I knew this wouldn’t be easy when I saw the twinkle in both pairs of blue eyes. “So what would you say is the secret to the 72 years of your successful marriage?” I asked John and Thelma “Sim” Stallcup. “Don’t argue!” said John who turns 94 in August and still has his rugged “Marlboro man” good looks.
“Oh, I don’t know about that!” said 90-year-old Sim, a tiny woman with plenty of spark and fire in her merry eyes. “I thought you liked to argue!”
It didn’t take long to realize this couple, who spoke, looked and acted much younger than the more than seven decades they have shared together, had plenty of love and laughter left.
Neither can remember when they met.
“I’ve known him all my life,” said Sim, named Thelma Norene the day she was born, June 27, 1918, by her parents Ed and Ethel Carter Campbell of Upton. “I just thought he was another mean boy.”
The “mean boys” were the ones in Sim’s first grade class at Pleasant Ridge School. John Vernon, the fourth child of 11 of Press and Mary Stottlemyre Stallcup remained her classmate for more than a decade, including two years of Pleasant Ridge High School and one year (1933) at Houston High School where John played football.
(John played on the 1934 Houston football team, the last football team until after World War II. The school, struggling with the rest of the nation during the Depression Era, deemed leather helmets, football gear and travel unessential budget items.)
By then, John had long since grown from boy tormentor into a tall, ruggedly handsome young man. “He was very bashful,” Sim said. “I never figured I had a chance.”
But, it was John who always seemed to end up as Sim’s partner at the weekly “play parties” held in the homes of the Upton young folks.
Play Parties and Sparking
Play parties were a welcome diversion from the drought and drudgery of the Depression Era.
“I worked a lot of days for 50 cents a day, from sun up to sun down, building fence, cutting sprouts (and) picking rocks,” said John.
When someone announced they were going to host a play party, word spread quickly. The neighborhood grapevine had roots firmly planted at the Dykes store and Upton Post Office. There were few phones, but the ones at Press Stallcup and John Stottlemyre’s were sure to assist in getting the news out. Few wanted to miss the play parties held once or twice weekly. They were an opportunity to fan the flames of “sparking” that took place between the young unmarried men and women of the community.
“Kids” were not allowed to go to play parties and 10-year-old Lois Osbourn Kirkman was too young. But, she loved to run along the rutted, dirt road to the Campbell house and watch the older girls primp. Sim, at the age of 16, was a slim, stylish wisp of a girl with a tiny waist and dark brown hair curled into the latest bob. Lois watched with rapt attention as Sim and friend Norene Thompson clasped the necks of makeup bottles with their fingertips and carried them to the window sill where the light was better. They peered at their reflection in a small round mirror and applied the magical mixtures.
Sim, Lois recalled, was a vision of inspiration when she slipped on her dress with matching panels of small pleats around the collar and skirt.
If the party was at Charlie Campbell’s home, there would be several horses tied under the shade of the trees, but many would walk to the graded gravel intersection (today’s FF and AJ) along well worn shortcuts through fields and over barbed wire and rail fences.
“Oh, lands!” said Sim when asked about the games they played. “I don’t remember. We would sing a little jingle. Miller Boy (was one).”
Once there was a miller boy who lived by the mill,
The mill turned around on its own sweet will,
With a hand in the hopper and the other in a sack,
The ladies step forward and the gents step back.
Around and around the young folks went in a circle holding hands as they sang until the jingle directed them to switch partners.
There were taffy pullings where molasses syrup was cooked until it formed a soft ball and then pulled between two partners until it became a brittle, thin ribbon.
There was usually a kissing game. “Candy biting” meant selecting a broken piece of stick candy from a pile to share with a member of the opposite sex. Selecting a short piece increased the possibility of getting a kiss from the person on the opposite side of the stick.
Whatever the games, it seemed Sim and John ended up together.
“Good gracious, yes!” John said when asked about being in the group of young men that gathered outside the church waiting to walk the girl of their choice home.
Sim was sure to be at the Upton Community Church for she was the one who played the piano and pump organ.
Sim put one foot in the stirrup and flung her knee over the back of John’s horse. John used the other stirrup. “The girl got the saddle,” he said, “and the guy in the back got horse hair on his pants, unless there was a blanket! We did a lot of horseback riding.”
Marriage and Chivalry
It was cold Feb. 8, 1936.
Both Sim and John remember the Saturday drive to the Texas County Courthouse. A blanket of snow clung to the few remaining dried oak leaves.
“My brother Floyd let me drive his car,” said John. “My sister and her husband and her (Sim’s) mom, we all went together and talked to the justice of the peace. I suppose I had on overalls and a shirt!”
“We were the second couple he had ever married,” said Sim. “I think he was more nervous than we were!
“You just wore what you had,” she said. “Who had money? I got a ring about four years later. We didn’t go out to eat. He (John) spent it all on treats!”
The treats were needed for the chivalry.
As John and Sim were getting married in Houston, the Upton grapevine was humming. There would be a chivalry at the Ed Campbell house that night.
A chivalry was a loud and rowdy welcoming into the world of marriage by family and friends looking for an opportunity for merriment. The custom called for the groom to provide “treats” of cigars and candy. If not provided, he was threatened with a dunking in a nearby pond or “a ride on a rail” around the yard. Chivalry stories include the switching of labels on canned goods in the pantry and the crumbling of crackers in the bed.
When the newly married Mr. and Mrs. John Stallcup returned home to spend their first night together in the upstairs room of the Campbell home, Floyd came to get his car. He didn’t want the newly-weds to use it as a “get-away” vehicle.
Twelve-year-old neighbor Dorman Osbourn volunteered as a sentry and parked himself on the Campbell porch for the afternoon. He was to report any escape attempts.
The crowd gathered in the front yard armed with cowbells, pots, pans, washtubs and shotguns. They were hard to ignore as they shot off guns, clanged, banged, hooted and hollered for the appearance of the newly-weds. The crescendo only increased when John and Sim stayed hidden in the house.
It was a crowd not to be denied, and Jim Roder decided to help speed up the process by “smoking them out.” He climbed on the roof and stuffed a gunny sack down the stove pipe.
Sim’s mother was not impressed, and Jim had reason to question the wisdom of his method.
But, it worked.
John and Sim invited the crowd in and passed out treats. There was not much room in the small house and within an hour or so, the cold and snow had driven everyone back to their own homes.
It was a reason to celebrate. John and Sim didn’t know it, but they had just began a more than 72-year marriage!
Happily Ever After
Within a few days, John and Sim moved to John Stottlemyre’s vacated store building. They occupied one room, adding son Ronnie at a later date. Chickens and grain occupied the other rooms.
Life’s journey led them to the state of Washington where children Jerry and Karen were born.
WWII “was a hard time for both of us,” said Sim who returned home to Upton while John earned Bronze Battle Medals in Manila and Luzon. He contracted TB and spent 36 months in the hospital.
When he returned home, Sim said, “I am not moving anymore.”
And they didn’t.
Daughter Rita was born.
Today they live on the site of Charlie Campbell’s old house – the place they sang “Miller Boy” and held hands in a circle.
They have been home for the last 60 years.
“You’re not going to put this in the paper, are you???” said Sim when I asked if she had any pictures of their courting days.
“Well, yes!” I said, and she went to look for the scrapbooks.
“She was pretty,” John said when she was gone, and I was admiring a picture on the wall of a slim, graceful, dark-haired young girl.
“You know you could have said that (while she was here)!” I chided him.
“Well,” he whispered, his eyes twinkling and with a chuckle. “I don’t want her to get a big head!”
Laughter, I am thinking, might be the secret ingredient to a happily-ever after.