Velma and Joe celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary in June, but they had been together for 49 years before that. Not long ago, Joe died of natural causes, but his love lives on in Velma’s heart. In an interview, we spoke with Velma about her long, excellent relationship with Joe — what brought them together, what kept them together, and what it can teach us all about love.
How did you meet your hubby for the first time?
“I’m sure there was something wrong with me.” Every morning when I was 12, I’d go to the front window of my classroom and watch this boy get dropped off. He’d arrive in his red convertible, then proceed to his classroom. I must have been doing it for a year without realising who it was. I was in seventh grade, and he was in eighth. He had no idea who I was.
He started high school the following year, and I made the mistake of telling one of my classmates that I had a crush on him. My secret, I assumed, would be secure with her, but it wasn’t. An 8th grader invited me to a school dance, which I recall was a fundraiser for something called ‘Halloween Queen.’ He was, of course, present. ‘Heard you’re going around saying he’s your boyfriend,’ my friend, the one to whom I confessed my crush, stepped up to me and said.
I was humiliated! I stood up and began walking away without telling my date what I was doing. My crush is approaching me the next thing I see. So, what do I do now? I had no intention of fleeing. We bumped into each other in the centre of the dance floor. What did he intend to say? Is he going to be upset with me? He wouldn’t want anything to do with me, I assumed.
Instead, he looked at me and said, “Let’s go dancing.” That is exactly what we did. I recall dancing to Donnie Osmond’s “Go Away, Little Girl.” I got carried away. I was just 13 years old at the time, had never had a boyfriend, and I let him kiss me. Three times! I just knew in my heart that he was the one I wanted right then and there. It was the most beautiful time of my life.”
So you’ve been together since that day?
“Yes, I recall my date, the one who had asked me out, approaching me at the dance and saying he wanted to dance with me. I had no choice but to say no, even telling him, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll find someone else.’ He persisted, but I stayed as well. I apologised and assured him that everything would be fine, then returned to the boy who would become my husband and sat with him. It was the 15th of October. We would commemorate that day every year for the rest of our lives.
No one spoke to me the next day at school because they were all furious with me! But it didn’t bother me. This was just what I was looking for. Just by agreeing to that dance, I felt like I’d won the lotto. It still makes me so happy. He was in the same boat as me. We never left each other’s side, and it was magical.”
What do you recall doing together in the beginning?
“I remember listening to Led Zeppelin, Doobie Brothers, Eagles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Nazareth with him.” That is exactly what we would do. My parents would invite him home, and he’d occasionally bring friends, and we’d hang out, listen to music, go on hayrides, and go bike riding on Sundays. In those days, there were a lot of parties. We would go to carnivals, movies, and drive-ins. We’d go to the parks for the Fourth of July and Easter, hang out, BBQ, and watch the fireworks. Swim for the entire day. It was just amazing.
I’d go to his football game and watch him play. After the whistle blew, we had this routine where I would run onto the field, pass through his teammates, and jump into his arms. They termed it a ‘love storey,’ because the next day when they watched the game replays, they’d say to each other, ‘Get ready for a love storey.'”
What was it about him that pulled you in?
“Back then, people would ask me the same thing, and I’d always respond, ‘His heart.'” He has a beautiful heart. I recall seeing some 12th graders pushing an 11th grader about one day. He saw the 12th graders and dashed over with his helmet, swinging it around and chasing them away. He was continually doing things like that, advocating for the underdog. I could never have imagined having such a beautiful relationship with someone who loved God as much as he loved me. That’s the best I can come up with.
‘Look, I truly like you, and if you ever become bored of me, I ask for two things: one, never cheat on me, and two, never lie to me,’ I’d say. That was my question to him. Thankfully, he never did, but I believe it ensured that we were always honest with each other. We were teenagers, you know, going through a lot of emotions and going through a lot of ups and downs. ‘I’m mad, and I don’t know why,’ he’d say occasionally, and I’d give him room. Alternatively, I would say it to him. But we would always understand and let the other person do whatever they needed to feel better.”
Did your relationship change at all as you grew up, adolescence, and adulthood approached?
