Twenty-eight years ago this month, my husband and I stood inside the All Saints Newman Center in Tempe and entered into the sacrament of matrimony.
Yes. It was the 1980s. We had big hair, but no, we weren’t Bon Jovi fans. Yes. We attended the papal Mass in Sun Devil stadium as newlyweds.
Even though all this might seem like ancient history to millennials, it turns out my beloved and I are mere rookies, children as it were, when it comes to marriage.
This realization dawned on me last week when I had the pleasure of interviewing a retired physician, Dr. Nicholas Johns. He and his wife, Doris, are celebrating 76 years of wedded bliss and were recognized by the Worldwide Marriage Encounter this month as the longest married couple in Arizona. At 97 and 96 years of age, they’ve been married longer than most people on the planet have been alive. And Nick has a few tips for those of us who are still wet behind the ears.
“Always be kind to your wife,” Nick told me over the phone. “Every day, think of what your wife has done and be appreciative.”
“You’ve been married 76 years?” I said to him, “That’s amazing, sir.”
“What’s amazing is my wife,” he replied. “My sister called and said, ‘How’s Doris?’ I said, ‘She’s crazy! Anybody who has been married to me for 76 years is crazy,’” he deadpanned.
A sense of humor has been a key factor in their marital longevity, Nick said, but that’s not all.
“When I see young couples, I tell them every day, watch what I do,” Nick said. “My wife, after dinner, I kiss her. She tells me, ‘You’re a kissing fool.’”
Not only that, he has a deep sense of respect and admiration for his bride, who was named the Mother of the Year by the governor of Indiana. All five of the couple’s children became physicians or dentists.
“My wife, I can’t say enough about her. She’s non-judgmental, and in 76 years of marriage and three years of college before that, she’s never said a bad thing about anybody,” Nick said.
When he hears husbands denigrating their wives or sees men who don’t open doors for ladies, he speaks up about it. Let’s just say he doesn’t mince words.
Nick told one guy who complained about his wife that with his high blood pressure, he’d be lucky if he dropped dead of a heart attack. If he were unlucky, he’d have a stroke.
“You better be good to your wife, because she’s the one who’s going to wipe your behind when you have a stroke. The best thing you can do is tell her every day that you love her,” he told the man.
“The last thing I do at night is go to the bedroom and lean over and give her a kiss and say I love you. She’ll whisper, ‘Just a little bit?’ I’ll say, ‘No, a hell of a lot.’ I think this is the secret to everything — being appreciative,” Nick told me.
At 97, it’s obvious he admires his wife deeply. Doris was a year behind him in pre-med studies. She got an A on a chemistry exam — better than his B — so he asked her out. Thinking they’d share a 10-cent Coke at the drugstore, she instead invited him to study. He became a straight-A student. Three years later, they married.
Real love inspires
The couple avoided the pitfalls of overspending and to this day, they’ve never had a credit card.
“Today, it’s a credit card world,” Nick lamented. “My wife, she kept her expectations low. The only mistake she ever made was settling for me.”
Doris would have been a doctor, too, he added, if he could have afforded it.
Nick sweated it out in a coalmine, earning 52 cents a ton to pay for his education. He also worked in a steel mill and helped build the Chicago subway.
Many young people, Nick said, don’t know what real love is. “They meet someone and three days later they say, ‘I’m in love,’” Nick said. “Love is an accumulation of feelings, over the years, of being appreciative. It’s about respecting your spouse.”
After 76 years of marriage, the Sun City West couple appreciates each other now more than ever. Nick is legally blind; Doris has trouble hearing, but together, they make a solid team.
The rookies among us would do well to follow their example.