‘I can’t see.’ He could no longer drive to get Valentine’s flowers, so he walked instead. 6 blocks post-transplant, blurry vision. ‘I wanted you to feel special.’: Widow recounts powerful 49-year love story

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Velma and Joe were married for 40 years this June, but they had been together for 49 years. Joe passed away from natural causes recently, but his love remains in Velma’s heart. In an interview, we talked with Velma about her long, loving relationship with Joe — what drew them together, what kept them together, and what it can teach us all about love.

Courtesy of Dustin Lowman

How did you first meet your husband?

“There must have been something wrong with me. When I was 12, I would go to the front window of my classroom every morning, and watch this boy get dropped off. He would pull up in this red convertible, and then go to his own classroom. I must have done this for a year, not knowing who it was. I was in 7th grade and he was in 8th grade. He had no idea I existed.

The next year, he went to high school, and I made the mistake of telling one of my friends I had a crush on him. I figured my secret would be safe with her, but of course, it wasn’t. I got invited to a school dance by an 8th grader — I remember it was a fundraiser for something called ‘Halloween Queen.’ Of course, he was there. My friend, the one who I confessed my crush to, walked up to me and said, ‘He heard you’re going around saying he’s your boyfriend.’

I was mortified! I got up, didn’t tell my date what I was doing, and started walking away. The next thing I see, my crush is walking towards me. What do I do? I wasn’t about to run away. We met in the middle of the dance floor. What was he going to say? Was he going to be mad at me? I thought he wouldn’t want anything to do with me.

But instead, he just looked at me and said, ‘Let’s go dance.’ We did. I remember dancing to ‘Go Away Little Girl’ by Donnie Osmond. I was swept away. I was only 13, I had never had a boyfriend before, and I let him kiss me. Three times actually! I just knew in my heart, even then and there, he’s the one I wanted. It was the happiest time of my life.”

So you were together, from that day forward?

“Yes — I remember at the dance, my date, the one who had actually asked me out, came up to me and said he wanted to dance with me. I had to say no — I even told him, ‘Don’t worry, you’re gonna find somebody else.’ He kept insisting, but I kept insisting too. I told him I was sorry, and that he’d be okay, and I went back to the boy who would become my husband and sat with him. It was October 15th. We celebrated that day every year for the rest of our lives together.

The next day in school, no one was talking to me — they were all upset with me! But I didn’t care. I just knew this was what I wanted. It was like I had won the lottery, just by saying yes to that dance. Even now, it makes me so happy. He just felt the same way. It was magical, and we never left each other’s side.”

Courtesy of Dustin Lowman

What do you remember doing together in those early days?

“I remember listening to music with him — Led Zeppelin, the Doobie Brothers, the Eagles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Nazareth. That’s what we’d do. My parents would let him come over, sometimes he’d bring friends, and we’d hang out, listen to music, go on hayrides, go bike riding on Sundays. There were a lot of parties in those days. We’d go to carnivals, movies, drive-ins. For the Fourth of July and Easter, we’d go to the parks, hang out, barbecue, wait for fireworks. Swim all day. It was so magical.

I’d watch him play football. We had this ritual at the end of the games, where after the whistle blew, I would run on the field, through his teammates, and jump in his arms. They called it ‘love story’ — when they watched the game replays the next day, they’d watch till the end, and say to each other, ‘Get ready for a love story.'”

Courtesy of Dustin Lowman

What was it that drew you to him?

“People would ask me back then, too, and I’d always say, ‘His heart.’ He had such a good heart. I remember one time, there were some 12th graders pushing an 11th grader around. He saw, and ran over with his helmet, started swinging it around, and drove the 12th graders away. He was always doing stuff like that, sticking up for the little guy. I could never have asked for such a special relationship — he loved me the way he loved God. That’s how I can explain it.

We would talk a lot, and I would tell him, ‘Look, I really really like you, and if you ever get tired of me, I ask for two things: One, never cheat on me, and two, never lie to me.’ That’s what I asked him. He never did, thank God, but I think it made it so that we were always honest with each other. We were teenagers, you know, going through tough times, lots of emotions. Sometimes, he would tell me, ‘I’m mad and I don’t know why,’ and I’d give him space. Or I would say it to him. But always, we would understand, and let the other person do what they needed to feel better.”

Courtesy of Dustin Lowman

Did your relationship change at all as you went from childhood, through adolescence, to adulthood?

