Love that Lasts

Written by Heide Brandes in the February 2013 Issue

Tommie Jo & Lionel Walker

Seventy-odd years ago at a church youth meeting in Hugo, Oklahoma, a girl fell in love.

Tommie Jo, a pretty, popular daughter of a local preacher, may not have known it at the time but once she laid eyes on a boy from a nearby town, her whole life would change. She would soon have a lifetime of love that she never expected.

A young man by the name of Lionel Walker from the neighboring town of Boswell hopped a truck to attend that particular meeting on a mild day in the early 1940s. The wind had whipped around his hair, and by the time he walked into the church, he was a mess. However, being a mess didn’t stop him from noticing the prettiest girl in the room. “On the way back, I asked a gal friend of mine, ‘Who was that pretty girl you were sitting next to?’” said Lionel. “She just laughed and told me that pretty girl said, ‘I’d sure like to comb that guy’s hair.’”

That pretty girl already knew who that handsome fellow was. Her father was a preacher who filled in where needed, and he had preached in Boswell several times during the early 1940s. He ate dinner with the Walker family and he told his daughter that she needed to go with him to meet their good-looking son. “But I wasn’t interested. I already had a boyfriend at the time,” she said. “But when I saw him at that church meeting, I fell in love.”

For over 70 years, that love has remained true. Now residents at an assisted living center in Edmond, Tommie Jo and Lionel Walker glow in love more now than they did as kids. Every day, Lionel tells his bride that he loves her and that she is beautiful. Every day, Tommie Jo loves him back and loves the way he loves her. They still go places together, although now both use walkers to travel side-by-side.

But for a young couple in that time period, courtship was different and a world war would keep the lovers apart for longer than they knew.

Young Love

Tommie Jo and Lionel may have fallen in love at first sight, but they didn’t start dating until both were in college. Lionel was studying pharmacy while Tommie Jo attended a women’s college.

One year on summer break, the two reconnected and became close. “We were going to a movie and were window shopping one day,” said Tommie Jo. “He stopped at a window that had furniture and two twin beds.  He said, ‘We won’t have twin beds when we get married, will we?’ I said no.”

Deeper into the summer, Tommie Jo decided to make an announcement of marriage to her parents. Lionel retells the story. “She said to me, ‘I told my folks. Have you?’ I didn’t know what she was talking about. She said, ‘…that we are getting married.’ I always tease her that she tricked me into marriage.”

The two returned to college and didn’t see each other until the holiday break, when they worked to convince Tommie Jo’s parents to allow them to marry. On February 7, 1942, the young couple tied the knot. Shortly after, Lionel was tagged for Army basic training and was sent overseas to serve his country during World War II. “Our fourth wedding anniversary was the first one we spent together,” Lionel said. “I served in the Surgeon General’s office in Guam, Okinawa and Korea, so I got to see the world—but I wasn’t with my wife.”

While Lionel was deployed, Tommie Jo lived with her parents in Oklahoma City and wrote her husband a letter every single day. Although mail was censored at the time, Lionel would eventually receive the letters, sometimes in bundles, and read each one in order. “I feel like I got to know her better through her letters than I did during our short courtship,” Lionel said. “We developed a code because they read all our letters and censored them. I was in the Army for 38 months, 35 of those overseas. It was December 1945 before I came home, and I made it home by Christmas.”

Tommie Jo was ecstatic, but she was anxious too. She’d only dated Lionel for a short time before they married and he left. “I can’t describe what it was like when he came home. I was so nervous. I hadn’t seen him in so long and I worried, ‘What if I don’t love him anymore?’” Tommie Jo said.

Wiping her eyes, she remembers that day. “The moment I saw him and he kissed me, it was as if he’d never left. I knew I’d love him forever,” she said.

“It never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t love her,” Lionel added matter-of-factly.

Lifetime of Love

The young Walkers finally began a life together, free of war. Lionel started a pharmacist job while Tommie Jo continued her assistant work. The two were together at last and marriage was perfect. “It was wonderful!” Tommie Jo laughs. “It was such a different time than now. I remember that I had to learn how to cook after rationing during the war.”

The couple had children, worked their jobs, lived their lives. “We always hear people talk about the good ol’ days,” Lionel said. “It’s all been good for us. We have one another, and it keeps getting better.”

“He’s the reason we stay together,” Tommie Jo said. “He still tells me he loves me and that I’m beautiful every day.”

“I have super-good eyesight,” Lionel replied. “She has to take my word for it that she’s still beautiful. And she is.”

The couple has had problems in the 71-year marriage, but they worked them out by never giving each other the silent treatment. They talked. They compromised. They loved. “Everyone has their ups and downs,” said Lionel. “If we went to bed with a problem unsolved, then I would move around a lot so she would know I was awake in case she wanted to apologize. Ha!”

For the Walkers, the key to a long and happy marriage is to enjoy each other and put faith in the Lord. “Spending time with her is better than anything,” said Lionel. “Don’t enter into marriage with the attitude that if it doesn’t work, you can divorce. You should know that it will last forever. You should feel that it will last forever. Put the Lord first and everything will work out.”

Now in their 90s, the Walkers still hold hands, spend their days enjoying each other’s company and they still swoon over their love.

“I like the way he looks,” Tommie Jo said. “I like his mind. I fell in love with his mind. I wouldn’t change anything about him.

“I love the way he loves me,” she said, gazing at her husband.

He gazed back.

“I love every inch of her.”

4 Comments

Steve Walker Says:
February 7th, 2013 at 12:43 am
Thank you, Heide Brandes!!! You did an awesome in writing this story about my folks! When I took a copy of the Edmond Outlook and showed it to my Mom, she teared up reading the article. Great pics, too They both had a great time sharing their story with both of you. Thanks, again!!!

Jonathan Allen Hensley Says:
February 7th, 2013 at 9:21 am
What a beautiful love story to read this morning! It's so amazing to hear how, no matter what , that two people can actually stay and love each other forever.

Jennifer Andrews Hodge Says:
February 7th, 2013 at 9:40 pm
Oh how I enjoyed reading and tearing up over this article. Lionel is my uncle and I have always admired their love for each other. I am striving in my own 19 years of marriage (going on 71), to have the love and longevity that they have had. They truly have the secret "put the lord first and everything will work out." Thanks so much for sharing their story. I love them both so much.

Louise Tucker Jones Says:
February 9th, 2013 at 10:50 pm
I love, love,love this story! What a beautiful, forever love. My husband and I had such a love for 45 years until he went to heaven. I love Lionel's statement, "you should know it (marriage) will last forever," and Tommie Jo's words, "I love the way he loves me." Loving examples of marriage. God bless you!

Heide, you did a great job in writing this story!
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