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For 80 years, a fine, quiet man of his word - and a witty one too

Eighty is a big number and I can't believe that I, a mere slip of a girl, am married to a man who today is 80 years old. I'm two whole years younger. Where did the years fly to since we met, just 60 years ago? How did the good times - and bad - slide by without notice? When did we become doddering old folks at home, when only yesterday we were frolicking in the park, sailing in the lake or throwing snowballs down each other's necks? He, the handsome stud, and I "his girl."

How did the little doll, our first-born, grow up so nicely when we didn't know what we were doing in raising her, and here she is, a grandmother. As the song goes, "I can't remember growing older, " when did she? In the interim, since Arnie was the shy boy of 20 with whom I "double-dated" at the 1939 New York World's Fair, he's become the shy aged man of few words (allowing me to be verbose).

He vowed he wouldn't take a train to visit any distant girl (who had his own car in those days?), but then appeared in Washington when I lived and worked there. Getting him to say what's on his mind has been a lifetime project of mine.

Suddenly we're parents World War II breathed heavily down on us in 1941 when he, as a healthy young man, was classified 1-A in the draft. Despite our rush to marry, he was called up in September. I became a camp follower as he trained for service in Europe. He went overseas until the end of 1945 and returned to sudden fatherhood to Madelaine, who by then was over 2.

Our next child, a boy, died at 3 months old, a victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. A year later, Arnie was pleased but too reserved to express his welcome of Jeff, now 51. The transition from boyhood to soldier to family man was rough, as so many of those redeployed after the war found out. The struggle to find a means of livelihood for us was a crucible.

Even today, when our kids are in long-term marriages, he can't believe we have enough financial reserves to buy peaches out of season or take a vacation. Known for his deeds He's a good man. He's fair-minded. He's trusting of others (to a fault) and well liked. How can you help but like a good-looking, gentle person who minds his own business, who is quiet but inserts one remark into a conversation that is subtle but brings the house down with laughter? He's dependable.

He means what he says and says what he means when he talks, which is seldom. But like Gary Cooper in his films, and other American heroes, he's known more for his deeds than his words. He has played his life close to his family - his wife, children, parents - and his business. He advertised for a clerk for his Lima, Ohio store and hired the fourth applicant, the one he felt was the best. Someone advised us that we'd suffer financially and socially because she was black.

Arnie ignored the criticism, saying, "She deserves a chance." Jean Anne Huston worked for him until she married and left town. Sharing his pain Today I shed tears covertly to see him struggling to sit down or try to get out of the car: Parkinson's disease is a crippler and a robber of dignity. But he suffers in stoic silence. It won't get better; we hope it won't get worse too rapidly.

Arnie, at 80, is a mere boy compared to his parents who each lived to 95. We expect the actuarial tables to carry him forward to at least that age. Balding, lethargic, unable to get around without his trusty cane, he remains the kind gentleman, the love of my life. And although we don't dwell on getting older and disabled, our bodies do. He smiles when he answers the phone and it's one of his offspring - our family numbers 15 at last count to include our recent triplet great-grandchildren. He dries his eyes openly when his grandson calls from his backpacking trek through Asia. It's been a good 80 years, he says.