Feb. 8, 2019

Lenair & Marilyn Altman

Another proud child put me in touch with her parents, Lenair and Marilyn Altman. They have been married for 62 years. Yes, that is something to be very proud of for both parties: couples and children.

In a previous article, I mention that with couples one is the storyteller or comedian and the other is the listener. I mention this again because when I came in, I commented on how beautiful their home is and asked if I could move in as it was certainly big enough.

Lenair replied, “Sure you can! Just not today.”

(I found the storyteller) In the first few minutes of the interview, I learned the Altmans had built the house they’re in now in 1967 where they raised their daughter and only child. During which time, Lenair worked at the International Paper Mill for forty years before retiring while Marilyn was a nurse, even before they got married.

“First, I worked at IP for only four years,” Lenair shared, “Then in ‘52; I joined the Air Force and went off overseas. I came back 1960 and they had to give me my job back so, I went back to work at the paper mill and then retired from there.”

“I was always a nurse,” Marilyn said of her career. “When Lenair and I married, I was teaching nursing in Columbia at the university.”

Before we went any further, I wanted to try and keep things chronological so I backed everything up and asked, “Where did you two meet?”

“We met in Johnsonville,” Lenair answered. “We were high school sweethearts. Her two sisters were on the basketball team there and so was I, but she only came to watch me play.”

“Why was that?” I asked.

As if I should have already known the answer, he replied with a chuckle, “Because she loved me.”

Obviously, Marilyn is used to her other half’s sense of humor. She laughed and explained, “My mother was a teacher and she was raising three girls by herself after my daddy died. We moved to Johnsonville in 1949 so she could teach there.”

“So you met in high school and dated for how long?”

“Seven years,” Lenair answered. “We dated on and off for a long time before we ran off and got married. Actually, we were going to just elope, but my Aunt Ruby McConnell, over there on Oak Street, said she wasn’t going to have any of that and had us come to her house and get married. So, that’s where we did it. We got married at my Aunt Ruby’s house. She had her pastor come out and do the ceremony.”

“No big wedding then?” I asked.

“No, people didn’t have the big expensive weddings like you see today,” Marilyn replied. “Back in those days, no one had the money to get fancy like that.”

“Seven years is a long time to date, though, most of the couples I’ve talked to have all had short engagements,” I said of my past interviewees. “Who knew first that you two were meant for each other?”

They looked at one another a little confused, then back to me before they finally answered at the same time, “We both did.”

“Well, I only had a week. I knew I was going to be sent to Japan and so I went to Columbia to get her, because that’s where she was teaching at. Then, like I said, we went to my Aunt Ruby’s house and got married.”

With a gleam in her eye, Marilyn couldn’t resist and added, “He married me before going off to Japan because he was afraid I’d marry someone else before he got back.”

We talked for a piece about different things. Marilyn and I shared a few nursing stories while Lenair and I talked about the old days. She opened the first recovery room in Georgetown County and helped get school nursing put into the schools. 

Lenair and I talked about J. C. Cox’s Gulf Station at the fork on S. Island Road and, of course, my father-in-law’s Maryville Shell station just down the street on Fraser and Martin Street. I think most Georgetonians will eventually ask who your family is. It’s just a part of the culture here.

“It’s amazing that all of you who have been married for so long all know one another,” I marveled. This is exactly why I write about Georgetown. I want people to see how great this town and the people are. Referring to the Davis, Rea’s and Weezie and Jeep Ford, I said, “I love that you are all friends this many years later.”

“Well, we have a lot of friends,” Lenair stated with a straight-face, then added, “But most of them are all dead now.”

I’m telling you: Lenair just needs a bow tie and a cigar and he could be George Burns. Marilyn would make a great Gracie Allen – she just shakes her head at him.

Now, we’re coming to an end and I asked for their recipe of a successful and lasting marriage. Marilyn directed her husband to answer as she listened, agreeing with his recipe. God is first, always. Beyond that:

First, “A husband should always keep his wife happy. The old saying ‘if Mama ain’t happy, no one is,’ is very true.”

Second, “Only one person should be in control of the money. You cannot have two people trying to manage the finances in the household. For our home, Marilyn took care of the bills and the money...I have no idea what she did with it, either, but if it were not for her, we would be completely broke,”

Third, “Commitment – You need to work things out, not run away when you have an argument. Disagreements are going to happen from time to time.”

Fourth, “You should be in love when you get married. Don’t marry out of convenience – love each other every day and not just on good days, but on bad days, too.”

“Yes, I agree,” Marilyn stated as a matter-of-fact. “Love each other and don’t listen to what other people say to you. People will talk about anything so you just need to ignore them.”

As I stood to go, Lenair pointed out his beautiful backyard. I had been admiring it from where I was sitting. It’s just as magnificent as their home. I was sorry to go, too. They are a great couple and I truly enjoyed our visit.

Happy Valentine's Day Lenair and Marilyn. I hope you have many more to come and thank you for this opportunity.