Love that Lasts

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.”

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