Love is an intense feeling of deep affection or to care for someone very much. However, for one Sampson County couple, it goes far deeper than just that — it’s 76 years of a partnership born out of respect and feelings that have grown deeper with each passing day.
Joe and Grace Parker will celebrate their 76th anniversary on Nov. 9, but, in truth, it’s a celebration that goes on every single day of every single year.
“We thank God for all his blessings,” the 96-year-old Grace Parker acknowledged during a recent interview. “God is love, and God brought my husband and I together 78 years ago at a local high school dance.”
They’ve been nearly inseparable ever since.
The couple met in 1939, dated and married in 1941. Joe, now 95, recalls the day as perfect. “We went to Dillion, South Carolina to get married. They had a wedding chapel there. It was about 65 to 70 degrees, sun was out. It wasn’t hot, but it wasn’t cold either. Just a really nice day. I remember being somewhat nervous.”
His wife echoes his recollection. “It was a perfect day, I’ll never forget it,” she attested. ” I was thrilled to death to be marrying the love of my life. We got married, then went to Myrtle Beach for four days. That was our honeymoon.”
After the honeymoon, the two came back to Sampson County and began work.
“We were farmers. I went to work on the farm,” Joe said. “We raised tobacco, corn, cotton and soy beans. Back then, we used mules to plow the fields. It then got easier when other equipment became available and we got a tractor. My wife would operate and drive the tractor, while I would spread the seed.”
In 1945, the two started building the house in which they currently reside.
“We built the house by hand,” said Joe. “We used the trees we cut down as wood. We would carry them to the local saw mill, they would cut them up for us and then we would bring them back and start building. I finished the house in 1947.”
The Parkers have four children, three of them still living. “We had four kids, two girls and two boys. The girls, Nancy and Guthrie, came first. Then we had the boys, Joe Frank and Ronnie. Ronnie died in a car crash two weeks prior to his high school graduation. He had a scholarship to go to college and play baseball,” recalled Grace.
The Parkers have three living grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, a girl and a boy. Grace said, “Our kids, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren mean so much to us. Again I thank God for all his blessings.”
Joe recalls his life with Grace, a smile playing at his lips, growing wider as he begins to talk.
“We have gone through a lot of good times and bad times, more good than bad. A lot of things have changed, from worldly things to personalities and looks. However one thing remains the same — the love in my heart for Grace,” he said. “She’s a great woman, partner and lover. We haven’t spent too many nights away from each other.”
The Parkers still get out and go today, with Joe taking Grace to one of their favorite restaurants in Clinton.
“We have a lot of memories,” he said. “When I look back at all the good times we’ve had, I recall the simple ones, which seem to stick with me the most. We used to love going to eat at several restaurants that aren’t around anymore. However now, we aren’t as young as we used to be and Grace is kind of feeble. We try to get out and go to our favorite breakfast spot, Hardees in Clinton, about two times per week.”
Joe also gave some important advice for a great, long, healthy relationship.
“The key to staying married as long as we have is to always listen to your wife and do what she says at all times. If you do that, you’ll be all right,” he remarked.
“That’s right,” Grace interjected, smiling, “what he said. Always do whatever the wife says and always go to church. We go to McGee United Methodist Church and I started taking all my children when they were six weeks old.”
The Parkers reside in the Kitty Fork area, where they said they still enjoy life and each other every day.