After 63 years of marriage, Yvonne and Charles Cole face new challenges hand in hand.
Love at first sight
It was the end of 1954 and Charles Cole had come home from the service to Blytheville, Arkansas for the holidays. He was with a friend in a Kress Five and Dime store when he noticed an employee walking through the aisles.
“I turned to my friend and said, ‘See that girl over there? That’s the girl I’m going to marry.’ I might have said that before about other girls,” Charles says with a sly grin as Yvonne’s laugh fills the room.
“One day, this good looking man was walking behind me,” Yvonne says. “I needed that job because my mom and I had very little money. He was so good looking I couldn’t run him off. He asked if we could get a Coke after work, and I said, ‘Yes, if you will leave right now before I get fired!’”
Yvonne and Charles have been married for 63 years. They affectionately refer to each other as Vonnie and Charlie, but only she gets to call him that. At their home in Plano, which they purchased brand new in 1976, we sit in their living room surrounded by family photos. Their dog, Buckey, plays with a colorful chew toy.
“I brought her home from our first date around 9 p.m.” Charles says, and Vonnie interjects.
“He asked if he could could kiss me, and I didn’t know what to say. It was more like a little smack.” She beams like a teenager in love. After the holidays, Charles went back to the army where he was a member of the military police. All the while he kept thinking about Vonnie. Three months later he got a letter in the mail.
“[Vonnie] had called my house, and my little niece gave her my address. We ended up corresponding until I got out of the service almost a year later. It was a progression of faith, I guess. We went on 30 dates before I asked her to get married,” he says.
Vonnie’s mom had concerns. Vonnie was about to graduate high school and Charles, at the age of 21, was significantly older.
“We talked to her mom about it, because her dad had died. She said, ‘[Vonnie] is the baby of 16 [kids] and you’re the baby of 12 and older than her—I don’t know about that. I don’t want her to have the number of kids your mom and I had.’ Vonnie popped in and said, ‘Mom, you didn’t know what caused it and we do!’”
Vonnie chimes in, “And then my mother said, ‘Well go on, smart aleck.’”
On a Sunday afternoon in a small town off the Mississippi River, Vonnie and Charles tied the knot. Shortly after with $85 to their name, they got in their 1950 Chevy Truck and headed to San Antonio, Texas.
“A day or so after getting married we went to the grocery store. Growing up, Vonnie would keep the house clean while her mother cooked,” Charles explains. “We walked in and I said, ‘Let’s start buying groceries.’ She just stands there and these big tears are running down her face. ‘I don’t know anything about buying groceries!’ she says. ‘Oh that’s right you can’t cook.’ So we decided to walk through every aisle and buy everything that we liked. Peas and carrots are one of our favorite things, and she got creamed corn.” They look at each other with knowing smiles and erupt with laughter.
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As they continue telling stories of nosy neighbors who listened to them through the walls and how Vonnie worked for a doctor in San Antonio which started her decades-long career in the medical business, I notice Charles does most of the talking. At one point, Vonnie pauses while telling a story as if she’s lost her train of thought. As Charles helps her with the details, she apologizes for her “forgetful” memory.
“It wasn’t always like this,” she says.
On an ordinary morning, the Coles were sitting in their kitchen when a mysterious beeping filled the air, but just for a few seconds. It wasn’t a smoke alarm, the microwave or the phone; they were stumped. The next day, they heard it again but still couldn’t find the source.
Sunday morning while waiting for their church service to start, Vonnie and Charles heard the mystery beep again and it finally dawned on them: The battery in Yvonne’s pacemaker was dying. They went to the hospital and got her into surgery almost immediately.
“We didn’t know what the sign of a low battery was or that her pacemaker was already four years old,” Charles says. “We think she wasn’t getting enough oxygen and that caused her to have short-term memory loss. It’s been going on about two years now. It’s hard for both of us.”
“It’s frustrating for me, but I try very hard not to let it get me down or feel like I have to stay at home, because I’m not going to do that,” Vonnie says. “For so many years I was in control of my life, and then all of a sudden this thing comes along and zaps me. But I don’t blame anybody. Without [Charles], I wouldn’t have survived.”
“Nothing is ever going to change between the two of us,” Charles adds gazing upon his wife’s face.
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After 63 years of marriage, I ask what advice they’d give to younger couples.
Charles says they’ve been lucky because they have a lot in common; they’ve never been fighters or fussed over small things.
“Going to the movies on Saturday night was a big treat, because we didn’t have much money! There was no arguing about money, and I think young and older married couples argue a lot about finances. They say, ‘I want this, and I want that.’”
They also preach about communication and compromise; two of their favorite words. And, they never go to sleep angry.
“Don’t ever go to bed mad, because when you wake up you’re still going to be mad—even if you don’t remember what it was about,” he says. Their daughter, Leah, also swears by that rule.
“That was the most important lesson I learned from my parents. It’s common advice, but it’s true. ‘Never let the sun go down on your anger.’ My husband, Wes, and I have always followed that advice, and it has worked for our 29 years of marriage.”
Leah says that the example set by her parents is what guided her to Wes.
“My father was an amazing example of being a one-woman man. I think I inherently knew how to choose someone that would love only me for the rest of our lives because of how my dad treats my mom.”
Despite the recent hardships, they are still grateful for every day, every moment, they have together.
“At our age, we’re not worrying about how much longer we have to live,” Vonnie says. “God has given us 80 years, and 60 of those together. How can you complain about that?”
Originally published in Plano Profile’s February 2018 Issue.