A Love Story That Began Almost 60 Years Ago

Today, April 2, is the anniversary of my sister Shirley’s wedding. Several days after she died last July, my brother-in-law shared the story of how they came to be together.

Imagine the year 1962, in a rural town in north-central New York. Three houses keep company with each other, hugged by cornfields and the main road.

Imagine the middle house, a two-story with peeling pink paint and a septic tank buried in the backyard next to the well. Inside the house are four siblings: the youngest (me) at about 5, the boy at 9, the middle sister at 16, and the oldest sister at 19.

Imagine a tall, dark, lanky lad of 19: Alfred, the son of a dairy farmer. He’s come to the pink house to see the oldest sister Char, his date for the evening.

Char is beautiful in a dark, smoldering way. Her face is round and her eyes are dark slits. She’s somehow restless and indolent at the same time. Alfred comes to the door and is greeted by Shirl, the middle sister. It’s the first time he has seen her. Shirl is cute in a perky kind of way. Her face is thin, her eyes bright and shiny.

“She opened the door and smiled. She was so bubbly.” Alfred went out with Char that evening, but he couldn’t stop thinking about Shirl and how she had smiled at him.

“Then later I called the house and she answered. She said, Oh, you want to talk to Char. I said, no, I want to talk to you.”

And so the love story begins when Shirley was just 16.

I asked my brother-in-law whether my oldest sister was miffed that he chose Shirley over her.

“Oh, no. She had lots of boyfriends.”

I’m sure she did. Char was beautiful and liked to walk the edge of the wild side. Shirley was pretty and liked to follow convention. Alfred was most likely her first and only boyfriend.

I think this is Shirley showing off her engagement ring. The best part of the photo is how happy both of my sisters look.

Alfred and Shirley married when she was 19 and he was 21. Char was her maid of honor. Alfred’s older brother was his best man. Shirley quickly settled into the life of a dairy farmer’s wife, welcoming two sons within the first couple of years of the marriage and then another son several years later.

With the nursing diploma she earned between high school graduation and her wedding day, Shirley took a job working nights in the maternity ward of a local hospital. She loved babies. She loved to write. Many of those nights, while the babies slept, she wrote letters.

I still have a lot of those letters. Well, actually, now I have scanned copies of them. I sent the originals to Alfred, to read and to keep as long as he wants them.

A few weeks before Shirley died, she pulled out her high school yearbook. She made Alfred read what he had written on the back page: “I’m so glad you’re my girl.” He tells me that he didn’t remember writing that until she showed it to him.

I wish I had known their love story, that I could have been more part of it. I was only five or six when they started to date, completely oblivious to anyone’s needs but my own. I don’t remember Alfred taking my sister out. I don’t remember him being in the picture at all until the day of their wedding, that day when I wanted to scream “Don’t go! Don’t leave me!” as she recited her vows.

And then she was gone, but only to another house, just a few miles away. A two-family house they shared with Alfred’s older brother until he divorced, got cancer and died. Some years later, the farm was sold. Alfred couldn’t run it without his older brother, but it’s still in the family and Alfred spends a lot of time there, helping the current owner with upkeep.

Alfred and Shirley kept a few acres of the farm for themselves and built a new one-story house. Ever the handyman and carpenter, Al quietly and steadily worked on their home, adding a front porch where they could sit and watch the occasional car pass by and a screened-in back porch where they could eat when the weather was mild.

I try to tell him that none of it would have been enough, no number of hugs or I-love-yous would ease the pain of losing her. That he has to have faith that she knew, she always knew, how deeply he loved her. He has to have faith that her love for him was just as deep as his love for her. They had 59 years together on this earth and were rarely apart from each other. They built so many happy memories together that he can’t remember them all.

Sometimes the deepest love is unspoken. The deepest love resides in the heart. It will never leave and it will never end.

Love you, Shirley, and miss you, oh, so much.

40 thoughts on “A Love Story That Began Almost 60 Years Ago

  1. Ohhhhhh, Marie. So sad, beautiful, poignant. I have tears in my eyes. I want to write something profound, but really you said it all. The love is there and will never leave.
    Thank you for sharing this beautiful love story.

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  2. What a beautiful tribute to love and the people that clearly made the effort to do the work. No one gets through almost 60 years of marriage without ups and downs. Alfred worries that he didn’t say he loved her enough but it appears to me that he showed her he loved her constantly. I love stories like this.

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    1. Ah, thank you so much, Zazzy. Indeed, in reading over my sister’s letters, it was so clear that she never doubted his love. There’s nothing he wouldn’t have done for her, and she knew that. It’s a comfort. XO

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  3. That is indeed a beautiful love story, Marie. Thank you for sharing it. We wish we could have been more a part of another’s story but I truly believe our spots are the ones we are meant to have. Lovely. Just simply lovely.

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    1. Thank you so much, Dale. I like how you put it, that our spots are the ones we are meant to have. It’s my burden that I was so oblivious when I was younger, but I’m grateful for how close my sister and I became as I “grew up.” (Whether I ever truly grew up is debatable … and she would probably agree with that 😉 ).

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      1. You really shouldn’t consider it a burden to have been oblivious when you were younger, Marie. There was a reasonable age gap between you two! My youngest sister is 6 years my junior and the middle sister is 3. Tracy, youngest, says, she barely remembers me living at home because by the time she was old enough to pay attention, I was busy gallivanting about! Today? We are so very close. And, by the way, growing up is highly overrated. I avoid it at all costs 😉

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        1. Yeah, 11 years is quite the gap, and I have a lousy memory anyway so I probably still wouldn’t have remembered much even if we had been closer in age. I’ve noticed that the older I get, the less I want to grow up … lol.

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          1. Especially when you are so young. It’s very rare for siblings with such an age gap are close when they are young. And it is normal. And ofttimes, even when close in age, sometimes only find their friendship later like you and your sister and me and mine (both).
            That’s what’s great about wisdom. We realise it’s wise to let go now and again.

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  4. Stories like this one are poignant and part of the reason I love blogging. To read about other people’s lives is endlessly interesting. Thanks for sharing this here. Such love

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    1. Thank you so much, Ally. Yes, I completely agree that the best part of blogging is learning about other people and their lives. I’ll be forever grateful that my brother-in-law shared this story 🙂

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  5. Oh Marie. You have me in tears. I am so sorry for your loss and for Alfred’s loss. It’s never enough, is it? It will always feel that we missed out on part of our loved ones after they are gone. Sending you gigantahugs from AZ. xo

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      1. Thank you, Luanne! I am so grateful Al shared this story. I thought sharing it with all of you would be a nice way to acknowledge their anniversary. As for the letters, Al might give them back but I’m not going to ask for them. I scanned them all so I can still read them when I want. XO


  6. Marie, what a beautiful story! One of my sisters-in-law has a similar story in that my brother wanted to go out with her older sister. But that sister suggested he go out with her younger sister. The rest is history. 😊

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  7. A beautiful story, well written. If only all families could remain as close, at least spiritually if not physically, as yours did. Thanks for sharing yours with us.

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