The People of Georgetown
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.
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.
After posting my first Valentine Couple, I got a phone call from someone (Barbara), asking if I would be interested in interviewing her parents as they’d been married for 65 years. Of course! I quickly packed up my notebook and camera and headed on over there.
I came in and we all introduced ourselves and I took a seat. I noticed the New York accent and asked where they were from. Mary explained they’re from New York, but moved here to be closer to their daughter. Ronnie is in a motorized wheelchair. I only mention this because his story is amazing on its own. He was a 19-year-old bricklayer when he was diagnosed with Polio.
“I spent almost a year in the hospital, you know, for treatments and that, and then when I came out, I walked out of the hospital. Then, I went back to work as a bricklayer.”
“You did?” I asked in surprise.
I expressed that as a retired nurse myself, Polio was not a big problem in the medical field when I was working. What I knew of it was limited knowledge.
“Well, you have a period of...something like a remission,” Ronnie explained. “After so many years, it really starts to affect the muscles, though.”
“So, you’ve been married 65 years.” I stated, remembering their daughter, Barbara’s, comment to me. “How old are you now?”
“Yes, we’ve been married 65 years; 66 years as of this April,” Mary answered. “Ronnie is 89 and I’m 86.”
Ronnie was full of stories, too, which he shared with me. In marriages, one is always the storyteller or comedian and in this one, it was Ronnie (I wonder who it is in my marriage?).
“How did you two meet?” I asked going back to my notebook.
Mary laughed a little before answering the question. “I was working in a bank at the time and his brother was my supervisor. One night, he asked me if I would like to go out on a date with his brother...he was talking about Ronnie...and I said that I would.”
“It was a blind date,” Ronnie added.
“Really? A blind date?” This was interesting.
Both nodded in agreement as Mary went on, “We double dated with his brother, my supervisor, and his wife.”
I had to ask and if you’ve been reading my columns, you knew it was coming. “Who knew first? Who knew you wanted to be together forever?”
Ronnie and Mary looked at each other and shrugged. Together, they answered at the same time, “It just kind of happened. We just knew.”
“It wasn’t long after we started dating that we got married,” Ronnie threw in. “Back in those days, people didn’t have long engagements.”
“No, no long engagements at all. Families just didn’t go for that back in those days,” Mary agreed. “We dated for about six months, and then we were engaged for six months, and that was that.”
Knowing this lovely couple is eloquently old fashioned, I asked, “Did you get down on one knee and ask her to marry you?”
With a laugh, Ronnie answered, “No, I didn’t do that.”
I asked about the families; if there were difficulties since these two were raised with different cultural upbringings. Historically speaking, from the early 1900s to around the late 1950s, upbringing had a lot to do with your family’s culture and it was very important. That being said, Ronnie is Italian and his grandparents hailed from Italy, while Mary’s family was Irish and German. Mary’s mother was an Irish immigrant and came through Ellis Island and her father is of German descent.
“Everyone got along well,” Mary said of the two different families.
Eventually, Ronnie quit bricklaying and Mary quit working at the bank. She stayed home to raise their four children while Ronnie opened up his own fast-food business, Chicken Delight.
“We had the four kids because we needed help with the business,” Ronnie said laughingly. “They’ve all four worked in the restaurant and you should see them all cut up a chicken, too.”
As we were bringing things to a close, I asked for their own recipe for a lasting marriage. If anyone guessed that God was the first thing on their list, they’d be right.
“Going to church is very important,” Mary said with conviction, “And taking care of one another.”
Ronnie nodded in agreement. “You need communication and also commitment. Someone once told me: Marriage is not 50/50 it’s is 100/100% all the time.”
I jotted some of my notes as I said, “Yes, someone else said that, too.”
“Trust,” Mary said adding to the list. “You have to be able to trust one another.”
As a last ingredient, Ronnie said, “And, don’t go to bed angry.”
I had heard that piece of advice years ago, so jokingly, I said, “Ha! I sure will tell my husband that he made me mad and now I’m going to bed mad at him.”
I finished up and closed my notebook. These two, like all of the others, has been an inspiration and truly, it was a pleasure to have met them. Thank you for this opportunity to write about you and I hope that you both have many more wonderful Valentine’s Day celebrations together.
My husband and me did not realize what a treat we were in for when we stopped in to see Tom and Jeanne Rea. Although, we remember Tom from when he was a Deputy Sheriff, this was our first time meeting Jeanne. They are truly adorable!
After we were all seated, Jeanne asked, as is the Georgetown southern tradition, “Who is your daddy? Well, more like, who are your grandparents?”
