Don and Ruth Graves of North Ogden recently celebrated their 75th anniversary. That’s not a typo. They married in 1943 just out of high school. She was 17; he was 18. Most folks would like to know how the Graves managed to stay together for 75 years.
Some might like to know why.
Sifting through the facts of their lives yields a few insights, starting with how they met. Both played in the school band, Ruth on the flute and Don on the clarinet. One evening after a band concert, a mutual friend invited Ruth on a drive. Propriety forbade her from going alone with him. So he grabbed a friend, Don, and Ruth grabbed a girl friend, and the four went looking for a place to dance. That’s what you did in the 40s. You also traded partners.
“We traded partners for a dance, and never traded back. Those other two married, and we married. We traded partners—for keeps,” Ruth said.
A young couple needs a place to live. Don’s dad divided a 40-acre piece of property between him and his brother, and helped the newlyweds build a “garage house”—a 24-foot-square building designed for two cars. No bathroom, no water, and a coal stove for heat and cooking. The Graves lived there “temporarily” for 10 years before they could afford a house.
They used an outhouse, dug a well for water, and raised 4 children in that home.
It was the ’40s, so Don was drafted into the army despite his married status. During the two years he spent in the Philippines, Don saved every dime he earned from selling the Army-issued cigarettes he received. Back home, Ruth saved every penny she could of the $150 per month subsistence check she received. When he returned home, the youngsters paid $1875 in cash for a John Deere tractor and farmed their 20 acres plus the other 20. Sugar beets, grain, hay, “spuds”, a small dairy—farmers were paid to produce for the army effort. So farming was lucrative for the enterprising couple.
By the time they had seven children, the family moved to an 800-acre ranch near Dillon, Montana. “Mostly because I got tired of milking cows,” Don said. They raised 200 beef cattle there. Don rode herd-literally. It was idyllic, but no picnic. “It was nice, but not when it was 20 below,” Don said. Nor when he was bucked off a cantankerous horse, breaking his arm and dislocating his shoulder. Ruth called them the “skinny years.” But the family survived and thrived there.
Ten years later they moved back to Utah, settling in North Ogden. Don’s years were spent in maintenance work, a dairy job, and working at a cleaners—he retired from there. Ruth’s years were spent keeping house, helping raise and preserve the vegetable gardens (the farming never left them), baking the family’s bread (she still does), and taking care of their children—all 12 of them. “Some folks say they’re cheaper by the dozen. That’s a bunch of malarkey,” Don said, with a grin. Their 6 sons and 6 daughters grew up, married, and Don and Ruth ended up where they began—just the two of them in a small house, still happy with each other.
Though they can cheerfully recount how they lived their 75 years together (Ruth even wrote a book about their life), neither can say exactly why. But cryptic wisdom springs out of their trying. “Every day, whatever came along, even in the tough times, we just kept plowing through. It never occurred to me not to,” Ruth said.
“It just happens. You don’t think about it. You just do it,” Don said.
Experienced insight shows up in their advice to young couples considering marriage:
“Communicate,” Don said. “Make sure you’ve got the right partner. And be sure you love one another.”
Ruth adds, “Accept your differences. There’ll always be differences. Keep the Lord in your marriage. No matter how dark things look, it’ll work out with the Lord’s help. And family is the most important thing on earth. I’m grateful to know our family goes on and on and on.”
Ruth, the more talkative of the two, comes closest. “We’re still friends—you can tell that. I just love the big lug. And I tell him that all the time.”
Don’s assessment: “We had each other, so we didn’t have too much to worry about.”
So there you have it. Somewhere in the garage house, the separation, the cigarette tractor, the cattle herd, the “skinny years”, the struggle to stay afloat with a dozen mouths to feed, and the waning retirement years, two ninety-three-year-olds figured out how to stay together. What matters, really, is they started out loving each other, and despite all they went through—or perhaps because of it—they still do.
Congratulations, Don and Ruth.