10 Lessons on love: Columbia seniors share lifetimes of wisdom

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:09 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 15, 2012

COLUMBIA — There are plenty of relationship experts, counselors and magazine articles out there offering advice about love — especially around Valentine's Day. 

At the Missourian, we decided to bypass the science, stats and "expert" opinions behind what makes relationships work and instead talk to the real experts — those who have actually done it.

After interviewing 10 senior citizens with more than 400 combined years of marriage among them, we've compiled a list of the 10 tips they shared. We hope the advice is useful no matter your relationship status. 

Consider it our Valentine's Day gift to you.

  1. Take a canoe trip together.
  2. Divide the labor.
  3. Leave work at work.
  4. Balance each other out.
  5. Encourage each other's talents.
  6. Don't rush into a relationship.
  7. Show kindness to everyone.
  8. Be prepared to work hard.
  9. Demonstrate compassion.
  10. Love like crazy.

Feel like giving back? Share your own advice. What lessons on love have you learned? Share them in the comment section below the story.

1. Take a canoe trip together

Mike and Priscilla Farrall moved to Columbia from Austin, Texas, about two years ago when they retired. They have been married for 14 years.

Mike recommends a canoe trip to those who wish to learn about another person and how they work together as a couple.

“It puts the person in a spot where they have to reveal themselves,” he said. “You learn a lot about them.”

“You see how flexible the other person is, or not, or cooperative, or not.”

“What their frustration level is— that is very telling,” his wife added.

With his elbows propped up on the table, his chin cradled in his hands and his face turned toward his wife, Mike recalled the first canoe trip they took a few years ago with their new inflatable canoe.

“Everything we did, it just kept going in a circle,” he said. “We would switch off from what we were doing and it continued to go in a circle. We could not figure out what we were doing wrong.”

After tiring of going in circles, the Farralls decided to take the boat out of the water. That’s when they discovered they had the boat in backward.

“The inflatable canoe has a built-in rudder in the back, and when we first got the canoe we were not aware of these nautical features,” Mike said.

The Farralls laughed off their canoe mishap and have since taken many canoe trips on peaceful lakes looking for ducks.

“When you go on canoe trips you find out if the other person can actually laugh at themselves,” he said. “ Some people can’t. I think what’s important is if they can’t, then their mate needs to be the same kind of person. That’s what I’m saying, that you have the same values. I’m not saying that one value is better than the other, just that hers need to be very similar to mine.”

2. Divide the labor

“Kitchens are kind of small spaces these days, and the two of us have fallen into a type of routine for meals,” Priscilla Farrall said.

“I start the symphony,” she said. “I take care of all that and come in the middle Michael sets the table, and then I can relax and serve lunch. And Michael is the crescendo at the end. He bangs the pots and pans and washes the dishes and da-da-da-dat.”

“Gets it ready for the next meal,” her husband said. 

“So it’s kind of fun,” she said.

“It’s a division of the labor there isn’t it?” he said.

“Division of the labor, and we aren’t stepping on each other’s toes,” she said. “We each do our own thing, and it comes together in the middle.”

3. Leave work at work

Ed and Judith Chmielewski have been married for 35 years. They moved from Minnesota to Columbia in 1998 for retirement because of their love of the arts and music.

Before their move to Columbia, Ed worked as a psychologist and Judith was a junior high teacher and later, a grief therapist.

“The one thing that we made a point of doing was when we got home from work, we agreed to not be talking about our work,” she said.

“Unless we were both overwhelmed that particular day,” he said. “Then we didn’t need to talk about it, you just need consolation.”

“And that was very important because you don’t operate a counseling service out of your home,” she said.

“I think the biggest thing was to debrief or to just be away from each other in two different rooms for a while,” she said. “And then once you’ve debriefed from work you could act as a human being in a relationship, in a marriage relationship."

4. Balance each other out

Ed Chmielewski said he thinks one of the most important aspects of love is patience with one another. 

"Especially when you have a flaming extrovert with an introvert, then you have to have patience with one another,” he said gesturing first to his wife and then to himself. 

“That’s true,” his wife responded.

“She’s always in conversation, and I’m waiting to go home and waiting and waiting,”  he said. “On the other hand, introverts almost needs an extrovert otherwise they’d never get out of their cave.”

“And maybe an extrovert needs an introvert too,” he added.

“Maybe,” Judith said, glancing at her husband and sharing a laugh with him.

