Edward Vennum can't remember every detail about that moonlit night when he proposed in the gardens at Wheaton College.
What he clearly recalls is the fresh-faced radiance of Miss Marian Meade.
"The bright and shining girl on campus," Vennum told a visitor as the couple sat in matching lounge chairs in their Arlington retirement center apartment.
"What's he saying?!" asked Marian, whose hearing, seven decades later, is failing.
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The Vennums' son, Jerry, replaced a battery in his mom's amplifier then leaned in toward the cheerful gray-haired woman who raised him -- and three older siblings -- and spoke in a voice as gentle and reassuring as his touch.
"Dad is saying nice things about you, Mother."
Marian's face lit up.
Her goal in college, where she studied chemistry, was to become a foreign missionary.
At Wheaton, Marian lived for a time in the same dorm as Ruth Bell, the future wife of evangelist Billy Graham, who also attended the Christian liberal arts school in Illinois.
Plans changed after Marian met Ed, who saved $90 to buy a diamond engagement ring and paid an extra $10 for a wedding band.
They married at her brother's home in Englewood, N.J.
The brother drove the couple in his Packard to Manhattan, where the honeymooners spent the night at the New York Hilton.
After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and plunged the U.S. into war, Ed joined the Navy and was shipped to Guam, leaving his wife to raise their first two children, born one year apart.
After the war Ed earned degrees at Southern Methodist University and Dallas Theological Seminary. The Vennums settled in Arlington in 1955. While Ed worked into his 70s as communications chief at Ling-Temco-Vought, his spouse volunteered at Mission Arlington. She became an active member of the Arlington Woman's Club and First Baptist Church.
That $90 diamond still sparkles on her left hand.
Her thin gold band defines her as much as the collection of framed photos that grace one wall of their home. A black-and-white portrait of Ed and Marian as newlyweds. Images of their growing family. Grandchildren. Twin great-grandchildren.
Asked the key to a long, happy marriage, Ed cited the ability of each partner to see the other's point of view.
"The secret?" Marian chose one word. "Love."
A wreath made of red and pink hearts hangs on the couple's front door.
It's not a decoration as much as it is a fitting symbol, the unbroken circle of one man and one woman and their steadfast commitment and devotion and shared sacrifice.
Feb. 14 -- Valentine's Day -- is the Vennums' day.
Marian turns 94 today.
On their 70th wedding anniversary.
Blueprint for harmony
One February day Bobbye Wood entered a Fort Worth bookstore.
Her eyes fell on a large Valentine's Day display of books about marriage -- how to cook together, how to manage finances, how to keep the embers of passion kindled and aglow.
What she didn't see was a guidebook about marriage enrichment.
Bobbye and husband Britton Wood have been leading marriage enrichment events for three decades and are longtime ambassadors for the Association for Couples in Marriage Enrichment.
So Bobbye self-published Building Lasting Marriages.
Her book is a blueprint for marital happiness and harmony. The material includes the three C's for nurturing lifelong partnerships:
■ A mutual commitment to the growth of the relationship
■ An effective communication style
■ A creative use of conflict
Bobbye and Britton, married 54 years, faithfully practice what they preach. They have a daily sharing time and an "anger contract." They participate in a monthly marriage enrichment group with four other couples.
"If you charted it, I think our love has kept growing," Britton said. "That doesn't mean we don't have conflict and differences of opinion. We do. All married couples do. We are different people, even in how we see and react to things."
The couple sat side by side on a living-room sofa in their Fort Worth home.
"Here's a good example of that," Bobbye said. "We went to the movies to see Pearl Harbor a few years ago. We're sitting there, watching, and Britton says, 'Look at that!' I'm looking, too. Nurses are coming ashore in Honolulu for a party. They're all dressed up in pretty hats and high-heel shoes. I think we're looking at clothes.
"Beside me, I hear Britton say, 'That's a '40 Ford.' He's looking at a car. I didn't even know a car was there. So we have different perspective on things, and always will."
As the couple shared a laugh, Bobbye reached out and took Britton's hand.
A lifetime together
Walter "Boots" Haralson was in the Merchant Marine, older and more mature than other boys Pat knew. He won her 16-year-old heart the first time they went dancing on a double date. It was New Year's Day 1947.
"Oh my goodness," Pat Haralson said with a laugh. "I just couldn't get enough of looking at him."
The Fort Worth couple courted for a year. They poured out their thoughts -- and feelings -- in letters exchanged while the sailor was overseas.
When Boots produced a small box and opened it, Pat's jaw dropped at the sight of the solitaire diamond meant for her.
"You're kidding!" she cried, which he took for "yes."
Boots wanted more than anything to marry her and went to Pat's father and told him of their plans. Lawrence Williams, who would die within six months from cancer, fixed his eyes on his future son-in-law. When Boots had finished his speech, Pat's dad handed the boy a stick of Juicy Fruit chewing gum.
"Stick together," the man said simply.
Boots and Pat took those words to heart. It was 63 years ago when Boots bought a new pair of Florsheim shoes and exchanged vows with Pat at her sister's home in Fort Worth.
"Today, there is no one in this world I would swap her for," Boots said.
They play dominoes before breakfast. They watch the TV game shows The Price Is Right and Minute to Win It in the quiet company of Willie, their cat.
Their faith, they say, sustains them, and Boots' creed has served them well.
"If you always tell the truth, you don't have to back up."
Pat nodded in agreement.
He is 87 now; she is 80.
Before Christmas, Boots, already using a wheelchair, had one leg amputated.
"I don't see any difference," she joked. "He's still ornery as ever."
Boots lifted his eyes from his lap and met his companion's gaze.
"I don't know how I would make it without her," Boots said. "She's the best thing that ever happened to me."
David Casstevens, 817-390-7436