“We got two grandkids, six great-grandchildren, and four great-great grandchildren,” says Don at his home.
“How do you keep track of them?” I ask.
“We don’t!” he laughs.
“How do you afford all the Christmas presents?”
“Well, that becomes a problem …”
Don is 92, and Bessie turns 90 this year. On the day of their anniversary, they can still recall how they began their courtship, four score and ten plus two ago.
“A guy invited me to go out to a show with two girls,” says Don. “I knew he was broke and he needed money to pay for tickets. So I bought the tickets and we went to a show. She was a friend of his girl at the time.”
Was it instant chemistry?
“I don’t know if it was instant – we got on good.”
“We had a good start,” adds Bessie.
They were married in a small church ceremony in 1944. The marriage was quickly interrupted in April 1945, when Don was dispatched for 10 months to Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War. When he got back in February, he worked variously as a bricklayer, cab driver, and trucker, but found durable employment doing training in the armed forces. In 1947 and 1951, the McAllisters added two children to the brood.
“It turns your life around on a different angle,” remembers Bessie.
Don’s work took the family around the country from 1949 to 1972; Bessie worked as a secretary in the Department of National Defense, which Don cites as a stabilizing force in the midst of so much change. “She understood the ups and downs of service life,” says Don. “She knew more about service than I did.”
The McAllisters lived in Alberta before settling in Elmira in 2000, where their daughter Sharon had moved. Today, they’re heavily involved in the Royal Canadian Legion, where they’ll have an anniversary party this week. Given that they’ve hit the big 7-0, do they know the secret of a successful marriage?
“Well, you have to take the good and the bad,” says Don. “And there’s a lot of bad involved and a lot of good. I don’t know …”
“ It never hurts to say, ‘I’m sorry,’” says Bessie.
“It isn’t a smooth road. It’s bumpy …”
“ You have to work at it …”
“You have to sort of … learn how to compromise.”
“That was hard work, wasn’t it?” Bessie laughs.
“Yeah, because situations were such …” Don trails off. “Although she was good, she never … when I was moving so many times … the longest time we ever had was over here in Centralia (a base near Exeter). The rest of them – we went to the east coast, and from there we went to northern B.C., from there to Edmonton, from there to Trenton, from there back to Summerside, and then back to Edmonton, all this stuff.”
“You missed your friends, but you made new ones wherever you went,” says Bessie. “You had to.”
“You had to be flexible, and she was good that way. It was never a problem.”
But after 70 years, surely you sometimes get on each other’s nerves. Are there any day-to-day annoyances that just won’t budge?
“A multitude, when you put it that way!” laughs Don.
“But you sort of become one, I guess,” says Bessie.
“Sooner or later you start thinking alike,” says Don. “Over time, you sort of meld.”