“As a young man,” said ninety-six-year-old Ed. “I’d go over to Milledgeville, which was only about thirty miles from Macon, some weekends, to spend time with my mother and father… It was during one of those visits that I first met her.”
Her. Meaning: Nelle—a brunette seventeen-year-old with a tiny frame and a soft smile. She left a crater-sized impression on the young man. After one visit, she was all Ed could think about. He went back to see her again.
“A lot of times,” Ed said with a grin. “I’d hitchhike to Milledgeville, just to see her.”
Imagine if you will, a time when boys caught rides on fertilizer trucks instead of sending text-messages, selfies, or status updates.
I’m talking, simple romances. One small-town young man, one cotton-dressed girl. Two kids whose idea of a good time was sitting shoulder to shoulder on a tailgate, watching fireflies.
Well, after four months of hitchhiking and fireflies; Ed and Nelle did what people did back then. They marched to the Justice of the Peace, and got hitched. It was impulsive, it was irrational, they were children. It could never last.
They moved to Albany, joined a Methodist Church, made a baby, then another—then three more. They ate suppers together, with coconut cakes, sweet tea, and sat on porch swings.
It was married life. You know the drill. Nelle vacuums, Ed goes fishing. Nelle cooks, Ed changes the oil. Nelle does dishes, Ed patches the roof. Nelle grocery shops, Ed goes fishing again.
There was no way it could last.
But it was lasting. In fact, this easygoing existence suited them. And back then—before Men came from Mars and women came from Venus—marriage wasn’t like today’s brand. It wasn’t about pie-in-the-sky bliss, but sacrifice. Not about finding happiness, but making someone else happy.
More than that, it was church potlucks, Little League games, and boring housework. Making the beds, mending socks, Meatloaf Mondays, and fussing with soft voices. It was about saying, “I love you,” and winking after you said it.
And occasionally, it was about sitting on the tailgate, watching fireflies. About remembering two supple-skinned, strong-boned adolescents, who didn’t know a lick about life—and didn’t need to.
In a few months, Ed and Nelle Ennis will celebrate seventy-four years of marriage. And that ought to impress you.
It’s the longest in the state of Georgia.