“As we went through high school, people would ask him, ‘Joe, when are you getting married?’ and he would always say, ‘Sunday.’ It was kind of a joke, but it was true: we always knew we were going to get married. My thinking was mature — I knew what I wanted.

I was mature because my family had been through a lot already. My parents had some financial hardship. We were always moving around, and I didn’t know it then, but it was because we were always being evicted. My dad was a Korean War veteran who had hurt his back in the war, and the Army gave him no help, no insurance, so he always had medical struggles. My sister was born with Down Syndrome and heart problems, and she passed away at the age of four. 15 days later, my brother passed away as a newborn. My father followed not long after. There was so much — so much hardship, so many struggles. I needed to be mature.

My mother told me I couldn’t marry him unless I got a college degree. So, I did — I graduated in three and a half years so we could get married sooner. He even went to the same school I did, walked me to all my classes somehow, and was there with me the whole way.

Courtesy of Dustin Lowman

There was a time, in college, where a classmate came up to me, asked me my name, and said to me, ‘I just graduated, and I’m going to be a lawyer. I want to know you, date you, and if you marry me, you’ll never lack.’ Just like that! We’d never met, and I was already supposed to marry him. I told him, ‘I’m sorry, but my heart has to be involved.’ I told Joe what happened, and he said, ‘Wow, he can give you everything‘ but I just said, ‘Joe, I already have everything.’

Joe didn’t have a penny. He worked hard as a cashier, on a grass farm, as a landscaper, and I loved the fact that he was such a hard worker. It didn’t matter to me he didn’t have money. I knew he was an honest man, and a hardworking man, and he loved me. That was all I needed.”

Courtesy of Dustin Lowman

How did your parents react to Joe?

“My mom didn’t like him at first. She said, ‘He’s from the east side, those are hoodlums.’ That’s a word she’d use then, hoodlums. She didn’t want him touching me, didn’t like the way it looked. She just didn’t trust him at first. Joe and I were in a lot of pictures together growing up, and he’s never touching me — except, we would lean our heads together, and that was so exciting. Later in our lives, I would wake up in the night sometimes, and his head would be touching mine, just like back then.

My dad liked Joe, though. At one point, Joe made an excuse to come over to the house. I didn’t want him to, because I was afraid they weren’t going to like him or want him there. But Joe believed it was a good idea. I think he wanted to show my parents he had nothing to hide, that we weren’t going around behind their backs.

Eventually, my mom started to open up to the idea. She did some investigating (like she always did), learned who his parents were, where he was from. She ended up knowing some of his sisters, and once she found out who his family was, and she was okay with them, and my dad learned Joe was a hard worker; they realized he was a serious person, and that he was taking me seriously.”

Courtesy of Dustin Lowman

Was there a gift Joe gave you for a holiday that sticks out in your mind as particularly special?

“It was this past Valentine’s Day. Joe had had an eye stroke and really couldn’t see. He ended up having a cornea transplant, but his vision was so blurry. Each Valentine’s Day, he would deliver me a big bouquet of flowers himself. But this last one was the most special ever.

Because he couldn’t drive, he walked six blocks to the supermarket, bought some steaks, and a cake, and when I got home for lunch, he surprised me with a steak lunch and cake for Valentine’s Day. It was just so beautiful. I was so happy — everything was set when I walked in, he had this huge smile on his face. He stood up, and I gave him the longest hug ever. It meant so much to me. I didn’t want him out walking, really, but he didn’t listen to me. It was like 56 degrees outside. It was just so surprising, and I said to him, ‘You really outdid yourself. You make me feel so special.’ And he said, ‘That’s what I wanted to do.’ He did.

Some ladies told me recently, ‘Velma, you had a relationship all women dream of. We’ve never seen it. Not many people get it, but you did.’ It’s true. Even though he’s gone now, I’m so fulfilled, so blessed, and I thank the Lord for this man.”

Courtesy of Dustin Lowman

You and Joe were married for more than 40 years. What do you think was the main thing that kept your relationship strong for all that time?

“Honestly, just the fact that the center of our relationship was God. Joe came from the Apostolic church. His mom took him to church, and he knew the Bible, front and back. He could quote it. That’s something that really drew me to him; he had more than a passing interest in religion. I was Catholic, and we got married through the Catholic church, but I never really read the Bible until he showed me how. I felt embarrassed, but he was patient with me.

