As Raymond and Elna Mae Hastings look forward to marking their diamond wedding anniversary Monday, the 96-year-olds reflected last week on how they have managed to reach the unusual 75-year milestone.
"Well," the curly coiffed, white-haired Elna Mae quipped with a twinkle in her eye, "most people don't live that long."
Reposed in "his chair" in the comfy living room of their daughter, the balding husband explained with dry wit: "I got a good wife, and she's never run me off for anything."
Having met at a church service during their post-high school years in Arkansas, and married Oct. 7, 1938, the couple spent 30 years as missionaries, pastors, educators and, lastly, college administrators, not only in various states, but in the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, British Guyana, Guatemala, Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay and Mexico.
Raymond came from a musical family. Elna Mae had such a fetching contralto voice she was once considered for New York City's Metropolitan Opera company. They sang together on revival tours.
"I say he wanted my voice," Elna Mae claims facetiously.
"She attracted my attention for her smile and her outgoing personality," Raymond thoughtfully counters.
Elna Mae appreciated Raymond's dedication to the Lord and his sharing of her love for music.
As for staying together, Ella Mae said, "I worked a cryptogram that said forgiveness is the glue that holds people together. I really think forgiveness contributes to a good marriage.
"People thought differently in recent years. When the pastor asked 'for better or for worse,' I meant it."
Noting that they not only lived together as husband and wife, but worked together professionally, Raymond said the latter experience cemented their marriage.
"We never had any desire to not work together," he said. "We worked together in our ministries and in our teaching. We never had any troubles adjusting to each other."
The couple generously sing each other's praises.
"In schools and college, everybody loved my wife," Raymond said. "She always got along with everyone."
Dithering over how to tactfully say her husband holds some strong opinions, Elna Mae voiced respect for his restraint in such instances.
"He didn't quarrel with people," she said.
Daughter Colleen Pyle, with whom the couple has lived in Brooksville since 2000, concurred and added of their lengthy togetherness, "I would say a significant part of their marriage is their commitment to their God, each other and their family, and their responsibility to their work."
That's not to say their life has been ever peaceful.
Emotion still grabs Elna Mae as she recalls a boy about to celebrate his eighth birthday when the couple was working in Peru with the international Food for the Hungry organization. For his birthday wish, he asked for a toy. But the youth's sister said he'd never had a pair of shoes. The agency only would provide the shoes. Raymond and Elna Mae reached into their own pockets to buy him a toy.
In Guatemala, during rebel uprisings in the 1980s, their children back in the United States feared for their parents' lives. A doctor and a nurse in the couple's entourage were killed by rebels.
The highlights of their marriage?
That's an easy one.
"Our children," Elna Mae quickly responded. "Another, the privilege of living in other countries."
Added Raymond: "We were able to work together in whatever we did."
Celebrating their anniversary with them at a reception today at Brooksville Wesleyan Church will be their daughter, 71, and twin sons, Warren of Texas and Walter of Colorado, 69.
Suggesting that their 75th anniversary won't be their last, Raymond said, "We've had a very enjoyable life so far."
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]