Give & Take: Advice from the pros on love and marriage

Find some fun in each day, and never take each other for granted. That’s sound advice for a marriage, and it means even more coming from couples who have lived and loved over many years.

Let their stories inspire you this Valentine season, to live happily ever after …

Bill & Flossie Helm – married Dec. 1, 1951
After 61 years of marriage, each day is still a special occasion for Bill and Flossie Helm of Cary — they make sure of it.

“Every morning I say, ‘What are we going to do for fun today?’” Flossie said. And even a trip to Bojangles’ for a sausage biscuit counts.

Keeping fun in a relationship is key, say the Helms, who met on a blind date while students at Penn State University.

“She was cute,” Bill said, “and I liked her attitude. We had lots of laughs.”

“The first things that attracted me were his blue eyes and his manners,” Flossie countered. “He treated me so nicely.”

Similar upbringings and life expectations have helped their relationship flourish, they say, as does a shared love of volunteer work, from gutting houses in post-Katrina cleanup, to Flossie’s current role of managing the Glenaire gift shop.

Bill is a retired sales engineer, and Flossie worked as a clerk of courts. The Helms’ married life has spanned six U.S. states and 22 different residences, as they raised a son and daughter. Today the family also includes two granddaughters, and feline pets Puss and Boots.

Bill and Flossie say they are “absolutely” best friends.

“We’ve been so happy together,” said Bill.

“We’re goofy. We go everywhere together,” Flossie said. “He says, ‘I’m going to the gas station,’ and I say, ‘Wait, I’ll go with you.’ That’s why I don’t get anything done!”

The Helms celebrate each wedding anniversary with a trip, from revisiting their honeymoon inn to cruises and tours of Europe, Asia and Australia.

“We love to travel,” Bill said. “It’s not a gift-giving thing for us; we go places.”

At home, Flossie’s priority is keeping Bill well. That includes signing him up for a cardio class at Glenaire — which they attend together, of course.

Marriage success is simple, Flossie says: “Stay well, be happy and take good care of each other.”

Dr. Tom & Cleta Johnson – married Sept. 8, 1956
Once upon a time in the Navarro College library in Corsicana, Texas, the “practical” red-head introduced herself to the studious “nerd.”

“I liked what I saw,” said Cleta Johnson of Tom, her husband of 56 years. “And he took over from there.”

Tom hitchhiked 150 miles most weekends from his university studies to see Cleta throughout their 18-month engagement. They were best friends from the start, which helped them navigate what Cleta calls the “hazardous first few years” of accepting each other’s ways.

“Like he squeezes the toothpaste from the end; I squeeze it from the middle,” she said. “But I’ve never had to pick up after him!”

“Neatness counts,” Tom said with a wise smile.

Never take your partner for granted, the Johnsons advise — a philosophy that’s gotten them through many tough times, such as when Cleta contracted polio while expecting the first of the couple’s three sons.

“Tom stuck through it; a lot of men would have walked away,” she said. “We’re here because of him. I always thank him, and I hope I always treat him with kindness.”

Grandparents and great-grandparents to a family of “treasures” today, the Johnsons say a long marriage requires give and take, and space.

Tom, a retired NCSU professor of economics and statistics, works out daily, reads and enjoys the computer. Cleta, who worked as an administrative secretary at Meredith College for many years, is now an ambassador to newcomers at their Waltonwood community, and a seamstress who’s crafted clothes for orphans worldwide.

“I don’t have to do what he does, and he doesn’t have to do what I do,” Cleta said. “We allow each other space. Then we’ve got all this to share when we come back together.”

Together time includes church, and sharing meals with fellow residents. They feel led, Tom says, to positively influence others.

“Friendship takes you farther than romance,” Cleta said, with a kiss for Tom. “But romance is good too. I could do this all day!”

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