By Angie Bado, TSB Staff
The smell of bacon permeates the air as I ring the doorbell of the neat and tidy, one-story brick duplex on a quiet street in McKinney. The door swings open, and although we have never met, Doris Duncan greets me warmly. “Come right in,” she says as I present my business card.
Charles, her husband, is sitting on the sofa, his walker parked within easy reach. He cordially greets me as well, making space for me to have a seat on the sofa next to him. Mrs. Duncan is, at 89, still an attractive woman, and it is evident with her slight touches of makeup and hair fastidiously styled, that she still takes pride in her appearance. She sits comfortably in the rocking chair next to the sofa.
At their advanced ages, the Duncan’s appear fairly self -sufficient. At the age of 89, Doris still drives to the grocery story and to doctor’s appointments. They live without assistance, although their daughter checks in with the pair on a regular basis.
Indeed, when I mention the smell of bacon Mrs. Duncan confirms, “I cooked bacon – we just finished breakfast not too long ago. “
My thoughts turned to the fact that this would be breakfast number 26,280 – give or take – that Doris, or Dot, as her husband calls her, has made for her husband during their 73 years together, which is the reason I’m sitting in the Duncan’s living room – to talk about what their life has been like being together for 73 years. The Duncan’s celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary on January 3.
Lisa Gunstensen, the Duncan’s daughter, joins us and shares that her mother doesn’t understand why being married 73 years is such a big deal. She laughs and says, “Mother keeps saying, I don’t know what the big deal is, but it’s huge (that they have been married 73 years)!”
Charles and Dot met when both were cast in a high school play. The chemistry between the two that would last longer than many people live was ignited. The teens began talking during lunch break at school. Doris recalls that Charles was “that basketball player with black hair” and says he was a very good athlete.
“I don’t remember our first date – it was probably to some sports game, but I had my eye on him anyway. He was a good athlete and had this black curly hair. I always told him that’s why I married him – because of his black curly hair,” Dot says with a laugh. “But finally that black hair turned white.”
Because Dot was an only child, Charles said that her parents didn’t want her to date anyone.
“Before they (Dot’s parents) would let me date her, they checked with all of our friends about me,” Charles remarked.
Their love blossomed and when the couple realized that both of their families were going to move away from the small town in Oklahoma where the two attended high school, they decided to take action and elope. Dot was two weeks shy of turning 16, and Charles was just 18.
“When my dad was transferred to Illinois, we thought we would never see each other again,” Charles said.
Selling a saddle and a colt in order to pay for the marriage license and a preacher, the couple found themselves in the parlor of a Presbyterian minister’s home in a small town in Oklahoma.
Charles says with a chuckle that he gave preacher the last 20 dollars he had and the preacher handed it back and said, “I think you two kids need this worse than I do.”
The couple’s families had no idea that a secret wedding had taken place as Charles went on to Illinois with his folks and Dot stayed on in OK with her folks, sans honeymoon. Two weeks after the secret ceremony, Charles returned to Oklahoma and he and Dot told her parents.
“All I can remember is my daddy cried and cried and I thought, Oh! What have I done?” Dot said. “But once daddy realized that Charles was a softball pitcher, everything was just fine.” (Dot’s daddy had a softball team)
Dot had one more year of high school to complete, so the couple moved in with her parents in Fox, Oklahoma. With his parents in Illinois, Charles went on to Eastern Illinois University, where Dot joined him after graduation.
Dot’s family, who had originally planned to move to Texas to open a grocery store, followed their only child and her new husband to Brownstown, Illinois and set up shop there.
Charles’ tenure in college was interrupted by World War II when, in 1943, he joined the Army Air Corps. Charles never saw combat. He was trained in airplane electronics and became an instructor, while his wife stayed in St. Elmo and held down a job as a secretary for the company that is known today as Exxon, paying about 25 dollars a month for rent as she remembers it.
Hired to work on the Illinois oil pipeline six months before he went into the service, Charles had his job waiting for him when the war ended. He worked his way up to become a maintenance supervisor, then retired after 39 years with what is now Exxon.
Living a cumulative total of 50 years of their lives together in Saint Elmo, that’s the place they both think of as home. The Duncans were active in their church, the school and the community and that’s where their closest friends lived, although by now, they have outlived most.
The most trying time of their years together, according to both Charles and Dot was dealing with Charles open-heart surgery – a quintuple bypass – in September of 1986 and then his battle with cancer in recent years.
The doctor said he recovered from the bypass surgery because he was so athletic and stayed active for so many years playing softball Dot said.
Together they raised three children, Marcia Ann, who lives in Florida, son Michael and his wife who live in Massachusetts, and Lisa Jo, who lives in Melissa with her husband. They are proud grandparents of five grandchildren.
It’s obvious that the two still love each other. Their eyes light up when talking about each other and the mutual admiration is evident. So to what do they attribute the longevity of their marriage?
Charles said with a chuckle, “Learn to give and take and then do what she tells ya. I married her young to train her like I wanted her, but it backfired.”
According to Lisa, her parents don’t drink or smoke.
“We regularly went to church. God is your protector, your provider,” Dot commented.
“We ate lots of chocolate, peanuts and had popcorn nearly every night. Both sets of parents just accepted us and helped us. They didn’t fuss at us for getting married so young; they were good to us,” Dot said.
Charles and Dot both agreed that respect is a key ingredient to their happy marriage.
“You have to respect each other and don’t go to bed mad. It’s about give and take,” Dot said.
One word to describe each other? Charles said she is a little
The Duncans with daughter, Lisa
more stubborn than he is. Dot describes Charles as “good”. She elaborated, “He is so good, and so thoughtful. He apologizes. He wants everybody to feel good and be happy. He always tells me he loves me.”
Still holding hands and laughing, Dot said, “I told all my kids if you get married that young I’ll shoot ya.”