Love With Staying Power
Posted on February 26, 2014 by Jesse Hazel
In this day and age, love doesn’t always stand the test of time. But for Atria Meridian residents Howard and Claudine Southgate, their love is the kind with staying power.
The two have been married for more than 72 years.
Their relationship began during high school. Howard recounted, “I was one of the only kids that had a car at 16 years old. I was transporting kids to the park to have a get together one day. I had to make two trips because there were so many of us. On the second trip, I asked Claudine if she’d like me to take her. She agreed to go with me and that was her first mistake!,” he said, chuckling.
Although they went to separate schools, it didn’t stop these high school sweethearts from seeing each other. “We went to different schools but lived in nearby neighborhoods. She lived about a mile from me. I’d stop by and see her, sometimes in the middle of the day,” said Howard.
We asked Howard what attracted him to Claudine initially. He said, “That’s a hard question to answer. We disliked the same things.”
At Atria Meridian, the staff loves Claudine. “People tell Claudine she has a nice smile, she’s easy-going and people really like her,” Howard added.
They dated for about eight months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Howard was on his way home from North Carolina. He and his comrades were sleeping in tents when they heard the news. “I remember we said ‘What’s Pearl Harbor?’ We didn’t know what it was then, we were kids,” added Howard. As a young man in his 20s, the U.S. Army had already drafted Howard. He quickly realized that he wasn’t getting out and that the war could change things for he and Claudine.
“So I told her, you want to get married?” Howard explained. She agreed and they were married on January 7, 1942, one month after the Pearl Harbor attack.
Howard talked about his experience in the war saying, “I was in the Army for four years, seven months and eight days. I was drafted April 1941, before Pearl Harbor, at 21 years old. I had just finished my bricklayer apprenticeship.”
He went through many difficult times during his tour of duty. “One of the hardest parts was when we were in Germany during the Battle of the Bulge. It was tough being in the cold. The weather was so bad. We couldn’t work when it was below freezing. That’s why I’m happy to be here [in Florida] where it is sunny,” Howard said.
While Howard was gone, Claudine worked for the government in the Department of Agriculture as a sonographer. After the war, the two became quite the traveling pair. Howard said that he and Claudine have visited Europe eight times, and traveled to 15 countries and 48 states in all. They also traveled to Portugal, Belgium and Switzerland as missionaries. He worked in construction as a bricklayer. “We got to work on some pretty neat buildings there,” he said.
Howard affirmed that traveling with Claudine over the years has been an adventure. “One trip, we got off the train at Amsterdam. The woman at the station informed us that there were no rooms available that day. Then, a fella came up to us and offered us a room. We agreed and he told us, ‘There’ll be a woman waving to you when you get there.’ It ended up being his daughter and it was her house that she had turned into a hotel. So, we stayed there two nights, for two dollars apiece, with breakfast included. That was in 1972,” he said.
Although they don’t travel now, they still have fond memories to look back on and were able to meet many interesting people along the way. “We had a lot of fun. The traveling days are over, but we loved Switzerland. One Swiss woman we became close with even stayed with us at Atria a few years back.”
Howard, 94, and Claudine, 92, enjoy their spacious one-bedroom apartment at Atria Meridian. In fact, they’ve been living there for almost a decade! “I love living here because I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. I play nickel-and-dime poker four times a week. It’s fun,” he said. Howard was the volunteer librarian for seven years, but retired from that about seven or eight months ago. “We have a big library with 3,000 books,” he said. “I love to read about history and westerns. I read the newspaper from end to end every day.” Claudine knits, and just lst year was instrumental in a project that made baby blankets for patients at Bethesda Hospital.
About eight years ago, Howard said it became difficult for he and Claudine to care for their home. That’s when they decided that it was time to move. “I also became ill. I was on kidney dialysis when I moved in here. I’ve had cancer three times. Now, I’m no longer on dialysis, I’m cancer-free and healthy. Claudine calls me her ‘miracle man.’”
When it comes to keeping a long-lasting relationship, Howard said, “We seem to think that neither of us have a boss. We talk and come to a decision together on what’s best for us. We hear what the other has to say and vice-versa. She kept insisting that we go to Europe and I didn’t want to go. Finally, we went and then I loved it so much that I kept dragging her back,” he said, chuckling. “One person can’t tell the other what to do all the time or it won’t work.”
Howard says that the key to staying positive is staying busy. “Work hard and keep ‘em laughing. I laugh all the time! I’m ready to go when the Lord wants me to.”