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Milestones: Pawleys couple celebrates 70th wedding anniversary
By Jackie R. Broach
Bill and Betty Murray don’t agree on all the details of how they met. It was nearly 80 years ago, after all.
They might have been coming or going, depending on who’s version a listener chooses to go with, but the Pawleys Island couple, who celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary March 30, were on a boat between the mainland and Sandy Island on that fateful day. Betty, who turns 89 this month, the older of the two by about a year, was 11 at the time, she thinks, and Bill was rowing her and her mother across.
“He was just a little fellow rowing that boat,” she recalled. She remembers dangling her fingers over the side, playing in the water without realizing her movements were making Bill’s job harder.
He snapped at her to get her hand back in the boat. “I said it very unkindly,” he admits. That they agree on. But his backside was sore and he was tired, he explains. “I was agitated.”
Whatever his excuse, Bill’s adopted mother didn’t approve. She was good friends with Betty’s mom and was also on-board that day.
“She said ‘don’t you talk to that little girl that way. She might be your wife someday,’” Betty recites with obvious glee at the memory.
That’s one of many stories the Murrays retold as their March 31 anniversary party drew near. Their children threw it for them at Pawleys Plantation. After 70 years, “I guess they finally figure we’re going to stick together,” Bill joked.
On that first day, neither of them thought much of the prediction they would someday be wed, but as they entered their teens and Bill moved with his mom to the mainland things changed.
“Her mother kept a big garden and I would come by to help with it, and Bet would be peeking around the corner,” Bill said.
But it’s when Betty was working on McKenzie Beach that they really got to know each other. That was the area’s black beach during segregation and, though it no longer exists now, it was once one of the hottest spots on the Waccamaw Neck. She was a waitress and Bill worked at the Clinkscale house down the street.
There was an ice house across the road from the beach and it was there they had their first kiss.
“You tell it,” Bill says from the couch in their living room.
So she does. She and two friends were all sitting on the porch at the ice house and “he wanted to kiss all of us,” she recalls.
At that, Bill makes an offended sound. That’s not how he remembers it.
“No, you made all the decisions,” he said. In his version, it was the girls who all wanted to kiss him. That was how he would decide which of them would be his girlfriend, they told him.
“We were all young teenagers,” he said. “I says, ‘OK, I’ll try that.’ The first two I kissed, they had their eyes wide open and were kind of giggling. And you know, I was kind of giggling too. Then Bet was the last one and she closed her eyes and kind of melted away. That was the beginning of my understanding that she was the one.”
From then on, Betty’s mother became like Bill’s mother as she took on the challenge of rearing him to be a good husband for her daughter.
Bill didn’t go to high school after he finished at the black grade school he attended in the Pawleys Island area, but he did go visit Betty sometimes at Howard High in Georgetown.
One day they were driving home from Howard in her father’s car, when he leaned over and kissed her.
“I don’t know what happened but the car was going off the highway and nice as that he brought the car back on the pavement,” Betty said. “From then on, the love I had for him … ”
Before that, she went a long time without telling anyone about her feelings for Bill. He was extremely handsome, she recalls and her friends used to tease her, demanding to know where she found such a good looking man.
That, she kept a secret from Bill, never letting on that all the girls from Howard used to look forward to his visits.
On dates, Bill and Betty used to go to the movie theater in Georgetown. Bill would go into the creek beforehand and catch crabs to raise enough money. He got 30 cents a dozen for crabs, so he’d try to catch at least two dozen and then sell them door to door. Tickets were either 15 or 25 cents, he said. He’s not sure which, but with 60 cents, he had enough for admission for two, a 1-pound bag of peanut butter cookies and a nickel’s worth of sausage.
It was 1942 when Bill and Betty got married. She had graduated high school the year before. Her parents didn’t approve of her marrying, so they did it in secret. The couple didn’t have any money, so they hinted of their plans to two of her friends, Carrie Rainey and Hariette Brown. The girls loaned them $5 — $3 for the marriage license and $2 so they could get something to eat.
Bill had to lie about his age for the marriage to take place. He was only 17. The judge knew he was lying. “I could see in his eyes he knew,” Bill said, but he went along with it.
However, Bill learned his lesson about lying shortly after when he was drafted to serve in World War II. He and Betty had been living in her parents’ guest room and their first child was already on the way by the time he had to leave for boot camp at Norfolk. They eventually had five children
Bill served in the Navy and ended up in the submarine service against his will. “That’s supposed to be all volunteer, but don’t believe it,” he said. “I was standing in the wrong place.”
Betty, meanwhile, taught at the private school at Arcadia Plantation. She had taken night classes at the state college, which had an extension in Georgetown then. Her father had taught at Arcadia and she took over when he got sick, remaining until 1960, when Bill finally left the Navy. He made it his career for 22 years, and those were some of the hardest years of their marriage.
“He would be away for three months at a time,” Betty said. “Things got so bad back then, I can remember looking for 3 cents to mail him a letter, and I couldn’t find it.”
The memory of those lean years stuck with her and she’s never been “too free” with money since, she said.
The couple can remember only once that they contemplated divorce. They were still very young at the time. They’d had an argument, though they don’t remember now what it was about, and sat their children down at the dining room table to tell them they were splitting up. The kids cried and they couldn’t go through with it, something they’re eternally grateful for now.
People regularly ask Betty how she and Bill made it for so long.
“We learned to get along with each other, for one thing,” she said, something she has often done with God’s help.
They hit another rough patch after Bill left the service. He wanted to go to college and managed it for a year, but he had a child in college too and dropped out because he couldn’t afford tuition for both. By the time his daughter graduated and he could go back to college, he was working for the Air Force as a civilian and was making enough money that it didn’t make sense to go back and get a degree.
His work included a lot of travel, however, something that was supposed to come to an end with a job he was expecting. So when he was asked to relocate again, Betty said no. She didn’t want to leave her home. He went without her.
“If you want the truth, I cried all the way to Texas,” he said.
They reunited, obviously, but the point, they say, is that it wasn’t always easy. It took effort and patience.
“You don’t stay married simply because you think alike,” Bill said. “My wife and I are almost diabolically opposites. I’ll take chances, because I don’t mind failing. She won’t, because she fears failing.”
He can hold a grudge and once, after an argument over his driving, didn’t speak to her for a month, other than grunts and monosyllables, he adds as another example. Betty, on the other hand, hates to go to bed mad.
Their advice to other couples is straightforward.
“The only thing I can say to them is to pray for patience, because without that, you will not be able to stay together long,” Betty said.
“And you have to have respect for one another,” Bill added.
That’s their simple recipe for marital bliss.