Anyone who has ever been in love has a story to tell. If you were to ask to hear it, one person may start at the beginning and recount what happened when they first saw their sweetheart; then again others may tell where they are in the relationship now and fill in the rest of the details along the way. Yet, no matter how the story unfolds, each one is beautiful in its’ own way. Last week in honor of the season of love and Valentine’s Day, I sat down with two couples who have been together for more than 50 years to hear their love stories and what they consider the secret to staying together for so long.
Shedwrich Risper, Jr. and his wife Mary Kate have been married for 58 years and first met when they were 17 and 15 respectively. Each had been out walking around Lincoln Park with their group of friends when they passed each other on the street. When Shedwrich saw Mary Kate that day, he knew he had to talk to her, but he did not know who she was; so he asked her for her name. Well, apparently Mary Kate was not too keen on the idea of talking to him that day and she admitted she used to have a bad habit of cursing back then.
“When he asked me my name, I told him ‘none of your d*** business,” she said with a hearty laugh. “But by the next time that I saw him, I thought he was alright, so we started talking.”
As they say, the rest is history. The couple married on December 24, 1955 when he was 19 years old and she was 17 years old and have been by each other’s side ever since. Together they have raised three children, Edward, Cynthia and Gertha; have seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. When talking about their family, the pair just lights up and you can feel how proud they are of their children and grandchildren.
While the past 58 years have not always been easy and they have had their share of disagreements, the pair says they have always been happy and have always been very close. They knew in the beginning in order for them to make it as a couple, they would have to work together; and when it came to finances working together was extra important to them both. When they were newlyweds, they lived in a four room house on Skelton Road that had no finished ceiling, just exposed rafters under the roof.
“It wasn’t much, but it was mine,” said Shedwrich of the house they made their home for the first 13 and a half years of their marriage.
During that time he was working at the Hanson Motor Company making $25 a week, while Mary Kate was working in homes for $12 a week. He later worked at Martha Mills for 35 years, while she worked for the William Carter Company before they both retired. Shedwrich noted that it was his wife who convinced him not to spend so much of their earnings and thankfully that helped money to never be a problem. In fact he credits not getting into so much debt where you cannot handle yourself, as one of the secrets to a lasting marriage. Mary Kate agreed and added that it is important not to have any secrets between each other if you want to make it as long as they have.
When asked if they had any final words of wisdom to impart on younger couples, Shedwrich offered this important tidbit.
“It won’t be good all the time,” said Shedwrich, “but, you have to try to understand each other and weigh the differences.”
The next couple I sat down with had a unique story of how they first met, and one that in my opinion shows how fate can step in right when it is supposed to.
Otis Solomon Jr., first met his wife Willie when they were still in high school, although he was from Thomaston and she was from Roberta. He laughed when he began to tell their story, which all started while he was on a date with another girl. Otis and his date had drove down to a café in Roberta, but when they got to the establishment, she did not want to get out of the car. Not wanting to miss a good time, or to waste the gas used to drive out of town, he went on inside and that was where fate came into play.
“I saw this girl who I thought was pretty, so I asked her to dance. It was “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino,” he said as a smile spread across his face.
However, after a few songs played, Otis’s actual date came in and said she was ready to go home so he left, not knowing when he might see Willie again. A few weeks went by and he still had not heard from here, but one afternoon while listening to a radio program on WSFT he heard her voice when she called to dedicate a song to him.
“I thought he was good looking, and that was just something we did back then,” said Willie when asked what made her want to dedicate the song to Otis.
From there it was another three to four months before the pair would meet up again at a school function, then they wrote to each other for three years when Otis went into the Air Force. They were married 53 years ago on July 12, 1960, while he was home on leave. Together they had five children, Sheryl, Stanley, Duane, Kim and Steve, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Through the 23 years Otis was in the Air Force, they lived in Germany, Maine, New York, South Dakota, California and Florida before coming back to Thomaston. Once back here, Otis worked for Yamaha for 20 years before becoming a substitute teacher for 10 years in the local school system; while Willie worked for Kmart and Belk before retiring. The pair now enjoys spending time at the Senior Center and their church, Pine Chapel Baptist.
In addition to the birth of their children and grandchildren, one of their happiest memories from the last 53 years came on their 50th wedding anniversary. Their children decided to throw them a party that had over 125 of their friends and family in attendance. Otis stated that for the party he had written a one page essay for his daughter to read of how he and her mother met. However, that one page story was turned into a book called “The Angry Date” and is filled with pictures of their family over the years.
“Out of every 10 sentences in that book, one might actually be factual,” said Otis with a laugh.
While the story may have stretched the truth a little, both agree that it is something very special to them.
When asked what is something they would want to tell a couple who is just beginning their lives together, Willie noted that a successful marriage is not an overnight deal, it is something that takes time and hard work and prayer. Otis agreed and added the importance of working together.
“If there are differences, you can work them out,” he said. “You both have to be willing to work together and understand there is no perfect way to have a happy marriage. Everyone is different.”
When it comes to love stories, we may think this day and age we have heard all of them before: boy meets girl, they fall in love and live happily ever after. Actually, there are numerous love stories all around us each day and there is something special about each one. When I sat down with the Rispers and the Solomons, I learned of two unique stories that began more than half a century ago. When each couple told of their life together, you could feel the love they have for each other and how after more than 50 years, there is no one else they would rather have by their side. While each love story is beautiful, in my opinion it is those which never seem to end that are the best.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1