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Updated: Thursday, 14 Feb 2013, 5:52 PM CST
Published : Thursday, 14 Feb 2013, 5:09 PM CST
AUSTIN (KXAN) - On Mar. 21, 1938, during the Great Depression, a marriage began on the dusty plains of West Texas. So almost 75 years later, J.B. and Edna Snead view this Valentine’s Day as a mere warm-up to one heck of a party next month.
“I was 16,” Edna Snead said. “I lacked a month being 17 when we married -- and he was 19. And now, you know what, we've had some ups and downs. We had some problems like other people, but we've been happy all of our life.
“We loved each other then and we've loved each other ever since.”
It all started with two children from two different families, whose parents happened to live close to each other outside Lubbock.
“We farmed,” J.B. Snead recalled. “Dad farmed with horses and mules. My brother and I both, we worked like we knew what we were doing. We hoed cotton for a neighbor. He planted the cotton and the weeds and the grass grew up in it.
“We'd be there from when it got light enough to see and we stayed until it got so dark we couldn't see for 25 cents a day. We took our lunch with us.”
By the end of that summer J.B. had managed to put away about $4.
Meanwhile, Edna’s family fared slightly better.
“We didn't have very much to eat,” she remembered, “but my mother and daddy had gardens. Mama canned a lot of goods. We had a cellar and we could just run get us a jar of something.
“My daddy worked hard in the field and he'd say, 'Now, you kids work good.'
“We had to hoe in the cotton and pull bolls and stayed out of school. And he'd say, 'Now, you work real good and we'll have a good time on the weekend.'
“Well, on Saturday, we got to go to Lubbock and to the park and played while they shopped. And we had a hamburger then. It was three for a quarter.”
In fact, you could buy gasoline for a dime or less.
“I bought one pack of cigarettes in my life,” J.B. said, “and I bought them when I was about 16 years-old. I paid 15 cents for that pack of cigarettes.
“I lit up the first one and I didn't like the taste of it. So I turned it around and blew on it. And that's the way I used that whole package of cigarettes. I'd light them and then put the fire in my mouth and blow.
“I never bought another cigarette in my life, but I didn't want to waste that 15 cents.”
Meanwhile, over at Edna’s house, her father, running short of money one day, traded the cherished family Victrola record player for some animal feed.
“They (the Sneads) was down at our house one night,” she said, “and a man came to pick up our Victrola.
“I cried and I cried because I hated to see that go. JB's mom had a piano and she said, ‘Now, Edna, honey, don't cry.’ She said, 'Maybe you'll have that piano some day.’”
The dust finally settled on the Victrola flap, but when sure-enough West Texas dust storms rolled in, as the often did in those days, no one thought about whether they had money or not. There was that September day, for example when the sun actually vanished.
“My brother and I and two neighbor boys were sitting in Dad's car,” J.B. said. “He had an old '33 Chevy; and we turned the headlights on and we couldn't tell they were on.
“It was that dark. We turned the dome light on and you could barely see it. It was during the day, afternoon, about 3:00 or 4:00. It didn't last long but, I mean, it was black.”
On sunny days, though, the young folks made the most of their childhood.
“I got to ride his bicycle,” Edna said, nodding toward her husband. “He would let me ride it. My brothers didn't want me to ride theirs. So we had a good time.
Then there was the entertainment offered by the likes of a man who had a trained bear act. Edna’s family moved around a bit in those days, but they had returned just in time for the show.
“When it was over,” she said, “I went outside and he was waiting for me and he said, 'Can I take you home?'
“And I said, 'I'll have to ask my brother.' So I went and asked my brother and he said, 'Well, I guess you can but y'all better go straight home.
“So J.B. took me home. That was the first time that I ever was with him in the car, going anywhere with him. We went home and after that, he came to see me pretty often.”
Then during a trip by J.B. to New Mexico, where Edna’s family had moved, her father offered to let the boy stay on, if he could find a job. J.B. jumped at the chance and soon enough, he and Edna tied the knot.
He gave her an $8.00 wedding band from Sears. She didn’t get a ring for him. She didn’t have the money.
The couple moved into a tiny little house in which the living room was indistinguishable from the bedroom. There was no running water and calls to nature were answered by an outhouse.
“We didn't have a bath in the house until '46,” J.B. said.
“No, we had to heat the water in that old wash tub,” added his wife, “make hot water and we washed every Saturday. We got a bath every Saturday.”
In time, though, the Sneads found improved lodging and three children joined the family.
“We've just had a good Christian home,” Edna said, “and we've tried to raise our children to love God, love
people and make friends. That's what we tried to do.”
Now the couple lives on the fourth floor of The Village at the Arboretum in Northwest Austin. J.B. and Edna join their neighbors in the dining room for meals the like of which they could have never dreamed of in their childhoods.
He’s legally blind. She’s hard of hearing.
“We've had some sickness during this year, both of us,” Edna said. “And we don't know what's ahead of us because we're getting older. But we just have to stay prepared and be ready.
“I am ready,” she said, “and he is, too.”
“Yes, sir,” J.B. said, “any time.”
Well, almost any time. It would be nice to make it to that 75th anniversary on the 21st of March. Their friends are planning a party that will put a trip to Lubbock for hamburgers to shame.
But what really matters to the Sneads is that they are together now, enjoying Valentines Day.
“The (only) real date I ever had was with JB,” said Edna. “I've never had a date with anybody else.”
By her side, her husband, unable to see more than a foot or two in front of his face, cracked a smile and chuckled, cradling three quarters of a century in his mind’s eye.
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