Every year about this time, the stores fill up with giant bouquets of flowers and huge red heart balloons. It is the season of love. But look around, and one can see, couples who have risen beyond the store bought ides of love and reached the celebration points of a romance that has stood the test of time.
Whether their marriages have stood for nearly 50 or almost 60 years or more, some couples say that commitment from the start can lead to a partnership that can last.
Sometimes, those romances start with a little help from a friend or family member. Both Dan and JoAnn Ecker and Shirley and Melvin Eddings met their partners on blind dates.
In the Ecker’s case, Dan Ecker’s mother made the introduction.
The Eckers will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in May. Herald Democrat readers might recognize JoAnn Ecker because she worked at the newspaper for decades and was often the person who answered the phone in the newsroom and took down birthdays and anniversaries for readers when they called in.
In the Eddings’ case, cupid lived next door to her.
“My best friend and next door neighbor was dating Melvin’s brother,” Shirley said.
She was 14 and he was 18. They went to the movies.
“We didn’t like each other,” she said and then laughed when asked how the date went. On the second date, she said, the ditched the extra couple and got to know one another better and then the attraction started to grow. That growth has continued for the past 58 years.
The two couples are quick to point out that they don’t have any magic advice to give to those hoping to reach their long-standing status as married folks. But they also both pointed to a commitment to family and faith and a willingness to talk things through, as the roots for a marriage that can continue to grow over the years.
Dan Ecker took his mother’s advice and went on that blind date with the young lady who played organ at the church the Ecker family attended in Gainesville. He had moved to college before his parents moved to Gainesville and he didn’t know anyone in that town when he arrived home on Christmas break.
It was a date that cost his mother almost a whole tank of gas but which eventually netted her a daughter-in-law. JoAnn Street, as she was known back then, was attending college at North Texas. She mentioned that to Dan and he decided they would drive over there so she could show him around. They did that and then they drove over to Sherman. She mentioned that Sherman’s biggest rival was McKinney so they drove down there and looked around.
When they eventually headed for home it was very late and his mother’s gas tank, which had been full when he took the car out, was nearly empty.
They both laughed at the memory and recalled that gas probably cost about 20 cents a gallon back then. They dated six or eight months before Dan decided she was the one.
“I had my life planned out for me as far as going to college,” she said. “So this (idea of marriage) was a surprise for me.”
“I had bought the ring and I had for a couple of days and we were going to go to a movie at the drive-in, it was “Romeo and Juliet,” Dan said.
But first, they went to Dan’s parent’s house to watch something fairly significant on television.
“It was July 20, 1969 and it was the Apollo landing,” she said.
The movie started at about 9:30 p.m. They went to the show and Dan pulled out the ring and asked her if she would marry him.
JoAnn said she didn’t think that she said “yes” right away. Dan said she agreed that night.
They were married the next May.
Each have different memories that stand out from their wedding day. Eddings said she really doesn’t recall much about theirs.
Dan Ecker said to this day, he thinks JoAnn came down the isle waving at him with her flowers.
“I was nervous when I was walking down the isle with my dad,” JoAnn recalled, and that made the flowers move around.
She remembered that when they were getting ready to leave for their honey moon, his choice of going away attire caused their first argument as husband and wife. He was wearing a wide white belt and white shoes with his suit.
“Oh my gosh it was awful,” she recalled with a laugh.
Dan recalled that he also had on an orange turtle neck and the suit was new.
To this day, she said, she doesn’t know how he got that suit passed his parents.
He said what he recalls about going away for the honeymoon is the fact that he had one suitcase and she had what seemed to be one for every day of the ten-day trip.
Just what takes a couple from those first memories of marriage to building a life together that can span decades is kind of intangible the couples said.
“We always believed in talking to each other,” Shirley Eddings said. “Usually if you went to bed, you couldn’t go to sleep because you were mad so usually you ended up talking. Communications is key. If you don’t like something, talk about it.”
She said couples also should avoid the temptation to make everything work out 50/50. Life isn’t that exact.
““Sometimes it is 60/40 on one side,” she said. “Sometimes one of you has to work hard than the other, but then maybe the next time it switches.”
She said Melvin had a stroke several years ago and since then their union has changed as he has gone through medical difficulties.
Both couples said that going through such things makes a couple rely on their faith in God, each other and their families.
“You have to be committed to family and them to you. We have five children and the kids were right there for me the whole time. It takes that kind of support,” Shirley Eddings said.
The Eckers, who have one daughter, agreed. They also pointed to their faith as a backbone of their long marriage.
“We felt like from the very beginning that God sanctions marriage, he’s the one that put it in motion from the very beginning and it has not been easy, many, many times, but we made a vow and a commitment to God in front of a bunch of people that were there and we both have stood by our commitment,” JoAnn Ecker said.
Dan Ecker said, “Divorce was just never an option.”
Dan Ecker said he learned on their wedding day exactly how seriously his new wife took their vows.
They had stopped for a bite to eat in Whitesboro shortly after their afternoon wedding on a Sunday. While they sat waiting at the drive-through, he said, his bride turned to him and said, “I may be a widow, but I will never be a divorcee.”
“And I believed her,” he said.
While Dan Ecker said that statement surprised him enough that it has stayed with him all of these years, his wife said the most surprising thing has been the passage of time.
“Just how fast 50 years has gone by. I just can’t believe it. People have always said that time flies and all of that but it just seems like a couple of years really especially the last 20 years,” she said.
Both the Eddings and the Eckers hope that they have many more Valentines and anniversaries to celebrate together and say that the best advice anyone can give to those embarking on love’s long journey is to take things one day at a time and remember that love is both steady and ever changing.