Bill and Marilyn Ruth have the kind of easy byplay born of familiarity. After 75 years of marriage, that’s a lot of familiarity.
When I enter their son’s home for our appointment, the couple is sitting side by side on a sofa, a little closer than they’re used to, at the direction of staff photographer Watchara Phomicinda, who got there ahead of me. Bill’s hand rests on his own knee.
At Watchara’s suggestion, Marilyn places her hand atop her husband’s.
Bill smiles. “This hasn’t happened in a while,” he joshes quietly.
“Behave yourself,” Marilyn fires back. “I’m going to say it’s dementia in a minute.” He chuckles.
We’re talking in mid-June. It hasn’t been 75 years of marriage quite yet. They’ll be celebrating July 3. The actual anniversary is July 5.
The synchronicity is what drew me when son Steven contacted me about his parents’ milestone. I made the connection: 75 on 7/5, a coincidence that hadn’t occurred to the family. But they like it.
The Ruths live in Corona at Valencia Terrace, a senior community, in an independent living apartment, but we meet at their son’s home, also in Corona. Southern California natives, she grew up in Downey, he in El Monte.
She first saw Bill on a bus. He was wearing his older brother’s sailor suit. He cut a memorable enough figure that she remembers it nearly eight decades later.
They didn’t go to school together — she attended Downey High and he stopped going to school after seventh or eighth grade to earn a living — but they had mutual friends and saw movies or went on drives. Bill had a car.
They might put it in neutral to descend steep Signal Hill, everyone screaming, like on a rollercoaster. Or speed on Lakewood Boulevard. “We liked to race,” Bill says. “I didn’t,” Marilyn counters. “You were in the car,” Bill says, “you had to.”
Their first date didn’t start well. They were bound for the Pike amusement park in Long Beach.
“His brother picked us up,” Marilyn says, “and put me in the backseat. They were sitting up front. I thought, ‘This guy hasn’t dated much.’”
“I wanted to ride with my brother,” the soft-spoken Bill explains, chuckling at his cluelessness. “I hadn’t dated at all.”
After a couple years of this, on the Fourth of July weekend of 1947 they decided to get married. Bill was 17, Marilyn was 16. They and another couple headed to Yuma, Arizona, a state where you could get married without a blood test. They didn’t tell their parents.
“When I drove away, my mom said, ‘Don’t you get married now.’ I said, ‘I won’t,’” Bill reports.
As Marilyn recalls, it was a long, uncomfortable drive, with a high reaching 100. A police officer pulled them over at one point for an infraction. He asked where they were going. “To get married,” Bill told him.
“Congratulations, be on your way,” the officer replied, declining to ticket them.
“He should’ve sent us home,” Marilyn says now.
They arrived in Yuma at 3 in the morning, far later than they’d expected. But the lights of a 24-hour wedding chapel were on. So they tied the knot immediately. It was July 5.
Then what? “We turned around and came back,” Marilyn says.
In their working years, Marilyn had administrative jobs at what was then Fullerton Junior College, while Bill drove a gravel truck, worked for a stucco company and for Southern Pacific Railroad. Parents to three, they’ve lived in Downey, Siskiyou County, Orange County and Prescott, Arizona, before moving to Corona in 2015.
“It’s been kind of a boring life. We just plodded along from day to day,” Marilyn declares.
That’s a modest way of summing up a life that’s included travels to Europe, Central America and Japan and travels via motor home to all but four of the 50 states.
Steven tells me later by email: “They might not think it’s exceptional to be married for 75 years, raise three children, work hard to make ends meet and save enough to have a comfortable retirement — but as their son I think it is an exceptional feat.”
His parents are a little shy about being interviewed. And about sitting so close together.
“They don’t like showing their loving side,” Steven says from the kitchen. “That’s their generation. He writes love songs to her.” Bill blushes.
“He gets up every morning and makes her coffee and a piece of toast. She takes care of him when he’s sick,” Steven continues. “They take care of each other.”
“Love poems,” Marilyn says. “I’d hide ’em,” Bill says slyly.
The pandemic was a test. “That was terrible. We were locked down. People were sick, dying,” Marilyn says. “So many people lied about being vaccinated.”
They’ve had their shots, including two boosters.
“What would you rather have, a vaccination or the disease?” Marilyn says of virus skeptics. “It’s a terrible disease.”
They’ve survived — he’s 92, she’s 91 — to celebrate 75 years. (He’s wearing a bandage on his left cheek after a small procedure the day before, but they’re in good health.)
A party Sunday, July 3, in a Corona banquet room will involve barbecue, a singer, the couple’s three children, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, plus nieces and nephews.
“Seventy-five years is diamond, isn’t it?” Marilyn says at one point in our interview, turning to her husband. “I expect a diamond.”
Replies Bill: “Does it have to be big?”
David Allen is wedded to Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Email [email protected], phone 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.