“People would ask him, ‘Joe, when are you getting married?’ throughout high school, and he would always respond, ‘Sunday.’ It was a bit of a joke, but it was true: we had always planned to marry. My reasoning was sophisticated, and I knew exactly what I wanted.
My family had previously been through a lot, so I was mature. My parents were in a financial bind. We were continually moving around, and I didn’t realise it at the time, but it was because we were being evicted regularly. My father was a Korean War veteran who had injured his back during the conflict, and the Army provided him with no assistance or insurance, so he was always in need of medical attention. My younger sister was born with Down Syndrome and had heart difficulties, and she died when she was four years old. My younger brother died 15 days later as a baby. Not long after that, my father arrived. There was a lot — a lot of difficulty and many challenges. I needed to grow up.
My mother informed me that if I didn’t get a college diploma, I wouldn’t marry him. So I did – I finished in three and a half years, allowing us to marry sooner. He even attended the same school as me, walked me to all of my lessons, and stayed with me the entire time.
When I was in college, a student approached me, asked my name, and told me, “I recently graduated, and I’m going to be a lawyer.” I want to get to know you, date you, and promise you that if you marry me, you will never go hungry.’ It was as simple as that! We’d never met before, and I was already engaged to him. ‘I’m sorry, but my heart has to be involved,’ I informed him. When I told Joe what had happened, he exclaimed, “Wow, he can give you anything,” but I just said, “Joe, I already have everything.”
Joe didn’t have a single dime on him. He put in long hours as a cashier, on a grass farm, and as a landscaper, and I admired him for it. It didn’t bother me that he didn’t have any cash. I knew he was a good man who worked hard and cared about me. “All I needed was that.”
What was your family’s reaction to Joe?
“At first, my mother was not fond of him. ‘He’s from the east side; there are hoodlums,’ she continued. Hoodlums is a word she’d use back then. She didn’t want him to touch me because she didn’t like how it appeared. She didn’t have faith in him at first. Joe and I were in many photos together as kids, and he never touched me — except when we leaned our heads together, which was thrilling. Later in our life, I would wake up in the middle of the night and find his head on my shoulder, just as it had been back then.
On the other hand, Joe was a favourite of my father’s. Joe found an excuse to come over to the house at one point. I didn’t want him to come because they wouldn’t like him or want him to stay. Joe, on the other hand, thought it was a brilliant idea. I believe he wanted to demonstrate to my parents that he had nothing to conceal and that we weren’t doing things behind their backs.
My mother eventually warmed up to the concept. She did some research (like she always did) and discovered his parents and where he came from. She became acquainted with some of his sisters, and once she knew about his family and was comfortable with them, and my father discovered Joe was a diligent worker, they felt he was a serious guy who was treating me seriously.”
Is there a particular present Joe gave you for a holiday that stands out in your mind?
“It was Valentine’s Day a few weeks ago. Joe had suffered an eye stroke and was unable to see clearly. His vision was so bad that he had to have a cornea transplant. On Valentine’s Day, he would personally send many flowers to me. This last one, though, was the most unique.
Because he couldn’t drive, he walked six blocks to the grocery, bought some steaks and a cake, and surprised me with a steak meal and cake on Valentine’s Day when I returned home for lunch. It was simply breathtaking. When I stepped in, everything was in place, and he had a tremendous smile on his face. I gave him the most extended embrace I’d ever given him as he stood up. It meant a great deal to me. I didn’t want him out walking in the first place, but he didn’t heed my advice. Outside, it was around 56 degrees. It was so unexpected that I told him, ‘You outdid yourself.’ You always make me feel special.’ ‘That’s what I wanted to accomplish,’ he added. Yes, he did.
‘Velma, you had a relationship that all women dream of,’ some ladies recently told me. It’s something we’ve never seen before. Only a few people understand it, but you did.’ That is correct. I’m so fulfilled, so blessed, and I thank the Lord for this man, even though he’s gone now.”
You and Joe had been married for over 40 years. What do you believe was the most critical factor in your relationship’s longevity?
“Honestly, the fact that God was at the centre of our relationship. Joe was raised in the Apostolic Church. His mother took him to church, and he knew the Bible like the back of his hand. He might be able to quote it. That was one of the things that drew me to him; he was more interested in religion than I was. I was raised Catholic, and we married in the Catholic church, but until he showed me how, I had never read the Bible. I was mortified, but he was understanding.
