Local couples prove marriage is meant to last

Edith and Ken Nixon (above) and Pauline and Lionel Lemieux (below) recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversaries.

WCR PHOTO | LASHA MORNINGSTAR

Edith and Ken Nixon (above) and Pauline and Lionel Lemieux (below) recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversaries.

PHOTO SUPPLIED

January 26, 2015
LASHA MORNINGSTAR
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Seventy. Seventy years of living with the same person, raising a family, and sharing the twilight years of life seems almost impossible in today's society.

Two Catholic couples living in Edmonton's downtown Rivera community know it's possible because they are still doing it.

Edith and Ken Nixon display the easy companionship one might expect after 70 years of marriage. Sitting in their comfortable apartment, they correct each other or add a fact or two the other might have forgotten with the warmth of two lifelong friends.

It is much the same with Lionel and Pauline Lemieux. Their marital journey was different, but the ingredients of faith and commitment were there too. The Montreal setting and Lionel's travelling gave a different tenor to the early part of their relationship.

But let's hear the Nixons' story first.

The question, "What's your secret to a long marriage?" never arises. The answer comes though as the couple takes a trip down memory lane to when they met at a dance during the war.

Were you instantly attracted to each other? they are asked.

"Yes, we were," Ken says immediately.

"Oh, I don't know whether I was," says Edith. "I wasn't much into boys then." Her eyes twinkle and she chuckles.

Yet something clicked. When Kenneth was in the air force from 1941 to 1945 and went to wireless school in Winnipeg and then Calgary, they wrote to each other.

Their love grew and they married on Dec. 23, 1944 in the priest's house by the old St. Anthony's Church in Edmonton.

"His father wasn't sure things would work out because he wasn't Catholic," says Edith.

Kenneth was raised on a farm in Saskatchewan, and "We didn't have much in the way of religion," he says. Preachers sometimes came to the local school, "but they didn't impress me much."

Ken's father's worries were groundless, said Edith. "We never once had a bit of trouble over religion, not once."

The Nixons bought their house in Dovercourt in 1954, says Ken.

Once he was out of Air Force, Ken studied engineering at university but didn't like it. He worked in an engine shop until 1957 when the province badly needed teachers. "I took the junior E course and started teaching in 1959."

Their first child, Keith, came into the world in 1945, followed by Timothy, Gregory, Brent and Christopher.

Homemaking meant a steep learning curve for Edith for she had never learned to cook or iron.

"I never cooked a day in my life," she recalls. "I got the Safeway magazine – they were 10 cents at that time – and I had to learn how to iron. And I had to learn how to bake a pie – he liked pie."

With the large family came many expenses, and everyone pitched in.

When Westmount Shopping Centre opened, Edith started working Thursday evenings in the shoe department at Woodwards. "Ken didn't want me to go, but it paid the light and water. Teachers only made $298 a month in 1959."

The children chipped in too. Between the five boys, they had 20 years of delivering The Journal.

"That way, they bought their own winter jackets. And I would buy their underwear and socks on Woodwards' $1.49 day. We managed."

Ken worked at the liquor vendor on Saturday nights for years "because we needed the money."

Illness hit Edith when she was 36. "I had cancer of the breast," she says. "I had 20 cobalt treatments. I prayed. The nuns prayed."

And she beat it.

Ken taught in the separate school system. Surrounded by faith at home and at school, the inevitable happened.

Edith joyfully tells the story. "One day he was in the bathtub in our house, and I was walking down the hall, and he said 'You know what? I think maybe I'll take instruction.' I didn't let on but I was just ecstatic."

Her eyes still sparkle at the memory.

Ken made his First Communion with his third son Gregory.

After 70 years, what keeps you together? they are asked.

"Love and faith," says Ken and he laughs. "Edith is the glue that keeps our whole family together. We have 31 great grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren."

Edith points to "the vows we made. We had our ups and downs and we still have differences. But that's quite normal. You can't get along all the time and always agree with everything. But we get along pretty good.

"People say 'What's your secret? I say, 'There is no secret.'"

Kenneth adds, "We just lived our lives and that is it."

Faith is a big part of their lives, and they attend Mass at St. Benedict's Chapel in the City Centre Mall.

The Lemieuxs' story differs in facts but is the same in the strength and importance of faith in their marriage.

They met in a Montreal lingerie factory. He was in shipping, she was in the office.

Lionel could only speak French. Pauline, with her Greek and Romanian background, knew both English and French. She thought Lionel should learn English and set him a task. Write a letter every night in English and hand it in the next day to her for correction.

It was 1943 when they met. The war was on but Lionel was turned away from the war effort "because I was too skinny," he says.

Lionel came from a family of 12 children, and he turned to his grandmother for love and approval. So naturally when he thought about marrying Pauline, he took her home to meet his grandmother.

GRANDMA WON OVER

Pauline brought her chocolates and won the grandmother's approval.

Lionel proposed to Pauline in her mother's home, and they married June 3, 1944.

"I told the priest 'Every word of the service has to be in English,'" remembers Pauline with a smile softening her face.

They settled in Montreal and had two children, Freddie and Carole.

Lionel had moved to RCA Victor and stayed with the company for 45 years. But it meant many transfers and a lot of travelling, leaving Pauline and the children alone during the week.

"But I always called home every night," he says. "All that travelling was hard on her."

Once the children were in school, Pauline went to work as a payroll clerk.

Their priest knew Danny Gallivan, the hockey announcer, and would invite them to go with him to the games.

JEAN B√ČLIVEAU

"Jean Béliveau shook my hand, and I didn't wash it for a whole day," says Pauline. Her eyes twinkle and she looks away, remembering the moment.

Carole taught French after graduating from the University of Ottawa and moved to Edmonton with her husband. Freddie graduated from Loyola University in Montreal and became a police expert in explosives and dangerous chemicals.

Carole became concerned about her aging parents, so Lionel and Pauline moved west to Sherwood Park and then into the downtown seniors residence.

So what keeps them together?

"Love and faith," says Lionel.

"And we never go to bed angry," adds Pauline. "We always talk it out and then one says to the other 'Would you like a chocolate?' and the ice is broken. When you go to bed, you end up cuddling."

Both now in their 90s, the Lemieuxs share a satisfying life together.

"Be patient," advises Lionel, "and don't give up."