On Valentine’s Day, couples all over the world declare their love for each other. Some say it with cards. Some with flowers. Some with a candlelight dinner.
Ask long-time married couple Toras and Edna Fisk of East End Road how they plan to celebrate their almost-70 years of marriage — their anniversary is June 5 — and the answer is a little different.
“After you get so old and have had so many different Valentine’s Days, it’s just another day,” said Toras, who turns 90 on Friday. Edna is 92. “There’s no big excitement.”
While the couple may not put a lot of stock in Valentine’s Day, they highly value the years they’ve been together, as well as the enduring marriages of other family members. Proudly displayed on a shelf in their home are framed photos taken on the 50th wedding anniversaries celebrated by parents, siblings and their own celebration at the Homer Elks Lodge almost 20 years ago.
Dancing is what brought the former Michigan couple together when Toras was 18. Or was he 19? They’re not quite sure. In anycase, they met on the dance floor.
“You’ve got to go back in our days, when the girls would get up and dance together and when you get two girls dancing together, the guys would come out of their shell,” said Toras.
When he saw Edna dancing with one of her girlfriends, Toras thought, “Oh boy, she’s a pretty gal. I better go break them up.”
What followed was lots of dancing — they are particularly fond of the polka — and a three-year courtship.
Marriage wasn’t exactly something the two had planned on, however.
“I had no idea that we were going to get married,” said Edna.
After Toras, who enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, found himself assigned to Cleveland, he asked Edna to come visit him. She no, not if they weren’t married.
“So, she came to Cleveland and we got married,” said Toras of their justice-of-the-peace wedding. “We just belonged together and that was it.”
The newlyweds made their home in Cleveland. Edna went to work for Fisher Body, but Toras’ military service eventually took him to the South Pacific. Even then, their time apart worked for, rather than against the couple.
“Was he hard to be married to? No, he was never around,” said Edna.
In 1957, Toras made a trip to Alaska with his father and a friend. When Toras returned to Michigan, he told Edna how much he liked what he’d seen. The following year, the couple came to Alaska for the summer.
“That summer lasted three years before we went back home,” said Toras.
After returning to Michigan, they discovered conditions had changed.
“We spent the winter, but there was no work, no nothing. I said we could always go back to work in Anchorage. And when the geese started flying north, away we went,” he said of their return to Alaska.
The Fisks spent 20 years in Anchorage. Edna worked for an electrical contractor and Toras worked in construction. During the last 10 years of his career, he was a construction superintendent and worked on the Sears Elementary School in Kenai, the Soldotna junior and senior high schools, and the building that was Homer High School and is now the Homer Middle School.
While working in Homer, Toras purchased five acres out East End Road. In 1978, the Fisks built the home where they have continued to live.
“Two old folks still living together that don’t have to have a gal come in and take care of us, we take care of our ourselves, it’s a little unusual,” said Toras.
The Fisks’ only son died a couple of years ago. They have three grandsons and four great-grandsons, but none of them live in Homer.
To what do Toras and Edna attribute the many years their marriage has survived?
“All there has to be is a little give and take,” said Toras. “It can never be one-sided.”
Does that mean everything has gone smoothly for the couple?
“Once in awhile there’s a little bump in the road, naturally, but with a little give and take, you can iron those things out,” said Toras. “You can’t have it lopsided. You’ve got to work together.”
A good example of that philosophy in action occurred during their interview with the Homer News, making it clear that even 70-year relationships need constant tending.
Edna asked Toras to get a particular photo from their office. When Toras expressed uncertainty about which of their many photos she wanted, Edna said, “Just do what I’m asking you to do.”
Toras returned moments later, the correct photo in hand.
“See. This is what we mean by give and take,” said Edna, a hint of a smile on her face.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.