Couple looks back on 66 years together

Gavin Simms
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It's mid-afternoon and VOCM is sputtering out static through a little black boombox in the kitchen. There's a report about an overnight robbery in St. John's.

Veta and Martin Strong are at the table, unaware of the noise.

It's not the sort of house you enter quietly. They holler for you to come on in and you keep your shoes tied.

Veta and Martin Strong. - Photo by Gavin Simms/The Packet

Clarenville - It's mid-afternoon and VOCM is sputtering out static through a little black boombox in the kitchen. There's a report about an overnight robbery in St. John's.

Veta and Martin Strong are at the table, unaware of the noise.

It's not the sort of house you enter quietly. They holler for you to come on in and you keep your shoes tied.

"This is a home, not a mansion," Veta says, her fingers busy with knitting needles and pink wool.

"You can get anything you want to eat, but don't ask for money, we ain't got none - a cup of tea or anything that goes with it, but you won't get no hard liquor."

The day is half done, but time to them is not what it was. They see the little hand run laps around the clock and the hourly bell rings loud enough to wake the dead, but it doesn't keep things from standing still and undisturbed.

Martin is 86 and Veta 82.

They'll be married 66 years on Oct. 22.

Sixty-six years and the memory of how fate let him meet his girl is as fresh as a fish on the line for Martin.

It was a typical Harcourt afternoon. Martin and his buddy, Max, were walking a path. They ran into someone who told them about a young girl who was with Martin's sister at his house. They made their way straight to the house like rocks to the bottom of the sea.

The first moment he laid eyes on her was through a window.

He said to Max, "You see that girl over there?"

"Yes, Martin," Max said.

"Well, that's my wife."

Max just shook his head.

Veta was there for a short visit from Monroe, four miles up the shore.

When he finally got up the nerve to enter the house, his mother quickly laid a chore on him: "Martin, you got to go to the well and get some water."

So he left and went to the well.

After a 50-minute walk, he got to the well and realized he hadn't brought a bucket. He had to return home and trek all the way back again, this time with a bucket. Needless to say, there was something more important than water on his mind that afternoon.

They eventually got to talking, and Martin told Veta he'd be down Monday night to see her.

Veta said it straight, "Well if you comes down, you can have a date, but if you don't come Monday night then don't bother comin' Tuesday."

"I worked up along the shore all day Monday, till 6 o'clock. I come home, dressed and got a bite to eat and headed for Monroe," Martin said.

"I ran for Monroe and I was in Monroe before 7. Four miles. I never slacked - I ran the whole way. Every step o' the way sir. There was no cars or roads then and I didn't own a boat."

Come 9:30 p.m. he was walking home in the dark through the woods with a flashlight in his hand. That became the routine every third night, when Veta was allowed out.

They met on Sept. 6, 1942, and by Oct. 22 they were married.

Veta had moved in with the Strongs a few days earlier, and her parents didn't know they were married until a week after the fact.

The first time they met Martin was in the spring of the following year, when they took a boat up to Monroe.

"Martin had the fashion when driving his boat, he'd steam right on in almost to the wharf, then he'd shut off the boat and straddle the stem head, put his foot out and stop the boat on the wharf," Veta recalled.

"My dad was standing on the wharf when we came in that day. He looked at Martin when he got out of the boat and the first thing he said to him was, 'Don't you ever do that again. You'll end up like me.'"

Veta's father had had a leg amputated.

Martin was never tempted to stop the boat like that again.

From that time on, her dad and her husband were as close as father and son.

Martin had signed on to cut wood at the tender age of 11.

"Five cents an hour - boy, I was rollin' in the money, I tell ya," Martin laughs.

"But that's it, we still lived and it got us to where we're at now, and we'll live till we dies. I don't know how long that's gonna be but, to be honest, I don't care. Whenever the good Lord says 'come,' I'll get up and go."

He worked the woods until 1948, when he went to work at a sawmill in Milton. He stayed on there for nine years, standing behind the saw. After that, Martin worked at a garage as a mechanic for 29 years, fixing engines at night and digging holes with a tractor by day. He dug basements and put many a motor back together piece by piece. Martin can't read or write. Everything he knows, he's learned from living.

"There was one nail drove into this house that I never drove in. My cousin was going to Korea because the war was on; he come here to see us before he went away and I was up puttin' the boards on the roof. He come up the ladder and said, 'Give me the hammer and a nail.'

"He whacked the nail down in the board and said, 'Now you can't say I didn't help ya.'"

Martin's final job kept him busy for another decade after the garage was sold - behind the wheel of the Clarenville garbage truck.

It was the first garbage truck to compact garbage in Clarenville, and Martin was the first driver.

During that time, Martin made quite the reputation for himself. With the windows rolled down, he would sing the hymns he knows like the back of his hand.

