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Love lasts past 100 for South Dakota couple

Special to the Daily Globe

The telephone rang Saturday morning, Feb. 20, as we prepared to go to the funeral of my husband's great, great uncle, John Taylor. Colin spoke on the phone for a minute, then came downstairs with an interesting look on his face. I glanced up quickly from tying the sash on our daughter's dress. "It's going to be a double funeral," he said. And despite the skip my heart took as I thought of the family's bereavement, I couldn't help but feel relief.

I knew what this meant to the family. It meant that Ruth's grieving was over. It meant that her physical discomfort had ended. It meant that, after 75 years of marriage, not even death could separate these two life-long friends.

Yes, John and Ruth Taylor knew each other their entire lives. Well, John knew Ruth, anyway. She, of course, was all of one year, two months, and 10 days older than John. But at 103 and 101 years of age, who was counting anymore? They grew up in the same small South Dakota town, studied in the same one-room schoolhouse, attended the same church. Their mothers canned corn and beans together on stifling summer afternoons.

After John graduated from eighth grade, his family moved a few miles away. But Ruth's ties to the family were not forgotten. She was hired by the local school district several years later, and the Taylors were quick to offer room and board to the new teacher. She accepted, and soon John suggested that he carry Ruth's lunch for her as she walked to the schoolhouse. Whether she required help or not is unclear, but that she allowed him to help is quite apparent. Their romance was in bud.

However, female school teachers were expected to remain unmarried in the 1920s and '30s, and Ruth loved teaching -- it had been her ambition since the fourth grade. So it wasn't until New Year's Eve, 1932, that John and Ruth had their first date: to a midnight movie with another couple. Several months later, John casually asked Ruth if she'd care to marry him. Her reply? "Yeah! When?" For the sake of propriety, Ruth later required John to ask her formally and her reply then, it must be assumed, was proper and decorous.

Ruth's mother, a widow, was pleased with the betrothal. The Taylors were good people. Their engagement lasted through the remainder of that academic year and the entire next school year as well. Then, on a rainy June day in 1934, their families joined together at Ruth's mother's house to witness their wedding. The romance was now in full bloom.

Marriage can be hard on romance. But John and Ruth understood each other so well that despite Ruth's fastidious housekeeping and John's sneaking in the dog when she was out, they rarely quarreled. Through drought, poor soil and the Depression, they clung to each other and to God. Church became very important to their growing family, especially after moving to a farm in Brewster in 1954.

Life for the Taylors was full. John and Ruth shared milking chores and gardening, played Rook and square-danced in their free time. Separately they planted and harvested, attended Band Mother's meetings, PTA, Women's Circles and Extension Club. Ruth was careful to live within her financial means and became an excellent seamstress, using her skills both for her family and in service to missionaries and others. Both John and Ruth cared deeply about service to people in need. Whether a meal for a new mother, passing on fresh veggies from their garden or handing down clothes to a struggling family, the Taylors were always ready and willing to lend a hand. These things may not characterize romance, per se, but they do exemplify a couple working side by side in tune with each other and with their God.

So much more could be said. Stories of Snickers bars and cappuccinos, of drum sets and violins, of little things that made up John and Ruth's 75 years of romance, their 100-plus years of living. But I leave you with this image: in a living room in St. Paul, a shadowbox hangs on the wall of John and Ruth's oldest granddaughter. In it is a valentine -- the kind you see in museums -- a three-dimensional confection of cut-work, tissue paper fold-outs and pink, frilly, love. It is from John to Ruth. He loved his wife. For more than 75 years.