FIRST, IT HELPS to have a couple, or three,
nicknames for your better half. Something along the lines of Sugarbabe or Papoose or Babydoll. But you can't use those; they're already taken by Sam Hill, who has been married to his Sugarbabe Pauline for 65 years.
This is why I've come to visit just days before Valentine's Day. Who couldn't benefit from advice from a couple that has this love thing down? Not the sappy, one-day Valentine's love; the buckle-up-baby, things-are-about-to-get-real kind. You know, true love.
They married in 1949, about two years after they met at a New Year's dance in Philadelphia. Sam, who was from Florida and just back from World War II, took one look at the vision from across the dance floor and was overcome. He yelled: "Whoop, here comes my baby!"
"Now I'd done been all over the country with the Army," Sam explains. "North Carolina; Seattle, Wash.; Portland, Ore.; Hawaii and all them places. And then I go back home and I thought I was in love down there. But then I come right up here and meet her, and I just knew that was none of mine down there, because this had to be her."
The pair talked and danced all night and, depending on whose version you believe, exchanged contact information.
"She says she didn't give me her address, but she did," he says, chuckling like the smitten twenty-something he was when he started courting his girl.
Ever the lady, Pauline concedes, "He says I did, but I just don't remember doing that."
This brings us to one of the big lessons to be gleaned from watching this couple: Choose your battles. Life will inevitably give you enough to stress about without adding excessive marital fussing to the mix. In 1953, the Hills were among the first black couples to buy a home on North Sydenham Street.
"I guess that was too much for some people there because most of them flew," Sam recalls. "We moved in that night, late in the evening after I knocked off. Woke up the next morning and they were gone. They flew."
"I was used to all of that," Sam says. "My parents' place was next to a white family with kids. We used to play and pick mulberries and blueberries and all that until they got to be 13. Then you couldn't play with them no more, you couldn't talk to them . . . unless you called them 'Mister' and 'Miss.' "
But boo-hooing over past or present injustices doesn't feed, clothe and educate five children. Shared sacrifice does. So when Sam came home from work one day to find the babysitter wasn't caring for his children properly, the couple had a heart-to-heart. Pauline stopped working to care for the children.
And when Sam's construction job dried up, Sam did anything and everything to pay the bills, including collecting scrap metal, which he still enjoys at age 92.
Although they never talked to their children about what to look for in a partner, one of their daughters, Deborah Gary, said they set an ideal that could be tough for others to live up to sometimes. Even if the Hills themselves don't think there's anything magical about their longevity.
"My rule is let her have her way," Sam says, his eyes flickering with mischief. "I listen, she talks. If you love 'em, let them have their way as long as they ain't going too far."
"I had a feeling he was giving in to me," says Pauline, who's 89.
To hear the Hills tell it, it's as simple as spending time together. The couple have never spent more than a few days apart since they've been married.
A Hillism, if you will: If couples aren't spending time together, they're not sharing a life together. Simple as that.
As for Valentine's, don't expect this couple to buy into the hype. Sam says, what good is giving somebody you say you love flowers one day if you're not there for them on the other days?
Better to do what the Hills have done their whole marriage: Plant a garden and grow the flowers together.
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