Who doesn’t enjoy a good story? Especially a love story?
As a writer for FamilyLife, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing lots of men and women about their marriages and families. But no one has been married as long as Orvil and Edith Thomas. Their commitment to one another has never wavered for more than seven decades.
My husband and I have been married for 37 years. To me, that’s a very long time. But from Orvil and Edith’s perspective, we’re just babes in the world of matrimony.
As I look at a picture of Edith Aston and Orvil Thomas, taken right before their wedding day in May of 1940, I see a young man and woman who are not very different from engaged couples today. Starry-eyed and in love, their lives were filled with hopes and dreams and excitement about their future together.
Edith and Orvil were just teenagers when they married 71 years ago. That was before television, microwaves, personal computers, and the Internet. Winston Churchill, known for his never-give-up spirit, had just become Britain’s Prime Minister.
And just like newlyweds today, the Thomases had no idea what was before them when they married. But whatever it would be, they were determined to walk through it together.
She caught his eye
Orvil first noticed Edith Aston at a community baseball game back in May of 1939. At that time, it seemed like every little community had a ball team, and Harrisburg, Arkansas, was no exception. Orvil was playing catcher when Edith, a 15-year-old beauty, caught his eye. They began dating a few months later.
Like many couples, Orvil and Edith fell in love and decided to get married. “I think if you love each other you ought to get married,” Edith says, adding, “that’s a commitment that Orvil and I both take seriously.”
But unlike most couples, they secretly married and then returned to their individual homes after the simple ceremony.
At the time, Orvil had accepted a job working in a rice field—one that paid a whopping $1.50 a day. And the job came with a house. But it wasn’t vacant yet. After a justice of the peace married the Thomases, they had no place to go. So they returned home and didn’t tell their parents.
Edith’s parents had an 80-acre farm about six miles outside of Harrisburg. They grew corn, sorghum, and cotton. About a week after the ceremony, her father drove into town to get some farm supplies. When he returned, he threw a straw hat down in front of Edith and said, “Now, there’s your wedding present!” Apparently the secret marriage had not been so secret after all.
Three weeks after their marriage, Edith and Orvil had their parents’ blessings and began living as man and wife. They moved into the rice farmer’s field hand house, and Orvil worked the fields from daylight until dusk.
Like many houses in that day, the Thomases’ had no electricity or running water. Instead the newlyweds used kerosene lamps and pumped water from a well.
But life was good because they were in love.
Walking together through life
Faith has been a key ingredient in their life together. “You’ve got to have faith if you are going to live with any success,” Edith says. “We’ve always had a strong faith. He’s [God] seen us through hard time and good times.”
The good times have included the births of their three daughters: Polly, Dot, and Kat. “I think that their faith has been the glue that’s held them together all these years,” Polly says. During the difficult times—losing siblings, parents, and two grandsons—“those are the times that your faith steps in and helps you through.”
Born and raised near Harrisburg, they once knew everybody in town. And everyone knew them. For decades they’ve held neighborhood fish fries in the summer. When Orvil turned 90 in April 2011, he and a son-in-law fried fish that Orvil had caught throughout the year. Fifty-six people, from five states, came for dinner.
Orvil still mows the yard and makes a garden. He worked on lawnmowers until recently. When he turned 90, he decided it was time to retire from that.
But he says he’ll never retire from marriage. He’ll never give up on that.
Back in 1940, when Edith and Orvil Thomas married, they had no idea that one day a man would walk on the moon. But they did know that they would walk together through the ups and downs of their lives—day by day and year by year. And for the past 71 years that’s exactly what they have done.