Joe had a strong sense of right and wrong as a result of it. He was honest in his profession; if someone asked for a favour, even if it were a relative, he would say no, explaining that it might get them in problems down the road, and he didn’t want it on his conscience.
Aside from that, we made a concerted attempt to communicate. It was simple since our personalities were so compatible — we never got irritated about minor irritations like some people do when their spouse chews too loudly or anything. That had never happened to us before. If one of us was bothered by something, it was typically something significant, and we dealt with it maturely and utilised it as an opportunity to improve.
Joe was a taciturn driver while he was on the road. He refused to speak to me. At first, it made me feel horrible as if I was boring him and he didn’t want to talk to me. When I asked why, he replied that he had an evil eye (his left eye was constantly hazy), and he didn’t want to get distracted and endanger my life while driving. Then I understood, and it wasn’t a problem – if we hadn’t communicated correctly, I would have made a mistake, resulting in an unneeded issue. No matter who you are, you must speak plainly and honestly.”
On that point, what advice would you give to young couples, particularly newlywed couples, to assist them in strengthening their bonds?
“First and foremost, I would tell them to be close to God because God is the centre of everything.” When God is in charge, you don’t have to be in order. Always be open, honest, and kind to one another. ‘My feelings are harmed — is this what you meant?’ tell them if you or they do. That’s something I’d do: I’d inquire about it.
Joe once went out with a group of buddies and didn’t return home until 6 a.m. I was pretty concerned. I was up and furious when he returned, but I just went up to him and said, ‘Oh, you’re okay, thank God, come on in.’ He was apologetic the following day. ‘We have two kids; what if they need to go to the hospital?’ I told him. I told him he had to let me know what he was up to and where he was going, significantly if his plans changed. I didn’t want to be angry with him; instead, I tried to use it as an opportunity for us to grow together rather than separately.
I’d also recommend that you turn off your phones! You’re not communicating with each other if you’re looking at your phone. I see it all the time: people at dining tables with both men and women on their phones. If you’re gazing at your phone, what are you saying? ‘You’re not special enough for me to put down my phone and have a conversation with,’ you’re saying. Instead, put the phone down and tell yourself, ‘You are what matters, not my work, not my business – you.’
What about Joe do you miss the most?
“It’s his love. His soul. Hugs from him. He was lovely — I remember him being out there with our granddaughter and just looking at me from afar and smiling sweetly. I understood what he meant when he said, “I love you.” I watched him go from a hunk of a man to a father. When our baby had colic, I witnessed him massage oil on her tummy, and when I glanced at his face while he was talking to her, I knew he’d transformed into a father right before my eyes.
I miss his heart, his love. He, on the other hand, lavished me with enough passion for enduring two lifetimes.”
What music makes you think of Joe?
“There are a few,” says the narrator. ‘Let’s Stay Together,’ by Al Green, was the first one we loved. When we were teenagers, that was our theme tune. After that, the Carpenters’ ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ was played. The song was eventually renamed ‘The Dance’ by Garth Brooks. The music “The Dance” is about how you can’t have the dance without going through hardships. People do not want to go through difficult times, but they must if they want to dance. It’s just what I’m looking for.
There was also a song named ‘Your Man’ by Josh Turner. We’d stop what we were doing and dance to that song whenever it came on – it could be 5 a.m., Joe might be working in the yard, at the pool, anywhere — It was so much fun doing the ridiculous things we’d do.”
What do you think life’s purpose is?
“We’re all here to live,” says the narrator. Life is an adventure. ‘You only live once,’ they say, but they are mistaken. Every day you live, but you only die once. Every day must be lived. Recognize that life is a trip, and while the journey may take you in numerous directions, you will eventually arrive. If you find someone with a caring heart, love them every day, and they’ll be yours forever.”
Joe wrote Velma this poem for their 25th wedding anniversary in 1998:
A Gift from God
I know the Lord loves me, and I thank Him every day
For the precious gift, he sent me, to lighten up my way
He sent a golden-haired angel into my dreary life
With open arms, I begged for her to be my wife
I have all I want, and I want all I have
Except for another life for us to be together
Thank you, Lord, for my wife. Love you always
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