All over town, they knew him as the Singing Garbage Man.

Veta coaxes him into a chorus, the one he always used to belt out from behind the wheel.

His voice rumbles and shakes and the song springs out of him like syrup from an old maple.

Lead me on, blessed Lord, lead me on

Take the wheel, blessed Lord, lead me on

Every hour every day, as I drive the ol' highway

Take the wheel, blessed Lord, lead me on.

Martin was 64 when he stepped off the truck and into retirement.

The world has changed plenty since then, but they've kept their own much the same.

For them, life has always been what you make it.

"I loved you then, I love you still and cross my heart I always will," Martin says, rhyming it off so fast you know it's not the first time.

Veta says they've never had a quarrel.

"We're not gonna start fightin' yet," she said. "He ain't got much hair left for me to tear out anyhow."

They raised three children: Gertie, Brenda and Harold.

They have a scruffy old dog they call VM - a little Veta and a little Martin.

They've made a modest living. They know what makes them happy, and money's not it.

The first thing Martin did after retiring was build a cabin cruiser. He hauled all the wood and cut every plank.

He'd never done it before, so when he had it near seaworthy, he got a boat builder from Summerville to come tell him if he'd done it right. The man examined the boat from end to end and said, "Whatever you're doing, Martin, carry on doing it."

With nothing tying them down, the Strongs took to the road in the summertime.

"When we sold our camper three years ago, there wasn't a road on this island we hadn't travelled," Veta says with a smile.

"We'd take another couple with us and just go on."

They've been to St. Anthony seven times.

Veta has a big black garbage bag filled with knitted socks, mitts and vamps. She practically gives it all away. No one leaves the house without one or the other, or one of each.

These days, while Veta's knitting away in the quiet, Martin's usually asleep or nodding off.

"The funny thing about it, you know, when I was working, if I worked the whole night I couldn't shut me eyes in the day - no way was I going to sleep in the day. Now I could sleep 24 hours around," he says.

The arthritis is getting to him bone by bone, but he still gets out to cut his firewood and tend to whatever else needs doing.

He glances across the table at his wife with heavy eyes.

She looks back with a grin.

"Sometimes it makes me think I'm married to an old man," she says.

Organizations: Martin's

Geographic location: Clarenville, Monroe, St. John's Strongs Milton Korea St. Anthony

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • gina
    July 02, 2010 - 13:33

    It touched my heart to read your story--
    two special people...
    Live, Love Laugh and be Happy---what a wonderful world this would be .

  • C
    July 02, 2010 - 13:33

    Wow!! How many lessons are there in this. Martin can't read or write. Everything he knows, he's learned from living. --An education doesn't make you smart

    Keep simple-- and more

    Good story!!

  • Castaway
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    A heart-warming story and a living testament to the great Bard's words:

    Let me not to the marriage of true minds
    Admit impediments; love is not love
    Which alters when it alteration finds,
    Or bends with the remover to remove:
    O, no, it is an ever-fixèd mark,
    That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
    It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
    Whose worth's unknown, although his heighth be taken.
    Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
    Within his bending sickle's compass come;
    Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
    But bears it out even to the edge of doom. excerpt - Sonnet 116
    ~ W. Shakespeare ~

  • Treshana
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    These are my grand-parents. Since they do not use the internet I have read them all the kind words and comments left above. They are most appreciative of the sentiments and realize that their story has reached further than they ever physically will.

    Thanking you on behalf of Veta and Martin.

  • Angelica
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    What a wonderful story! Made me tear up. Congratulations to them both for keeping their love 'Strong'.
    See? It can be done!

  • Anne Marie & Jim
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    Truly a beautiful story, Jim & I will be married 43 years in November & we are also from Conception Bay NFLD. We will always be Newfies. Our story is much like Martins & Vetas, we met when we were very young & love still reigns today. God Bless & take care hope we live as long to tell our story.
    Congratulations
    Jim & Anne Marie

  • Marge
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    JUST WANTED TO CONGRATULATE THESE WONDERFUL COUPLE ,WHAT A LESSON TO BE LEARNED HERE ,ITS CERTAINLY IS NOT MONEY ITS LOVE BLESS THEIR HEARTS , CONGRATULATIONS
    SINCERELY
    JIM & MARGE PARISIAN
    I AM FORMERLY FROM PLACENTIA NEWFOUNDLAND ,AND I AM STILL A NEWFOUNDLANDER

  • Kristi
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    Great story! A great example of a marriage of 66 years that survived without the frills and material wants of this day and age!! Best Wishes for great days ahead as well!!

  • sarah
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    I want to say i just read this ,and it touch my heart congratulations to u both,u guys is what newfies r all about and if iwas there i wouldgive uboth a bighugand kiss.. god blessu both............sarah vokey nee phillips orgfrom whitbourne nfldbut now living in niagara falls ont

  • Daniel
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    A beautiful story and very well told, thanks.

