Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and this season either makes me the most annoyed ever, or I get caught up in all the feelies. Your feed is probably littered with pictures of Valentine’s Day flowers and gifts, relationship goals, sweet sentiments, and sappy pictures of couples that already broke up 548027365 times but still manage to be so in love…you know the routine. I’ll admit that I LOVE love. Whether it’s hearing how people met, sharing love stories, or just seeing happy couples, it all just makes me swell with ooey gooey emotions.
One of my favorite couples in the world are my maternal grandparents, who will be celebrating 65 years of marriage in April 2021. Together, they raised six children, owned a business together, have a bunch of grandchildren, and finally got to finish their honeymoon trip a handful of years ago. I took some time to hear more about their relationship and ask for some advice.
My Grandma Jane is the rock of my mom’s side of the family. As I grew up, grandma’s house was a pit stop after school to grab a quick snack before weeknight sports or extracurricular events, and friends were always welcome.
If you catch her during a family gathering, she usually has her camera in-hand, asking everyone to say “silly pickles” before snapping a shot or two…or five. She makes a mean grilled cheese sandwich and always offers an enormous chocolate milkshake to pair.
Born and raised in Wisconsin, she has enjoyed many trips to Door County with Grandpa in the summer and never misses church on the weekend.
Grandma is the ultimate event planner and is notorious for hosting birthdays, holidays, barbecues, or any other event worth celebrating. You also might get a phone call here and there, asking if you’re in need of something that was featured on QVC’s Special Value. She’s a shop ’til you drop kind of gal and we love her for it.
Grandpa Dale is the comedic relief, any time, anywhere. He can typically be found in the recliner watching Bonanza or another Western with a cold beer in hand. The grandkids joke that he has a constant BAC fueled by his love for Old Style lager, but you wouldn’t know because his humor is as sharp as a whip. He’s a Navy veteran and never lets anyone forget he was a string bean in his day and almost didn’t weigh enough to join the military, but as a high school boxing champ, he had plenty of fight in him to make it.
If you’ve spent a meal with him, you know Grandpa is a very picky eater and isn’t a fan of many vegetables (green beans, if we’re specific), but he’ll always sneak a cookie out of the jar after dinner. Grandma has strategic hiding places for any desserts in the house because of Grandpa’s sweet tooth, and you might find a container of goodies stored safely in the oven or microwave, because you’d never find him using kitchen appliances.
When Grandpa goes out, it’s usually to bartend at the Knights of Columbus hall on Friday nights, or serve at events with the local VFW post.
How did you meet each other?
Jane: My roommate and I lived in Madison at the time. She met a guy she liked named Ed, but he didn’t have a car. Ed had a good friend in Portage who just got out of the Navy, and he did have a car. If she could arrange a date for Ed’s friend, both guys would come to Madison and double date. She offered to do all my ironing for the rest of the year if I agreed to go on a date with Ed’s friend. I agreed right away, of course. That was a good deal.
Dale: My friend Ed said if I could drive to Madison on Friday night, he had a date arranged for me. I thought why not?
Jane: The thing is, I had a date with someone else on that night. The guys arrived to our apartment before I got back home, so they waited in the living room for me. When I got home from my date, I met Dale. We all stayed in and visited together that evening. This was in August of 1954.
Dale: One time after that, I drove down to Madison again to take her on another date, but when I arrived, she was pickled drunk. We couldn’t go out, she was so sick!
What attracted you to each other initially? Has that changed over the years?
Dale: She wasn’t attracted to me right away…she sent me home a couple times I think.
Jane: It wasn’t that bad! I liked that he paid for me when we went out. Some of the college guys I met in Madison couldn’t afford to take me out, so I figured I’d hang onto this one. He was polite and treated me well, which was a plus.
Dale: When I saw her, I figured she was the love of my life. I really did. I took more trips to Madison after I met her than ever before.
How did you know you met “the one”?
Dale: I didn’t date anyone after high school because I went right into the Navy. Then, when I got out of the Navy, I didn’t date anyone until Ed took me to Madison and I met Jane. That was that. I just knew it.
Jane: He was very polite and congenial. He did everything I asked him to do. He even turned Catholic for me, too, so I thought it was a sure thing.
How did the proposal go?
