For a lifetime
“I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.” L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea
In these days of fast food and throw-away products, it seems that even marriage falls into those categories.
But years ago, that was seldom the case.
Marriage was a commitment for life – a commitment that took hard work and a stick-to-itiveness that is lacking today.
Claude and Lou Ellen Green Phillips, of Marlinton, are in their 65th year of marriage, and their life together is etched into their memories.
“It was December 12, 1947,” Claude said. “I met a boy at Slaty Fork, Glen Varner, and we walked into Kelley’s Restaurant in Marlinton. I said, ‘there’s two girls. Let’s see if we can get a date. There was going to be a square dance on Point Mountain.”’
Claude remembers that one girl got in the car with Varner, and Lou Ellen got in the front seat with him.
“It was my lucky day,” he said.
Claude hadn’t had many lucky days. His father died when Claude was one-year-old, and he came to Pocahontas County when he was three.
With a seventh grade education under his belt, he went to work on a skidder at the age of 16 “down below Spruce.” When he was 18, he volunteered for the U. S. Navy.
The couple married July 12, 1948, at the Edray parsonage, and Rev. Crawford performed the ceremony.
“The preacher was in the hayfield over at Shaw’s,” Claude said. “I had to go and get him.”
Claude remembers his wedding vows.
“When the preacher said ‘till death do us part, I said, ‘I do,’” Claude recalled. “But the preacher said ‘you are supposed to say I will.”’
After they were married, the couple lived on William’s River in one of two houses that her father owned.
Claude laughs when he tells of the time he was building a shed there. He had one post in and one started to give way.
“You don’t ever want to tell Lou Ellen to run,” Claude said. “She won’t stop.
“I said ‘run’ and I saw the soles of her shoes,” he said. “She didn’t stop until she got to the house. She didn’t even wait to see if I was all right.”
But Claude tells of a time he would have run, as well, if he could have seen where to go.
He laughs as he tells of a late night trip to the “outhouse.”
“I didn’t have a flashlight, and I got tangled up going back to the house,” he said. “I was using matches to find my way. I struck a match and I saw a ball of fire. I thought the devil was after me, but it was just the reflection of the match in a window.”
The couple built a family of seven children – Gary, who now lives in Oklahoma, Sandra Friel now in Jacksonville, Florida, Barbara Goldizen in Marlinton, Claudia Winn in Elkins, Steve in Marlinton, Cathy Smallridge in Belington, Claude, Jr. who lives on Dry Branch Road.
But as with all marriages, there are moments of painful recollections.
“There could’ve been eight,” Claude said. “We had a 10 pound baby boy. If we’d had a good doctor, he’d still be with us.”
But seven kept Lou Ellen busy.
“She’d get me up and fix my breakfast and get the kids to school,” Claude said. “And then she went to work at the Motor Inn and then to Hanover.”
Lou Ellen said she got a lot of help from the kids when they got older, and she had a lilac bush that helped her.
“It hurt, too,” son Steve said.
But it made them turn out good, Lou Ellen said.
Claude worked in the mines for 33 years. His work at Richwood required him to spend the week there and then come home on the weekends.
While he was at work Lou Ellen kept the home fires burning.
“He spent his life in the mines,” said Cathy. “He was a certified electrician.”
Mining was and is a dangerous business and miner’s families know that well enough.
“I remember one night when I was little, we stood at the window and waited for him to come home,” Cathy said. “And they brought him home in an ambulance. He had hurt his back. We got him cleaned up, and he went back to work the next day. He never missed work.”
When Claude retired from Craft Coal Company, he was given a gold watch. A watch he passed on to his son Steve.
Claude was all about work and providing for his family, and he taught them to provide for themselves, as well.
“Mom canned and canned,” Claudia said. “Apples and pears and we picked cherries and sold them to the neighbors. Dad would take us to the top of the mountain to pick up pop bottles to get money for the movie. He made us work for what we got.”
She remembers that her dad loaded his kids and the neighborhood kids – Teddy Moore, Judy Sheets, Bonnie Baxter – into the truck, and he would take them to the drive-in.
“We use to get 12 hotdogs, 12 pops,” Claudia said. “I’m sure they wondered what we were doing.”
On Sundays, Claude would load the children up in the truck and take them to the Tastee-Freeze for ice cream.
“We had good times,” Claudia said.
While Claude never missed work, Lou Ellen says she loved school and never missed a day.
“Mom loves to read,” Claudia said. “And she loves people.”
Robert Frost said, “there is one thing more exasperating than a wife who can cook and won’t, and that’s a wife who can’t cook and will.”
Neither of those scenarios fits Lou Ellen.
Her children are quick to tell how their mother catered to them – morning, noon and night.
“Mom got up every morning and everybody got what they wanted for breakfast – if you wanted pancakes, you had pancakes. If you wanted Coca Wheat, you had Coca Wheat,” Claudia said. “She packed our lunches. I can still see her at night with those brown bags lined up.”
The children have memories of being well-fed, and maybe too much so.
“I always wanted Coca Wheat,” Cathy said. “And it had to be just right. I didn’t want it too thick. And when I had eggs, they had to be just right. I can’t believe that we were so particular.”
Cathy remembers that supper was always ready when they got home. And, always, there was fudge.
“I remember that big iron skillet and that silver spoon,” she said. “She made fudge every night. And she made homemade potato chips on the wood stove.”
Claudia remembers that the family had biscuits three times a day and there were always cookies, candy and cakes.
Lou Ellen worked hard caring for her family.
How did she do it?
“I don’t know how I did it,” she said. “One day at a time, I guess.”
Memories tie this family together.
Today the tide has reversed, and the children care for their parents.
Claudia and Cathy travel from Randolph County twice a week now to visit their mother at the Pocahontas Center where she is recuperating from a badly broken leg. Barbara can be found there, as well. And son Steve brings Claude to visit his Lou Ellen.
What is the secret to a 65 year marriage?
“Love, I reckon,” Claude said. “I love her with all my heart. Always have. Always will. And I never heard her complain.”
Cathy said that after all these years she just recently learned that her mother kept scrapbooks of articles from The Pocahontas Times.
“She has boxes that contain obituaries of her friends,” Cathy said. “And she has every Pioneer Days badge.”
You might call Lou Ellen a “keeper.”
And after 65 years of marriage, Claude would agree.
Jaynell Graham may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org