It gave Joe a very clear sense of right and wrong. He was honest in his work — if someone asked him for a favor, even if it was a relative, he would say no, that it would get them in trouble down the line, and that he didn’t want it on his conscience.

Apart from that, we always made an effort to communicate. It was easy because our personalities were such a good match — we never got frustrated over little things, like some people get frustrated over their spouse chewing too loudly or something. We never had anything like that. If there was something that was bothering one of us, it was usually something important, and we raised it in a mature way and used it as a chance to grow.

When Joe drove, he was very quiet. He wouldn’t talk to me. It made me feel bad at first, like I was boring him and he didn’t want to talk to me. I asked him why, and he said that because he had a bad eye (his left eye was always blurry), he wanted to really focus when he drove, and he didn’t want to get distracted and endanger my life. Then I knew, and it wasn’t a problem — if we didn’t communicate well, I would have made a wrong assumption, and it would have made for an unnecessary problem. You have to communicate clearly and honestly, no matter who you are.”

Courtesy of Dustin Lowman

On that note, what advice would you have for young couples, especially young married couples, to help them strengthen their relationships?

“I would tell them, first and foremost, stay close to God, God is the center of everything. You don’t have to be in control when God’s in control. Stay open, stay honest, and never hurt each other. If you do, or they do, tell them, ‘My feelings are hurt — is this what you meant?’ That’s something I’d do, I’d ask for clarification.

Once, Joe went out with some friends, and didn’t get home till 6 a.m. I was so worried. When he got back, I was up, and I was so furious — but I just went up to him and said, ‘Oh you’re okay, thank God, come on in.’ The next morning, he was so apologetic. I told him, ‘We have two kids, what if they needed to go to the hospital?’ I told him he needed to tell me what he was doing, where he was at – especially if his plans were changing. I didn’t want to be mad at him, I wanted to take it as an opportunity for us to grow together, not apart.

I would also say, put the phones down! If you’re looking at your phone, you’re not communicating with each other. I see it everywhere, people are at dining tables, and both the man and the woman are on their phones. What are you saying if you’re looking at your phone? You’re saying, ‘You’re not special enough for me to put my phone down, and have a conversation.’ Instead, put the phone down, and say, ‘You’re what’s important, not my work, not business – you.'”

What do you miss the most about Joe?

“His love. His heart. His hugs. He was so loving — I remember he would be out there with our granddaughter, and he’d just look at me from afar and give me this sweet smile. I knew what he was saying: I love you. I saw him transform from this hunk of a man into a father. I saw him rub oil on our daughter’s belly when she had colic, and I looked at his face when he was talking to her, and I realized he’d turned into a father, right before my eyes.

I miss his love, his heart. But he gave me enough love to last two lifetimes.”

Courtesy of Dustin Lowman

What song always reminds you of Joe?

“There are a few. The first one we liked was Al Green, ‘Let’s Stay Together.’ That was our song when we were teens. After that, it was ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’ by the Carpenters. Then, later on, it became ‘The Dance’ by Garth Brooks. ‘The Dance’ is about how you can’t have the dance unless you go through the trials. People don’t want to endure the tough times, but they have to if they want the dance. It just feels right for me.

There was a song, too, by Josh Turner called ‘Your Man.’ Whenever that song came on — it could be 5 a.m., or Joe could be working in the yard, or by the pool, anything — we’d stop what we were doing and dance to it. The silly things we’d do — it was so lovely.”

Courtesy of Dustin Lowman

What do you feel is the meaning of life?

“We’re all here to live. Life is a journey. People say, ‘You only live once,’ but they have it wrong. You live every day, but you only die once. You have to live every day. Realize life is a journey, and the journey may take you different places, but one way or another, you’re going to make it. If you find a loyal heart, love them every day, and they’ll be eternally yours, forever one.”

Courtesy of Dustin Lowman

Joe wrote Velma this poem in 1998, to commemorate their 25th wedding anniversary:

A Gift from God

I know the Lord loves me, and I thank Him every day

For the precious gift he sent me, to lighten up my way

He sent a golden-haired angel, into my dreary life

With open arms I begged for her to be my wife

I have all I want, and I want all I have

Except for another lifetime for us to be together

Thank you Lord, for my wife. Love you always

Courtesy of Dustin Lowman

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Dustin Lowman of Texas, and originally appeared here. You can follow his journey on Instagram, his website, and his blog. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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