James & Evelyn Wragg
My friend, Andrea Johnson, told me about James and Evelyn Wragg. I did not realize they had been married for 63 years and going on 64 years in November. When I got there, I recognized them from the Trinity Lutheran Church in Maryville.
James is 86 and Evelyn is 82 in April. “We’ve known each for most of our lives,” she said with a laugh.
Although, they are both from Georgetown, they met in New York where they ended up living for about fifty years before returning. “It was time to come home,” James said of the move back to Georgetown.
“What kind of work did you do in New York?” I asked as one of my first questions.
“I’m a retired nurse,” Evelyn answered. “I became a nurse in ‘68 and quit in ‘78. I did not like how the patients were being treated and cared for so, I left nursing and became a cook. I cooked for a boy’s home in Brooklyn before retiring. Now, I volunteer my time at Helping Hands.”
I turned to James, who I’ve already determined was the storyteller of the two. He leaned back in his chair thoughtfully, and then said, “I was a porter. That was my title. I worked for the New York City Housing Authority.”
“What is a porter?” I asked as I jotted some notes down.
“I was a porter,” he said again, “A caretaker.”
Evelyn leaned over and answered, “He was a janitor, but they are called ‘porters’ in New York.
Being a janitor is a very lucrative job. When I was a young girl, I overheard the adults talking. My father’s friend was a janitor and made excellent money. I remember thinking that if I couldn’t be a nurse or a writer, I would be a janitor at my school.
“So before you retired and moved back to Georgetown, how did the two of you meet?” I asked.
“Our sisters were friends,” James began. “And I was over there when Evelyn came in.”
“He was hanging out at his sisters, is what he was doing,” Evelyn said laughing. “He moved to New York before I did, but I was in New York, at the time, just visiting.”
James nodded and confirmed it. “That’s right and then we were set up for me to pick her up for dinner and then later, we got married.”
I sensed he was skipping a huge part of this story so I looked to Evelyn and on a hunch, I said, “He’s a bit of a flirt, isn’t he?”
“Yes, he is” she said laughing. Without further prompting, she filled in the gaps. “The whole time he was trying to impress me by talking about his girlfriend down here. He was saying, ‘I bet you know my girlfriend who lives in Georgetown’.”
James was laughing as I asked to clarify, “He was telling you about his girlfriend while on a date with you?”
“Yes, he was. And then when I came back to Georgetown so I could finish my school and graduate, he wrote me love letters...the whole time,” she said of their courtship.
“James,” I said laughingly, “You are a flirt.” He agreed.
They are so easygoing and so easy to visit with. I hated to leave them, but I knew our time was growing shorter, so I dashed into the next part of the interview.
“Who knew first that you wanted to marry the other?” I asked.
“He did,” Evelyn answered without hesitation.
“You, James?” I asked turning to him. “Even while you were talking about your girlfriend to her?”
He nodded his head in agreement. With a laugh, he answered, “Yes, I knew the day we met that I wanted to marry her and I did marry her, too. We got married at my sister’s house in 1955. The family had put together a nice wedding for us.”
“She had a three-story brownstone so, we married in the living room and then had the reception downstairs in the basement,” Evelyn added.
I wrote a few more notes before getting to the final question. “What would you say was the glue that kept you together? What is your recipe for a lasting marriage?”
In unison, they both said, “Prayer.”
As I wrote that down, Evelyn elaborated, “You need God first. You should have a strong sense of faith.”
“Laughter,” James added. “You have to have a sense of humor and be able to laugh together.”
Again, at the same time, they both said, “Honesty. You have to be honest with one another.”
After several thoughtful seconds, Evelyn said, “I’d have to say friendship. You know; be friends with one another.”
James nodded in agreement with his wife’s answer. I loved how these two were on the same wavelength with one another.
This is certainly an unusual couple. I’ve said a few times about one being the storyteller or comedian and the other the listener. At first, I thought for sure it was James, but now as I’ve closed my notebook, I realize, Evelyn is just as good at telling a story as James. That being said, I’d have to say he’s more the comedian of the two. He certainly cracked me up and sent me home with a smile and occasional laugh over the interview.
Thank you James and Evelyn. It was truly a pleasure to have talked with you both. Happy Valentine’s and I wish you many more.