My husband explained whom his grandparents were, which did not ring a bell, but when he started talking about his father, they knew exactly where he came from. I could only laugh and shake my head.
While Jeanne stayed a kindergarten teacher during her career, Tom muddled around in different arenas. He started out as a deejay, or radio host, for WINH, an AM station in Georgetown.
“That’s how we met,” Tom confessed while recounting his deejay days.
“Yes, that’s right,” Jeanne added. “My mother was a secretary there and so I met Tom from her job there. He was twenty-four and I was twenty-one at the time.”
“How old are you now?” I asked.
“He’s 77 and I’m 74,” Jeanne answered. “We’ve been married for 53 years.”
“We met on July 4th and married a few months later in November,” Tom added.
After giving my own husband a look of reprieve as he has trouble remembering dates, I asked my favorite question of couples, “Who knew first, that you wanted to be together?”
They both looked at each other confused before Tom said, “Well, it just kind of happened. I was at the radio station and there was another job that paid $5 more so we just packed up and moved to Chattanooga.”
With a laugh, Jeanne explained, “That’s how things were back then. Five dollars was a lot of money, so when something opened up that paid the extra bit, we would pack up and move.”
After some thought, though, Tom said, “I think I knew before she did that I wanted us to spend the rest of our lives together. Our families quickly put together a wedding and then, we were off.”
“What brought you back to Georgetown?” I asked. “Was it another $5 increase?”
Jeanne shook her head. “No, our son John was born. We wanted to have a more stable life for him to grow up in. You know, you just can’t raise a child moving around like we were doing every time there was a $5 increase in a job so, we decided to come back to Georgetown and raise him here. Nine years later, we had twin girls.”
“We came back and I started working out at the pro-shop in Wedgefield,” Tom added. “Michael Carter was the sheriff back then and he loved to golf. I got to know him pretty good in those days. One day, he asked if I wanted to be a deputy and I said sure so, he told me to be there the next day and he handed me a badge and gun and deputized me.”
With a laugh, Jeanne explained, “That’s scary, huh? But, that’s how things were done back in those days. You didn’t need all this special training and such.”
“That was in ‘79,” Tom continued, “I worked there for a good many years, and then went on to the police station up toward the beach. My favorite job was working security for Santee Cooper. Finally, Jeanne and I just decided it was time to retire.”
“Well, I retired after the doctors told me it was just time,” she said picking up where Tom left off. “I thought about it, and I just decided it wasn’t fair to the children…which I loved so much. I wasn’t able to get around like before.”
We talked about so many things and for so long. Most of my interviews are about an hour long and the four of us ended up chatting for a few hours as if we were old long lost high school buddies catching up.
Tom and Jeanne talked with so much pride about their son, John, who is a pastor in Surf Side, and likewise, beamed with pride speaking of their twin girls, Terry and Erin. They showed us pictures of their family: children and grandchildren and shared stories of them growing up in Georgetown. To say they are proud parents and grandparents is an understatement. My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed the stories, though.
As we started wrapping things up, I asked about their own recipe for a happy and long lasting marriage. Of course God, topped their list, but they did have their own addition.
1). “You need a sense of humor,” Jeanne said simply.
“That’s very important,” Tom added, agreeing with his wife wholeheartedly. “You cannot take things to heart so much.
2) “You can’t argue a lot, either. That just tears you down.”
Jeanne nodded and said with a laugh, “Do like I do, just tune him out.”
3) After a few seconds of thought, Jeanne went on, “I’ve learned you have to have your own friends. You need your friends, his friends, and then friends together.”
Tom nodded, “That’s right. You do things together as a family, but you do need your own friends, too. You know, when we first got married, I was outgoing; an extrovert and Jeanne kept to herself. Then later, Jeanne became the more outgoing one and I became more of the introvert.”
Jeanne agreed. “A friend of mine once told me that if I did not get out of the house, I wouldn’t ever get out of the house so I learned to just get out for a while. I was already independent, but now, I was even more so.”
4) “And trust,” Tom added. “You have to have trust and not be jealous all the time.”
“That will tear you down, too,” Jeanne offered in agreement with her husband.
I set my notebook of notes aside. That was pretty much the end of my interview, but as I said, we talked for a long time. It was such a pleasure visiting with Tom and Jeanne. My husband and I left feeling inspired and in awe of such a great couple.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Tom and Jeanne. May you be blessed with many more to come.
