Several times. That’s when Larry realized they were still too young to marry in Nevada. So they lied about their ages, and on Sept. 4, 1949, they tied the knot.
For their 60th anniversary, their children sent them on a surprise trip to Reno – with a stop in Winnemucca, of course.
In 1949, when the teens returned home, Betty’s mother told her, “Well, you made your bed, you lay in it.”
Their first home had no running water and was small enough to fit in their present Spokane Valley living room.
Larry was in the Naval Reserves, and they’d been married just over a year when he was called up. It was November 1950, and Betty traveled to San Diego to see him before he was sent overseas.
“I stayed at the Harvard Hotel,” she recalled. “I couldn’t afford to eat at the hotel, so I turned the electric iron upside down in a drawer and made soup on it.”
After her husband left for Korea, she returned home and stayed with her mom.
Following his discharge in September 1952, the couple moved to Spokane, where Larry worked at St. Luke’s Hospital as a house attendant in the psych ward.
One evening, as he made his rounds, he saw a box near the nurse’s dorm. He bent over, opened it and discovered a baby inside.
The newspapers dubbed her “Baby X.”
“You should have brought her home,” said Betty, as Larry told the story.
“I thought about it,” he admitted. “But we had our first baby on the way.”
Baby X was adopted by a local family, and many years later, she found the Plummers, and visited their home to thank Larry for rescuing her.
They welcomed their own baby girl, Rhonda, in 1955, followed by Rebecca in 1957. Daughter Ruth completed the family in 1958, and also got her father in the newspaper, again.
By this time, Larry was working the graveyard shift at Eastern State Hospital. Betty called to tell him the baby was on the way. He rushed home, but didn’t make it in time to get her to the hospital.
“Her water broke, and I delivered the baby on the front lawn,” he said.
It wasn’t the first time he’d been present at a birth.
“One time I got on the elevator with a pregnant woman at St. Luke’s,” he recalled. “There were two of us when I got on – three of us when I got off.”
Larry worked several jobs while attending Eastern Washington University. The boy, who didn’t get a high school diploma, earned an accounting degree from the university.
“It took me six years to finish,” he said.
After graduating, he worked for the IRS for seven years, managed a medical clinic for eight, and then worked for Spokane Public Schools for 17 years.
Meanwhile, in addition to raising their three daughters, for many years Betty was a foster mom to newborns.
“I kept them until they got adopted,” she said. “One baby stayed for three months. Then they came and got him at Christmas. That’s when we stopped.”
When she mentioned that she’d like to go to beauty school, Larry came home and told her he’d enrolled her.
Betty did hair for awhile, but then took a job in housekeeping at Providence Sacred Heart, where she worked for 18 years, before retiring as a supervisor in 1998.
It wasn’t all work in the Plummer household. Larry bought a 1957 school bus and retrofitted it as a camper – complete with kitchen and bath. They loaded up the girls and took off for Montana, Colorado and even Disneyland.
“Buying that bus was the best thing I ever did,” he said.
As they talked about their life together, Betty frequently stopped to kiss Larry’s head, or rub his shoulder. She recalled how over the years, he’d walk in the door after working a graveyard shift and ask, “Baby, what can I do for you?”
When she worked at Providence Sacred Heart, he’d stop at downtown store to buy her a gardenia – her favorite flower.
And he kept busy, even after retiring from the school district. For 15 years he worked at the Coeur d’Alene Casino as a ticket seller, finally retiring at 83.
He smiled at Betty.
“The last 68 years have been the happiest,” he said.
She nodded; puzzled that so many marriages don’t last as long.
“Nobody works at it,” she said. “Something goes wrong and people look for someone else.”
“We just assumed we’d be here together and here we are,” said Betty, 85. “He’s the best man that ever was. I think we’d do it again.”
Larry, 86, agreed, with one caveat.
“I might not have waited so long,” he said.