Vickroy: After 70 years, Edith and Harold still are crazy in love
BY DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @dvickroy February 21, 2014 5:28PM
Updated: March 24, 2014 6:34AM
A coquettish smile, an affirming nod, a look of understanding, a love that knows no bounds.
After 70 years, the magic is just as enchanting and just as special as it was on their first date at the old State Theatre in Chicago’s Roseland community.
“I can’t remember the movie,” Harold Bessett said. “I was too interested in what was sitting beside me.”
What was sitting beside the then-16-year-old Fenger High School student was his then-15-year-old neighbor and soon-to-be sweetheart, Edith.
Growing up across the street from each other, Edith said they’d known each other through grammar school.
“But I didn’t think much of him until he was older,” she said. Sixteen was her magic number. And once she turned the corner onto that sentiment, she never looked back.
Both now 90, the Bessetts reflect on their seven decades as husband and wife.
“You make the best of every day, it’s all you can do because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Harold said. “We’re only here for the moment.”
And so many of those little moments are cherished.
Their son, Craig, and daughter-in-law, Cindy, who live in Midlothian, say the couple always walk hand in hand. They’ve been spied walking in such manner down their Oak Lawn street, in the Hobby Lobby craft store and at the supermarket.
“They just have so much respect for each other,” Cindy said. “They agree on everything.”
The fuss makes Harold fidget, but just a bit. He admits the couple frequently are stopped in stores, most recently outside of Kohl’s in Chicago Ridge Mall, by curious onlookers who want to know how long they’ve been married and what their secret is.
“Edith is very forgiving,” Harold said.
Edith smiles and shakes her head. Harold still brings in the groceries and does all the driving. She still handles all the cooking.
They laugh, finish each other’s sentences and affirm each other’s points of view. And just in case that isn’t enough, Harold has a hot towel, fresh from the dryer, waiting for her when she steps out of the shower.
In short, it is as if they never advanced from that heart-fluttering, palm-sweating, chemistry-altering romantic stage of love, and lucky for them.
They grew up in the Pullman area, went to grade school together but then took separate paths into high school, with Harold heading to Fenger and Edith enrolling at Pullman Tech.
Once they started dating, Harold said, he spent every minute he could at Edith’s house, often having dinner with her family.
They got engaged soon after he was drafted by the Army. And, like many couples separated by service during World War II, when he was home on leave March 1, 1944, they tied the knot.
Edith’s gift of an engraved bracelet may have saved their honeymoon.
After the wedding, they headed straight to Louisiana, where Harold was stationed at the time. They were planning to spend the night at a USO facility.
“But we forgot the marriage certificate and they wouldn’t give us a room,” Harold said.
“You know, things were different in those days,” Edith said.
They waited for hours while a USO official tracked down the minister who married them. But in the flurry of phone calls, the B in their last name was misinterpreted as a V, and the denial stood.
“The only proof I had was the bracelet,” Harold said. In the end, that was enough to get them clearance. And the first hurdle of married life had been overcome.
Soon after, Harold, a staff sergeant with the Illinois Blackhawks of the 86th Division, was sent to California to prepare for deployment to the Philippines. But when the war in Europe escalated, his orders changed and he was sent eastward, across the United States to France, then Germany, then Austria.
“We crossed the Maginot Line and the Siegfried Line,” he said, referring to defensive lines of forts and tanks built by the French and Germans, respectively. “My unit was the first to cross the Rhine on a pontoon bridge south of Cologne.”
While in Europe, his unit helped liberate the Dachau death camp as well as a POW camp. Among those freed at the latter stop would be his future pastor and friend, Jeff Farrell, who had been captured while serving with the U.S. Air Force. The two later would meet and form a gospel singing duo that performed live on WYCA-FM radio in Hammond, Ind.
When Harold finally returned stateside, he was given new orders, this time to head west to Manila.
Meanwhile, Edith was back home, working at a facility that made cash registers for movie houses and preparing for the arrival of their first child. A week after Harold returned, she gave birth to Lynn.
Edith quit her job and stayed home for several years to raise Lynn, who lives in Dolton, and Craig. She also kept busy with the women’s clubs of her churches, first Grace Bible Church in Riverdale and later Oak Lawn Bible Church. She also taught Sunday school and helped run vacation bible school in the summer.
Harold made a living in the furniture industry. He also was a well-known baritone singer who performed in a gospel quartet.
The couple lived for a long time in Roseland before moving to Oak Lawn 39 years ago.
When she was 52, Edith decided to get back into the work force. She was thrilled to land a clerical position at the Art Institute of Chicago.
“The job paid $7,000 a year, and I thought that was all the money in the world,” she said.
She worked at the museum for 12 years.
“We both retired at the same time,” Edith said. “Now we’re lazy.”
But not too lazy to still swoon over each other.
Grandparents of Michelle and Amy, and great-grandparents of Ethan, Reese and Joshua, Harold and Edith both say they count their blessings continually.
“We have a small family but we have a good family,” Harold said. “We are proud of each and every member.”
Life was a lot simpler back when they met and fell in love, Edith said, while serving coffee and cake. She talked about wood-burning stoves, games of kick the can and under-refrigerator pans that had to be continually emptied.
“You didn’t have to have everything back then and we just handled things as they came up,” she said.
Harold said, “But you knew everybody on your block and on the next block and the next block.”
“Yes,” Edith said. “And you always tried to help each other, too, no matter what.”
And that is one thing that hasn’t changed for Edith and Harold, not after all these years.