What woman doesn't gaze at her aged wedding gown, wishing it still fit? Not Ethel McCall, who plans to don hers on Saturday for a big dinner-dance to celebrate her 70th wedding anniversary.
Don and Ethel McCall, both 93, were married 70 years ago today, on April 23, 1944, in Paterson, N.J. She wore the white satin gown with a high neck, tucked bodice and a tiered skirt expansively displayed over a hooped petticoat. He wore his Coast Guard uniform, representing his military service at the time.
In the couple's desire to re-create their wedding appearance, Ethel recently slipped on her now-ivory gown and found it needed only to be shortened.
"I've shrunk," she said. "I used to be 5 feet. Now I'm 4-something."
Don's Coast Guard uniform was not to be found. Family members have continued to search for a duplicate, so far to no avail. If the original were in hand, it would still fit his trim and bantam stature.
That Don and Ethel wanted to share equally this celebratory spotlight signifies the longevity of their marriage.
"We never had a boss in the family," Ethel declared last week. "He never said 'you gotta.' "
Don concurred: "Anything we want, we talk it over." Then, with his signature dry wit, he added, "She wins."
For example, at an earlier age, the couple were leaders of a ski club. The group decided to take a trip to Austria. Don didn't ski, but Ethel wanted to join the excursion.
"There were three other women the same," Ethel recalled. "Their husbands wouldn't let them go. I couldn't imagine that."
In another instance, Ethel noted that Don attended baker's school while in military service. He became a ship's cook. Shortly after their marriage, she was in the kitchen one day.
"Whatever I was cooking, he said that wasn't the way to do it," she recalled. "He walked in, and I walked out. I have not cooked in 69 years."
She added: "They say families get in trouble later. We never did."
Of course, their venerable ages have contributed to the McCalls' protracted marriage.
"The devil didn't want us; neither did the Lord," Ethel suggested. "So, we're still here."
Don grew up in a family of six boys, Ethel in a family of seven sisters.
"We're the only two living," said Ethel.
Ethel's eyesight is deteriorating due to macular degeneration. Don walks with aid of a cane. But the couple, who retired to Spring Hill in 1990, are still feisty with banter and welcoming to all who come to their door.
Said grandson Shane McCall, 37: "They took in people who were down on their luck till they got back on their feet."
They opened their door to a friend of Shane's who stayed two years.
"Basically, they've never turned anybody down," he said. "Everywhere they go, they make friends and keep them."
Marty McNiff, 59, is one of those. He's hung around for 20 years. Two decades ago, McNiff, who lives in the same Spring Hill neighborhood, was in the throes of a heart attack when the McCalls saved him, he said.
Now, McNiff drives the couple to a restaurant almost every morning for breakfast. He cooks for them in their home, trained by Don.
One of their two sons, Bruce, 66, who is disabled, currently lives with them. Their other son, Craig, 64, also lives in Spring Hill.
Recalling how they first became acquainted, the couple admitted Don never proposed marriage to Ethel.
They were friends at Paterson Eastside High School, part of a larger group that walked home from school together.
"He would often meet me after church," Ethel said. "He never asked me out. We were friends."
But Don remembers when a high school freshman, his best friend, confided, "I'm going to show you this girl."
"Way over there?" Don queried. "That's mine."
"I fought him," he recalled with a chuckle last week.
"When (Don) got into the service," Ethel continued, "I realized I missed him.
"Every time he came in (from a voyage at sea), I was waiting for him."
On one of those returns, Don said he wanted to buy her a ring.
"I thought, oh, a ring. It was a diamond," Ethel said. "And that was when I realized we were engaged."
The wedding party included six bridesmaids and six groomsmen.
"We've always had big parties," Ethel said.
So, on Saturday, up to 100 guests — extended family and friends they've made at the local breakfast club, crafters they've known through 30 years of creating stained-glass works, fellow members of Christian Church in the Wildwood, former co-workers from Ethel's years as a registered nurse and Don's years as a restaurant owner in New Jersey — are expected at the Knights of Columbus in Spring Hill to help the couple celebrate their 70 years together.
McNiff will do the cooking.