War Bonds

Celebrating 70 years of a marriage that is “so much more than friendship”

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.”

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Columns

When It’s Hard to be Thankful

I stared at my writing calendar in disbelief.

How is it possible? I wondered. The Thanksgiving column, AGAIN!?

In 10-plus years of writing this twice-monthly column, I’m almost positive the Thanksgiving writing duty has mostly fallen in my lap.

Oh, I know colleague Stefanie Pettit has tackled it a time or two – but still, that’s a lot of gratitude, and frankly, I’ve been feeling less than grateful lately.

There’s no rule or commandment that says a column published on Thanksgiving Day must invoke that topic, yet I feel a certain obligation to at least acknowledge the holiday. Imagine having a column run on Christmas Day and writing about cats.

Never mind. I’ve probably done that.

Sighing, I pulled up my files and scanned my list of previous turkey day topics.

Thankful after windstorm? Check.

Eating at the kids’ table? Check.

Black Friday? Check.

Thankful for appliances? Check.

Empty chairs around the table? Check.

I poured another cup of coffee and pondered the problem. A slippery slope, because rumination opened a floodgate of negativity as I recalled the difficult past few weeks.

I’d rather write about the things I’m NOT thankful for, I thought.

And the column took shape in my mind.

I’m not thankful for a deeply personal betrayal and the resulting loss and grief.

I’m not thankful for a health scare that knocked me for a loop and made me miserable.

I’m not thankful for a change in finances that put upcoming travel plans in jeopardy.

I’m not thankful for another trip to the emergency room with my ailing mother.

I’m not thankful that the above issues resulted in me putting my Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer work on hold.

Typing this list made me feel worse.

Abandoning the column-in-progress, I did what I so often do when stymied by a project. I laced up my walking shoes and headed out the door into a dank, gray November drizzle that perfectly reflected my mood.

Here’s the deal: I’ve never thought of myself as an optimist or a pessimist; I’m solidly in the realist camp. What is is, and feelings don’t change facts.

Yet as I shuffled through soggy leaves, I kept finding bits of gold and copper that gleamed against the asphalt, despite the dreary day. The juxtaposition sparked a glint of joy.

My mood lifted, my thoughts cleared and I mentally reviewed and reframed my list of woes.

That hurtful betrayal opened a door to healing in other, far more important relationships.

Dealing with a miserable illness made me realize just how blessed I’ve been with good health, and how easily I take that for granted.

The financial changes allowed Derek and me to reconsider our long-range plans, and we decided to pay off our mortgage. It felt amazing to walk out of the bank debt-free.

This ER visit with Mom had a profound difference. Not only did she check out fine, but instead of returning to an empty house, she returned to a safe community filled with kind people who watch over her.

Letting go of my volunteer responsibilities for a while has freed me to focus on family, and on friendships that are essential to surviving hard times.

I trudged on. The clouds didn’t magically part. The rain didn’t lessen. Yet I was overcome with gratitude.

Like finding bits of gold in soggy November leaves, discovering joy in the midst of sadness changes perception and opens your heart to new possibilities.

And I have never been more thankful for the privilege of writing another Thanksgiving column.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Columns

Sometimes relaxing is so stressful!

Clenching the steering wheel, I muttered while the tractor in front of me slowly puttered. A quick glance at the clock on my dash confirmed my fear – I was going to be late for my relaxing getaway at the Coeur d’Alene Casino Resort.

The muscles in my neck tightened, my jaw clenched – the masseuse would have her work cut out for her.

I’d hoarded the spa gift certificate and overnight stay coupon for a rainy day, and on a sunny October Friday that day arrived.

The previous Sunday our pastor had preached a sermon on rest – a reminder that God created both work AND rest, but sometimes we aren’t very good at the latter.

That would be me. I squirmed in the pew as I thought of all the times I’d said yes to work projects with deadlines that cut into quiet time.

As a wife and mother, I try to ensure my family gets the focus and attention they need from me, but I’m not nearly as vigilant about carving out time for myself. And honestly, I like to be busy. Too much down time makes me nervous. Busy means I’m accomplishing – achieving – isn’t that the American ideal?

On that fateful Sunday, I’d just wrapped up an extensive project for a national magazine and hoped to take some time off. But Monday a new client beckoned with intriguing assignments and a lucrative contract. I’ll take a break next month, I thought, looking at my full calendar. Maybe even a week off.

Then I checked the expiration date on my gift certificates. Suddenly, relaxation had a deadline! I couldn’t let these thoughtful gifts go to waste. So, with that Sunday sermon ringing in my ears, and with my family’s encouragement I took a Friday off, planning to enjoy a drive to the CdA Casino, loosen up with a soothing massage, have dinner with a girlfriend and truly unwind with an overnight stay.

The problem with that scenario began with an email. Foolishly, I checked my messages before loading my overnight bag into the car. One simple query ate into my morning and my “day off” dwindled to an afternoon off.

Still, when I got behind the wheel the sun was shining and I had wonderful things to look forward to – those things did NOT include a traffic jam led by a meandering tractor.

By the time the fellow pulled off to the side of the road, a long line of casino-bound cars snaked behind him. And then I missed my turn. When I finally arrived I had five minutes to make it to my massage.

I schlepped by bag to the front desk, only to find the one group in front of me had questions – lots of questions about rooms, about restaurants – you name it, they asked.

I fidgeted. I fumed. I fussed. When I finally reached the check-in desk I asked the helpful staffer to notify the spa that I was running late.

After tossing my bag on the bed, I rushed down to the spa, where they kindly called the restaurant and moved my dinner reservations back. When I was finally ensconced in a plush robe I texted my friend, informing her of my tardiness.

Who knew relaxation could be so stressful?

It turns out I’m not alone in my struggle with carving out respite time. How else to explain that today – the one day the year Americans set aside to contemplate our blessings, has now been infiltrated by businesses and consumers angling to get a jumpstart on Black Friday sales?

Glossy ads beckon us to give thanks by driving to malls and opening our wallets.

Perhaps shopping equals R&R for some, but I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that consumerism trumps time off.

Today, my brother and sister-in-law are hosting Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve baked two apple pies and a have green bean casserole ready to pop in the oven. Amid the bustle of family, food and football, I plan to relish the slower pace of this national holiday.

It may be at the table or it may be when the house has emptied – but sometime today I’m going to take a deep breath and not think about what comes next. I’m going to intentionally put deadlines, dessert and dirty dishes from my mind and relax, savoring the feast and the fellowship.

Work can wait. So can shopping. For once I’m going to excel at rest.

Happy Thanksgiving.

This  column first appeared in the Spokesman Review, November 28, 2013

War Bonds

Thankful for those who serve

This Thanksgiving I’m so very thankful for the 35 World War ll veterans and their wives who shared their stories with me in “War Bonds.”
Folks like Melvin Hayes, pictured here with his son, Butch while home on a brief leave.
Hayes on leave with son Butch, 1945, low res
Melvin was 27 when he was drafted and had to leave his wife and son behind. Holidays are an especially difficult time to be separated from loved ones.
Tomorrow, as you gather ’round your tables, perhaps one of the things you might be thankful for are the men and women who served or continue to serve, their country so selflessly.
I know I am.