Real-Life Selfless Love
For this week’s post I wanted to pay tribute to my maternal grandparents who truly demonstrated what a loving and long-lasting marriage looks like. While my grandfather passed away in 2014, what would have been my grandparent’s 64th wedding anniversary is today, June 18th. Betty Rice (Memaw) and Charlie Rice (Papaw) were married on this day in 1954. Their story is likely similar to many others from their generation, and their faith and love for each other helped to build a marriage that overcame distance, hard times financially, and illness later in life.
Betty Yarbrough and Charlie (Sonny) Rice were married on June 18, 1954. Betty remembers first meeting Sonny at her family home, where he had come over to visit with her older brother Frank. Sonny was working nights at a tool company and attended Magnolia Park church on the weekends. Betty’s older brother Frank also attended Magnolia Park and Betty visited the church with him in late 1953. One Sunday Frank was unable to go to church so Betty decided to ride the bus over to Magnolia Park from her home near Port Houston.
Due to the timing of the bus route and schedule, Betty arrived at Magnolia Park too late for Sunday school class, but too early for the main service. So, Betty climbed the stairs into the church balcony where she took a seat to wait for the service to begin. She recalls that a large group of boys entered the balcony, and a 19-year-old Sonny took a seat right next to hers. Betty remembers this as the first time she truly met the man she would eventually marry, as she didn’t remember talking to him much the day he visited her home with her older brother. At the young age of 14, Betty had met the young man who would become her husband.
The pair got to talking up in the balcony that Sunday morning, and Sonny learned that Betty had taken the bus to church that day. He offered to drive her home, a wonderfully kind gesture Betty accepted. This ride home from church on Sunday became the first of many rides Sonny would offer to Betty throughout the early days of their courtship. Betty doesn’t recall exactly when they began dating in earnest, but she remembers that Sonny got off work every morning after working the night shift and drove her to class at Edison Junior High School. Sonny would then return in the afternoon to pick Betty up and drop her off back at her home before heading off to Hughes Tool for another night shift. “He was always so kind, generous, and helpful toward everyone,” Betty remarks about her late husband. “if anyone needed any help at all, he would be there to help out.”
Five short months after Betty and Sonny talked in the church balcony, he asked her to marry him. Betty’s mother struggled with depression regularly and was often very difficult to be around and live with. Betty remembers her mother’s ambivalence toward her and recalled never even having had a birthday party or cake growing up. Sonny recognized the toll that her mother’s illness was placing on Betty and asked her to marry him in May of 1954. When asked about her young age at the time of her engagement and wedding Betty explained that her mother gave permission for her to be married, suspecting that this was because her mother wanted to rid herself of her responsibility toward Betty. Betty recalls Sonny remarking, “I can’t imagine what you’ll be like at 18 if you stay here with her, you’ll be a basket case.” So with her mother’s permission, Betty and Sonny began planning for their wedding.
“The woman next door to Mr. and Mrs. Rice could sew and offered to make my wedding dress for $5,” Betty stated. “She also made the wedding cake for us for another $5.” Shortly after the wedding the couple moved in together, sonny continued his work with Hughes Tool, and Betty finished up her 9th grade year at Edison. Just six months before Betty graduated from Milby High School, Sonny was drafted into the United States Army where he was stationed at Ft. Hood before he was sent to Germany the day after Betty graduated. “He had to get a special leave request approved to attend my graduation,” Betty remembers. “I graduated on May, 31, 1957, and he had to be ready to board a boat headed to Germany at 6:00AM on June 1.”
After graduating Betty was able to join Sonny in Germany in October, later that year. While Sonny performed his duties as a part of the Army in Germany, Betty passed the time sewing, stitching, and playing card games with other Army wives. Betty would spend only 10 months in Germany with Sonny, as she returned to the U.S. in August of 1958 to prepare for the birth of their first child in November of the same year. Charles James Rice was born on November 18, 1958. “Sonny didn’t even know Charles had been born for the first whole week he was alive,” she stated. Sonny completed his Army obligation and returned to Texas on November 27, about a week and a half after the birth of his son.
Sonny’s time with the Army was over and he hoped to return to work at Hughes Tool now that he was back home. Unfortunately, Hughes did not immediately hire Sonny back on, and he struggled to find steady work. “There were times we had to make due off of $28 a week when Sonny was between jobs; it was very tough.” After finding inconsistent work for a few years after the Army, Sonny started a job reading meters with Entex Gas Company in 1964 where he would continue working for over 30 years.
Just a few years before starting at Entex, the couple welcomed their second child into their family; a girl named Brenda Sue Rice born on July 10, 1962. Sonny worked very hard at Entex and was well respected by his colleagues at the company. Betty worked as well from time to time as a beautician and later as a substitute teacher. “We did not have a lot of money, but we had a home, a car, and we loved to go driving and camping on vacation.” Betty and Sonny raised their two children and took their family to church each week. “Faith is very important, and we knew that God provides all that we have and need,” Betty stated. When asked about what the secret is to a six-decade long marriage, Betty stated that “faith” is the most important part of the marriage and “relying on God.”
The last several years of Betty and Sonny’s marriage tested their faith and commitment toward one another. Sonny was diagnosed with dementia in his mid-seventies and lost his ability to communicate and care for himself in his later years. When I think of the “in sickness and in health” part of wedding vowels, I always think of my Memaw. She truly demonstrated what it means to love and to care for someone through hard times and good times. She watched her husband of over half a century begin to forget much of his vocabulary and life skills to the point where he could not even recall her name. She loved him, she cared for him, and she selflessly served him as he had for her all the years of their marriage. Through these actions, I have had the opportunity to observe what a marriage based on love and faith truly looks like. Two people who are kind, generous, and selflessly serve and help the people around them. I can think of no better example of what I want my marriage to look like when I have reached my eighties.
Thank you, Betty and Sonny, for showing your friends and family what it means to love selflessly and endlessly. I asked Betty to describe what Sonny was like as a spouse and she said, “he wasn’t perfect, but he tried real hard.” And this is what I hope to emulate in my own relationship. Marriages are made up of imperfect people, but we make the choice each day to try our best to love the people we are with endlessly; even when it is tough or when we have run out of energy or patience. May we all live and love as Betty and Sonny have; with faith, kindness, and a willingness to help the people around us. Thank you for the example you have set for all of us.
Lauren Barron is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist-Associate who specializes in working with engaged, newlywed, and married couples. Call her today at (713)364-9748 to learn more or set up an appointment.