  • Kelly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    Thank you Veta and Martin for opening your house to everyone and sharing your life story. It's not very often you can pick up a newspaper and put it down with a smile on your face.

    Thank you to the Telegram for publishing it - these stories help keep one grounded as Veta and Martin have it figured out!

  • George
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    They just don't sweat the small stuff. So many marriages have ended because of 'picky' pettiness.
    Have differences with your mate? That's natural. Talk about it, get over it and don't insist on winning . This story is the best example of love and common sense that any of us will experience. Fifty two years with my own partner has taught each of us a great deal.

  • Joan
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    What a wonderful story - everyone could certainly learn a lesson from this couple.

  • Rebecca
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    This is a beautiful story. What an unbelievable example of true love.
    Barely anyone nowadays can make it ten or twenty years which is so sad.
    This article made a few happy tears in my eyes by the end of the read :')
    Congratulations to Veta and Martin and I wish them all the best.

  • gina
    July 01, 2010 - 20:22

    It touched my heart to read your story--
    two special people...
    Live, Love Laugh and be Happy---what a wonderful world this would be .

  • C
    July 01, 2010 - 20:22

    Wow!! How many lessons are there in this. Martin can't read or write. Everything he knows, he's learned from living. --An education doesn't make you smart

    Keep simple-- and more

    Good story!!

  • Castaway
    July 01, 2010 - 20:20

    A heart-warming story and a living testament to the great Bard's words:

    Let me not to the marriage of true minds
    Admit impediments; love is not love
    Which alters when it alteration finds,
    Or bends with the remover to remove:
    O, no, it is an ever-fixèd mark,
    That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
    It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
    Whose worth's unknown, although his heighth be taken.
    Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
    Within his bending sickle's compass come;
    Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
    But bears it out even to the edge of doom. excerpt - Sonnet 116
    ~ W. Shakespeare ~

  • Treshana
    July 01, 2010 - 20:19

    These are my grand-parents. Since they do not use the internet I have read them all the kind words and comments left above. They are most appreciative of the sentiments and realize that their story has reached further than they ever physically will.

    Thanking you on behalf of Veta and Martin.

  • Angelica
    July 01, 2010 - 20:12

    What a wonderful story! Made me tear up. Congratulations to them both for keeping their love 'Strong'.
    See? It can be done!

  • Anne Marie & Jim
    July 01, 2010 - 20:06

    Truly a beautiful story, Jim & I will be married 43 years in November & we are also from Conception Bay NFLD. We will always be Newfies. Our story is much like Martins & Vetas, we met when we were very young & love still reigns today. God Bless & take care hope we live as long to tell our story.
    Congratulations
    Jim & Anne Marie

  • Marge
    July 01, 2010 - 20:05

    JUST WANTED TO CONGRATULATE THESE WONDERFUL COUPLE ,WHAT A LESSON TO BE LEARNED HERE ,ITS CERTAINLY IS NOT MONEY ITS LOVE BLESS THEIR HEARTS , CONGRATULATIONS
    SINCERELY
    JIM & MARGE PARISIAN
    I AM FORMERLY FROM PLACENTIA NEWFOUNDLAND ,AND I AM STILL A NEWFOUNDLANDER

  • Kristi
    July 01, 2010 - 20:03

    Great story! A great example of a marriage of 66 years that survived without the frills and material wants of this day and age!! Best Wishes for great days ahead as well!!

  • sarah
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    I want to say i just read this ,and it touch my heart congratulations to u both,u guys is what newfies r all about and if iwas there i wouldgive uboth a bighugand kiss.. god blessu both............sarah vokey nee phillips orgfrom whitbourne nfldbut now living in niagara falls ont

  • Daniel
    July 01, 2010 - 19:55

    A beautiful story and very well told, thanks.

  • Kelly
    July 01, 2010 - 19:52

    Thank you Veta and Martin for opening your house to everyone and sharing your life story. It's not very often you can pick up a newspaper and put it down with a smile on your face.

    Thank you to the Telegram for publishing it - these stories help keep one grounded as Veta and Martin have it figured out!

  • George
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    They just don't sweat the small stuff. So many marriages have ended because of 'picky' pettiness.
    Have differences with your mate? That's natural. Talk about it, get over it and don't insist on winning . This story is the best example of love and common sense that any of us will experience. Fifty two years with my own partner has taught each of us a great deal.

  • Joan
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    What a wonderful story - everyone could certainly learn a lesson from this couple.

  • Rebecca
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    This is a beautiful story. What an unbelievable example of true love.
    Barely anyone nowadays can make it ten or twenty years which is so sad.
    This article made a few happy tears in my eyes by the end of the read :')
    Congratulations to Veta and Martin and I wish them all the best.