With Valentine’s Day looming, and spring coming closer, the topic of romance is ripe for exploration.
It was this month in 1951 when a 20-year-old soldier stopped at Lu’s Café for his usual dinner of chicken-fried steak. There he found the girl he would marry.
Lu’s was across the street from the Federal Building where he worked the swing shift from 4 p. m. until midnight. The kind who figured that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he ordered the same meal six nights a week. The steak came with mashed potatoes covered with gravy, a dollop of corn kernels and a small bowl of peas on the side. The peas he always pushed away, untouched.
On this particular night, he was waited on by an 18-year-old girl who had taken a temporary job there. A figure skater, she had chipped her elbow, not while skating but skiing at Arctic Valley. Told by her father to pay the doctor’s bill herself because she had been “horsing around,” she applied for an opening at the hole-in-the-wall spot beside Anchorage’s 4th Avenue Theatre.
The comely lass asked the customer why he didn’t eat his peas.
“Don’t like ’em.” He responded.
“Eat them, they’re good for you,” she replied. “Besides, you’re paying for them and I’d just have to throw them out.”
Giving the dish—the one containing the peas, not the girl who’d gained his attention—a try, he choked the contents down without ill effects.
A couple of nights later, he asked if he could drive her home after work. When she agreed, he persuaded his sergeant to let him take off a couple of hours early.
A few days later, he was invited to Sunday dinner. He met her parents and learned—first, that her mother was a great cook, and second that her father wasn’t an ogre after all. He was a big Swede who had a lifetime of tales to share, including being a blacksmith with a Cavalry remount squadron in France during World War I. He loved his daughter and made sets for the ice shows, including the annual Rendezvous review.
She in turn deeply loved the man with the wide smile who never met a stranger; if they weren’t known before, they parted as friends.
The exact date was not recorded for posterity, but sometime near the beginning of May, 1951, the young man asked the girl how long a guy had to know a girl before he asked her to marry him.
“It’s not how long, but how well you know her,” she replied. It was an indication of the quiet wisdom she would always share.
Two months later they were married at the First Presbyterian Church. Rev. Frank Walkup counseled them before agreeing to officiate. Most memorable among his many admonitions was that marriage is not a 50-50 proposition, but more like 60-40, 30-70, or sometimes even 95-5.
“You have to understand that your partner’s feelings should always be taken into consideration. And that’s both of you,” the pastor said.
There were plenty of challenges for the newlyweds.
Their first home was a log cabin he was building in the woods far outside the city. He and a co-worker had purchased adjacent lots on Trail’s End Rd. in Just-a-mere-ranch Subdivision off the Palmer highway. Those cabins have since been replaced by large apartment buildings across from Russian Jack Elementary School near Boniface Blvd.
That winter, temperatures dropped to minus-20. The house was heated by an oil-fired floor furnace. Something was wrong with the controls. The burner could be made to ignite, but once it turned itself off it had to be manipulated by hand in order to ignite again. An electric blanket and a propane range enabled the young couple to survive.
An unforgettable experience from those days was the morning they awoke after a November night at the movies. On the way home, the bridegroom had purchased a single rosebud and placed it in a vase on the kitchen table. The next morning he was astonished to see it as beautiful as ever. He touched it only to see the frozen flower shatter into many tiny pieces.
The dutiful bride suffered through the privations caused by lack of money, scarcity of household goods and living through demanding circumstances.
Having been told they would not be able to have children, they were pleasantly surprised to learn she was pregnant.
On Jan. 14, 1953, she gave birth to the son the doctor had estimated would be born two months earlier. The child took his first breath in a Quonset hut half-buried in the ground at the military hospital complex on the north end of Ft. Richardson.
A daughter followed in April of 1955 and another in November of 1957, both born at Providence Hospital. The father had left the Army in 1954 to work in private enterprise. It was not until April of 1965 that the final child, a son, was born. By this time the family had moved to Chugiak.
The family became involved in sports, the son dragging his father to a Little League game at the start of the 1962 season.
Knowing nothing about the game, Dad was handed a scorebook and told to write down what the coach told him. Just a couple of weeks later, the coach announced he would have to give up the team. The neophyte scorekeeper looked around to see which father would step up, only to realize he was the only one left standing there.
That began a lifetime of participation with baseball, cross-country running, basketball and wrestling that involved the whole family. It has continued with their children and their children’s children all being involved in sports as athletes, coaches, and supporters.
Today, the family of that young couple who met 67 years ago at a café that no longer exists now numbers 31. Their four children are happily married, seven of their nine grandchildren also have significant others and have produced five great-grandchildren. Three of the four children married into families with deep roots in Alaska. Holiday gatherings of the extended family involve a very large crowd.
To what do these two old-timers attribute to their staying together so long? She says they love each other very much and enjoy each other’s company.
He says love is a big part, but mutual respect is also important. Now retired, they have coffee in bed each morning, catch up on the news and try to solve the world’s problems before tackling their many chores.
“We thank God for bringing us together,” the bride said. “Who would have thought a boy from Alabama would meet up with a girl in Alaska and find so much happiness?”
“Well,” he added, “I told the preacher I’d keep her until death do us part and I’m nowhere near ready to die yet.”
What advice does this couple offer to young people today: “Stay young at heart. Laugh often. Keep your family close. Love completely and openly. And remember Rev. Walkup’s advice: marriage definitely is not a 50-50 proposition.”
In their long relationship and busy enterprises, of what are they most proud?
“Family” is their quick response.
They were blessed to have her parents and siblings nearby. Their own children grew up to have successful careers in varied fields. And their grandchildren have become good citizens now with children of their own who are loving and remain in contact. The couple believes that sharing their love and remaining close, even when the younger generations are now spread around the country, has been the basis for that pride.
Told they were too young in 1951 and with predictions the marriage would not last, Barbara and Lee Jordan will celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary on June 27, 2018.
Lee Jordan has been an Alaskan since 1949, moved to Chugiak in 1962 and in 2016 moved back to Anchorage. An Alaska history buff, he enjoys writing about the place where he did not want to be sent, but came to love. He has written four books on Alaska history and has a blog at www.byleejordan.com. To reach Lee Jordan, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.