Scott Harper, of GAB News, encouraged me to do a special Valentine’s column where I interview a couple who has been married for a long time. I thought it was a fabulous idea, however, I did not think I would get much of a response as people do not seem to stay married for very long anymore.
That couldn’t have been farther from the truth. The response was overwhelming, yet, inspiring. There were so many responses, mostly from children proudly proclaiming, “My parents have been married _____ years!” It was truly so amazing that I’ve decided to write about a few of these old time honeymooners starting with Frankie and Harriette Davis, of Georgetown.
They graciously welcomed my husband and me into their home. As we all gathered around, I explained what I was doing and how we would just sit around and talk and then I’d go home and write about it.
Being old Georgetonians, I knew they were going to ask so, the first question out the gate was, “Who’s your daddy?”
My husband and I explained who his family was before I asked. “How long have you been married?”
“Fifty years,” Harriette answered. “We met at Chips; you know, where Hardees is now.”
“No, no,” Frankie interrupted, “It was Hardees then – I had just gotten home from boot camp and was up there. There were a couple of pretty girls hanging around and I decided to go over and talk to them.”
“And Harriette was one of them…” I added more as statement than question.
Frankie nodded “Oh yeah, it was her and a couple of her girlfriends. We got married that November, four months later.”
He spoke a little of how the families were unsure because they had only just met and didn’t know each other very well. However, the families did come together about the nuptials. Frankie expressed how he was so touched that his family had graciously accepted Harriet with so much love.
Harriette giggled a little. “Yeah, my daddy did not like him at all. He hated him. There are four girls in my family and my daddy always said that no one would be good enough for his girls.” She paused a minute and then added, “In the end, though, he did like him.”
“My family all thought Harriette was the nicest person,” he said of his wife. “Everyone loved her.”
“I still say it was Chips,” Harriette added with a chuckle. “And I’m older than him, too. I didn’t want to date someone who was younger than me, either. I told him that, too; that I did not want to date someone younger than me.”
“And I’m so hardheaded,” Frankie picked up, “And said ‘who are you to tell me what to do? Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do!’ I wasn’t going to stand for that. So, I dated her anyway. Besides, I knew she was the one and I wasn’t going to let her just walk away like that, anyway.”
“You knew when you met that she was the one you wanted to spend the rest of your life with?” I was surprised because I was the same when I met my own husband.
“Yes, I knew she was the one,” he confirmed.
“Did you know?” I asked of Harriette.
“No, I didn’t know. He had to talk me into it,” she said with a chuckle.
“Well, what is the age difference?” I asked in the midst of the dating conversation.
“I’m 72; he’s 70,” Harriette answered.
“I haven’t had my birthday yet this year. She’s about a year and a half older than me,” Frankie explained.
The four of us talked for quite some time. They shared with me that while Harriette worked as an office manager and receptionist for the hospital and later for Doctor Varn, Frankie worked as a contractor. He’s done plumbing, built homes, and helped others build homes. In between all of this, they raised two children together.
We all agreed that couples today do not respect the vows they took at the altar. “To love, honor, and respect each other for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.” Young couples today are too worried about things that do not matter.
As I was bringing things to an end, I asked, “Can you two tell me what you think are good ingredients in having a lasting relationship?”
“God,” Harriette answered without hesitation. “God should always be first.”
“You need to put each other first,” Frankie added. “Like we were just saying, ‘for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.’ Well, we’ve been through all that...we’ve had good days, bad days, better days...we’ve been richer, we’ve been poorer, and of course, we’ve had days where sickness and in health is affected.”
Harriette nodded in agreement with Frankie. “You also have to realize that arguments are going to happen, but you should have a mutual respect for each other. I’m not one to argue, so I won’t argue with him, anyway.”
“You know, another thing people don’t realize that it’s important to do things together. For instance, I see couples have ‘girls night,’ and the fellas have ‘a night out with the boys,’ or something.” Frankie paused to shake his head a little. “Harriette and I never did that. We did everything together as a family.”
I agreed. It helps to solidify the bond between husband, wife, and family. “Fifty years,” I thought as I wrapped things up. They are so right! I can only pray that my husband and I are as fortunate as Frankie and Harriette Davis.
We bade our goodbyes amidst the hilarious Chips vs Hardees banter. In Harriette’s defense, I was 16 when Hardees was built in the spot it’s at now. Before then, there was an A-Frame building standing there. Everyone agrees that Chips was the A-Frame building. That being said, Hardees has been in that particular location for thirty-seven years.
These two were a pleasure and an inspiration. Thank you for letting me write about you. Happy Valentine’s Day, and I pray for you to have many more.