“Just to quiet down occasionally,” he said.

“That’s right, that’s right,” she said. “You need the balance.”

5. Encourage each other’s talents

Mary Ginsburg can usually be found sitting on a loveseat next to her friend Eunice Kautsch, chatting away at MU Adult Day Connection.

The two women were friends when they were younger, but they lost touch until they met up again at the center.

Ginsburg attributes her coming there to her late husband, Larry. The couple was married for 66 years until he died about three years ago.

“When he retired, I had to find something for him to do,” Ginsburg said. “So I realized that he had an art thing going.”

Gingsburg encouraged her husband’s passion for painting.

“I nagged him,” she said. “You got to find something that keeps your interest.”

Eventually, her husband put on an art show at MU Adult Day Connection, and that’s how she came to know of the place.

At the back of the center, a painting of his hangs mounted on a blue mat. It shows colorful houses lining a street and a horse-drawn carriage. Gingsburg refers to this piece simply as “The New Orleans,” and says she still wishes she could visit New Orleans one day.

6. Don’t rush into a relationship

“I tell people to be sure and not to get involved until you know more about your friend,” Jean Baldwin said. “I think people think they’ve found the right person just because everyone else has.”

She advises people not to rush to find a relationship “just because everyone else has got goo-goo eyes.”

A retired teacher, Baldwin passed the same basic advice on to her students.

“Don’t do things just because everyone else is just to try and be popular,” she said. “Know your mind — this is you.”

“Be sure you’re doing what you feel in your heart,” Baldwin said.

7. Show kindness to everyone

Men were scarce when Marilyn Arrington was studying fine arts in college because many of them were overseas for World War II. She first met her husband, Gerald, at a little restaurant they both frequented when he was studying to be a dentist and she was teaching art and music classes after the war.

The couple was married for 47 years until Gerry died. She said the most important aspect of relationships is kindness.

“I think kindness to each other no matter what, that was the basic,” Arrington said.

She and her husband worked to instill the concept of the golden rule in their three boys.

“You want people to be kind to you, and you return that kindness,” she said. “And it worked. They respected everyone.”

As a teacher, Arrington passed on the same advice to her students.

Arrington said she lived by the golden rule her whole life and practiced it in her marriage. "It's a good one," she said.

8. Be prepared to work hard

When she was 13 years old, Yvette Elmore had to quit school so she could work in a garment factory to help her mother support her family.

Since she was so young, she didn’t sew clothes but instead worked in the finishing department, preparing items for shipping.

“I haven’t done anything special,” Yvette said. “I just grew up before my time, got married young, had two girls and raised them.”

She married her husband, Ray, when she was just a few months shy of 17. The wedding took place in the minister’s living room because the couple didn’t have a lot of money, she recalled.

During World War II, she worked at the Defense Department while Ray was stationed in Florida.

Although Elmore missed Ray, she kept busy working and raising her two girls.

9. Demonstrate compassion

For 25 years, Kusum Chandrapal volunteered at an orphanage in India.

“They most need love,” she said. “They hunger for it.”

She remembers how the children would gather on the balcony of the orphanage and wave when she and her two friends would drive up to volunteer.

“What they most want is someone who will love them, who will be concerned about them and who will miss them badly.”

By collecting money, Chandrapal was able to provide the children with little treats like sweets.

“You have to love everybody, serve everybody and when you do that and you have love in your heart, everything will go well.”

10. Love like crazy

When asked about love, Otie Kinnear says: “I’ve only ever had one.”

He met his wife, Imogene Kinnear, during World War II.

“I was on my vacation, I guess you could call it, from the Air Force,” he said. “She was a good looking woman, and she was on a horse that day I met her.”

The two began writing letters back and forth once Otie’s leave was over.

“I’m not a very good writer, but I wrote to her and she wrote to me,” he said. “And three furloughs later, I married her.”

“I’ve always counted on her being at my side.”

The two have been married since 1944, and Otie said he can not imagine his life without her. Every time he speaks of her, it is with fondness.

“In fact she’s very talented in herself, and I’m not,” he said. “I’m just me. She’s talented though. She’s a pianist and sings.”

Now, every day that Otie goes to MU Adult Day Connection, he stops whatever he is doing mid-morning to call his wife “just to check” on her. 

"I mean I couldn't do without her," he said. "I just automatically think about her."

What lessons on love have you learned? Share them in the comment section below the story.

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