Dale: My sister and I went to the jewelry store and she helped me pick out the ring. Then, I went to go pick up Jane at her parents’ house to go to the stock car races and I had the ring hidden in the glove compartment of my car. She was so surprised.
Jane: It was my birthday. He gave me a couple other small gifts first and then I saw the little box and opened it. I don’t think he really asked me to marry him, I just opened the box and there it was! Then, we went back inside my house to show my mother the ring. After that, we went to the stock car races at the fairgrounds, then went to the bar afterward to celebrate with our friends.
Dale: She couldn’t keep me away.
What is your favorite memory of your wedding day?
Dale: Well, our honeymoon trip afterward was an adventure. I had a 1950 Hudson and I didn’t think it would make it to Virginia, Rhode Island, and Washington DC, so I borrowed my dad’s new Nash Rambler. We left the day after our wedding and got as far as Indiana for the night. The next day, we got as far as Ohio before the car broke down, so we stayed the night at a garage and the mechanic’s wife hosted us. It turns out they couldn’t fix the car, so we took a bus back home and never finished our honeymoon.
Jane: Our wedding was on a beautiful day, though. We were married at our hometown church in April. We hosted dinner for our immediate families in the basement of the Ram Hotel in town, then had a larger reception with refreshments and cake for about 100 guests. I ordered red and white flowers for my bouquet, it cost probably $25. I borrowed a wedding dress from my sister-in-law, who was my bridesmaid, then I ordered a custom jacket for $9. The whole wedding cost around $250 or so.
How do you think relationships are different now compared to when you met?
Dale: I think they’re more wild, not as serious.
Jane: Yeah, one fight and they’re parted.
Dale: We just got along and spent time at home or took small vacations sometimes to see family and friends, just enjoyed quality time.
Jane: We always spent time with the kids and had dinner all together every Sunday. We’d maybe have a root beer float or a homemade cake for dessert. We just enjoyed our time as a family.
Why do you think so many marriages today are failing?
Dale: Drinking gets in the way nowadays, I think. We never went to liquor bars, we stayed together at home. We couldn’t afford to go out and get into trouble.
Jane: We just stayed in our neighborhood with other families and kids. We only had one vehicle for quite some time, so we were always together. If there was a disagreement, we’d talk things over, and if we couldn’t solve the problem, we’d call our parents or a friend to help us work something through. I don’t think couples these days take the time to do that.
What was the most difficult point in your relationship?
Jane: As the kids got older, sometimes there were sleepless nights while waiting for them to get home. Raising teenagers was hard. I would be praying nobody was in a car accident or something. Finances were also difficult and we lived on a strict budget.
Dale: I made $45 a week working at the shoe factory in town. Just over a dollar an hour. Can you believe it? I bartended a few nights a week to bring home some extra money, too.
Jane: I lived by the ads in the paper for groceries. Sometimes I’d have $22 per week to buy groceries, sometimes $23.50 so I could bring home an extra treat. We had to be smart about our finances with six children, but we never had a bad fight. We worked things through before that happened.
Can you remember a time when you fell in love with your spouse all over again?
Jane: I don’t think so. It’s always been steady.
Dale: I guess it’s good we didn’t fall out of love, huh.
What was your favorite decade of life together?
Jane: Maybe the third decade we were married, the 1970s or 80s, because our kids were growing up and graduating. It was fun to go to their events and watch them decide what they wanted to do after high school.
Dale: We got out more then. That’s when we owned the Friendly Tavern in Portage. From 1971 to 1984, we were busy there, but it was a lot of fun. We had lots of great friends during that time and there was always something to do.
Jane: And all the weddings!
What is your best advice for a long marriage?
Jane: Be honest with each other all the time. If there are any problems, just share them right away. Don’t wait until things get too difficult to try to fix them.
Dale: Just get it all out on the table and work it out. Listen to each other.
Jane: And always tell the truth and have patience. You need a lot of patience with each other…Dale is ALWAYS early for everything…
Dale: We lived across the street from church for a while and we were STILL late because Jane was putzing around.
Jane: Well I had to get all the kids ready while you were out there honking the horn!
Jane: We each contributed more than our 50% at times. Dale worked two jobs and I took care of our home, the kids, and kept the budget. I believe that’s how we survived a successful and lasting marriage of 65 years. It’s all about balance and compromise. We had great friends and a big family, spent time together often, and did our best with what we had. We’re still lucky for each day we get.