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Senior sweethearts enjoy marriage for 60-plus years

Feb. 10, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Throughout history the meaning of love has become so mysterious and complex, that it seems impossible to provide an acceptable definition that totally identifies its meaning for all ages. While love continues to be the subject of endless poems and literary works, most of these writings fail to mention a few intrinsic elements of love that are required to better understand its meaning. So if you're really interested in knowing what love is, how it endures, what makes it work, what keeps it fresh and exciting -- the answer can only come from those who have long ago passed Cupid's classroom exam with flying colors.

Carl and Louise Riggs have been married over 63 years. They were married at Sacred Heart Church in Williamson, W.Va., on June 26, 1949. Their marriage has survived military separation, endured the devastating Williamson flood in 1977 and the rigors of job relocation. That kind of tenure qualifies them for this year's place of honor in Cupid's high court of time honored sweethearts.

"We met in the summer of 1947," said Carl. "I was home in Williamson, W.Va., on a 30 day furlough from the Navy. After the miseries of boot camp, I was really looking forward to spending some relaxing time at home before my next assignment. During this time there was a traveling carnival in town, so me and a few of my pals decided to go."

Carl describes his first romantic glimpse of this beautiful girl walking the crowded carnival midway with her friends. All he was able to do was stare at her from his swaying seat high atop the Ferris wheel.

"I was afraid I would lose sight of her," said Carl. "I couldn't wait for the Ferris wheel to stop so I could run and try to locate her."

"I thought he was sort of conceited at first," said Louise. "But he made a big hit with my parents. He was persistent right from the first night we met at the carnival. He even managed to walk me home that very evening."

It's a good thing that Cupid's love continued working overtime in Carl's behalf, because there were other suitors with the same ambitions and they had a bit of seniority.

But finally after a few shared hamburgers and a couple of downtown movies, Carl's affection began gaining ground. There were more afternoon walks home to meet her parents, a day trip to Dreamland pool with friends, and a positive change in Carl's behavior. All of which finally elevated him to the front of the line in winning Louise's hand. Two years later, after many letters and telephone calls, Carl was discharged from the Navy. He rushed home and married the girl he first saw from atop the Ferris wheel.

"We honeymooned under the bright lights of the big city of Huntington," said Louise. "Carl didn't have a car, so we rode the Greyhound bus and spent the weekend at the Prichard Hotel. I wonder how many honeymooners traveled in a bus?"

The next two years were good for the young Riggs family. Carl was working with Appalachian Power Company, Louise was working for A & P Grocery sales and by 1951 their first son was 14 months old. It was also the year that Carl received another draft notice from the Navy.

"At first, I thought my buddies were playing a joke," said Carl. "So I just ignored that first letter. But in another week I received a second notice from the Department of the Navy. This one contained orders and official instructions with reporting times."

What Carl didn't realize, his first separation from the Navy was really not a discharge. He was placed on inactive reserve status, this met he could be recalled to active duty. In his case, that's exactly what happened.

Soon after, Carl was sailing on the USS Mt. McKinley troop transport ship heading for a tiny communication station on the island of Guam. He called that island home for the next 14 months.

"Service life brought about another one of love's major characteristics," said Carl. "That was accepting what we had been given. Good or bad, we were forced to accept the unknown months of separation by accepting it and making the best of something we had no control over. We felt we had no other choice."

Soon their life together began to resemble the illusions they imagined when their marriage vows were exchanged. Carl eventually found work as a letter carrier with the post office. Louise worked as a food service supervisor at a local hospital. Eventually a series of transfers to other towns, years of seniority, a few promotions and more transfers, eventually moved them to Huntington as for Carl to serve as a postmaster.

The marriage of Carl and Louise Riggs produced three sons, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren with another expected this September. They have endured with an unconditional love that has grown by appreciating what each partner has to share. Another one of Love's main building blocks: Unconditional!

"Separation is not a pleasant experience," said Carl. "But Louise was able to make things work out while I was in the service."

When this couple was asked their secret to a long and happy marriage, the response covered a wide range of answers. There was mention of having patience with your spouse. Having courage when things seem difficult, not taking each other too serious, always sharing and caring, attending church and putting into practice what you heard from the pulpit. Knowing that marriage is not always a 50/50 situation, sometimes it's 30/70, and you have to be ready to give in at times for the sake of harmony.

On advice for newlyweds, Louise offered the following: "tolerance, understanding, acceptance and doing things together, understand that love has priority over all matters. Find and discover the blessings of including God in your marriage."

Yes, they both agreed that they would do it all over again. Even if Carl had to fight all those suitors off one more time -- he would do it.

Clyde Beal is an area freelance writer looking for family stories. Write him at archie350@frontier.com.