In 1944, a young Arlene Coleman raced up the steps of the courthouse on her 20th birthday to marry her true love.
Though she and her fiancé Marlin Hammond had gone to Woodburn High School together, the two didnt know each other at the time and had only been dating since after graduation. Some people in their lives worried the engagement was premature given their age.
As Arlene hurried up the stairs, smitten and lovestruck, a voice called after her:
You kids really sure you want to do this?
It was the sound of Marlins mother, who had agreed to be there to give parental consent.
Ive always been glad she lived long enough to know we were sure, Arlene laughed on Wednesday.
March 26 marked seven decades and four children, 15 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren later since her mother-in-law posed the question on the courthouse steps. It also marked Arlenes 90th birthday, and both milestones will be celebrated this Saturday at a bash at Country Meadows.
A week ago at this time, however, the mood was less celebratory.
Although Marlin is typically in good health and sharp for a guy who is 90 years old, hed been growing weak in recent months, Arlene said.
Two weeks ago, his condition worsened and he was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. Arlene said she had never seen him like that before.
For several days doctors ran tests but couldnt figure out what was wrong. It was clear the 90-year-old was very ill but none of the medical professionals knew why.
Arlene said she thought she was going to lose him.
As doctors continued their tests, Arlenes daughter Ronda and her husband scoured the internet, searching for anything that might hold an answer.
They stumbled across something called polymyalgia rheumatica. The symptoms matched and so they asked for a test.
On March 26, the date of Arlenes actual 90th birthday, the telephone rang and Arlene got some very good news: her husband was going to be OK.
It was the best birthday present Ive had since I got him 70 years ago, she said.
Polymyalgia rheumatica is thought to be a type of inflammation and perfectly treatable, according to doctors.
Marlin was released Thursday and has been getting healthier every day, Arlene said. Assuming things continue on track, he will be able to celebrate at Country Meadows on Saturday with his wife.
Arlene attributes part of their long-lasting love to the fact that they both have even-keeled, mellow temperaments.
Were pretty happy with life and pretty happy with the world, I guess, she said, noting that its easy to be happy in love when youre happy in life.
But Arlene said the biggest reason she believes theyve lasted so long was because of 16 months Marlin spent in the Navy during World War II, deployed in the South Pacific amid intense combat.
She recalls the day the war ended, watching the streets fill with jubilation with bands playing and people crying for joy. Arlene said she joined in on the celebrations for hours and it wasnt until she returned home later and saw the streetcar stop in front of her apartment that an awful thought suddenly dawned on her:
I realized something could have happened to my sailor between the last letter written two weeks before and the present, she said. I held my breath and prayed for another two weeks.
When news finally came two weeks later that her husband was indeed safe, it changed her forever, she said. When he returned home, nothing much mattered anymore. Quarrels seemed trivial.
It showed me what really matters, she said.
When asked what she loves most about her husband, Arlene had a hard time narrowing it down.
Oh, every bit of him, she said. The way he accepts life. If there are problems, hes mellow. ... He takes life as it comes.
Beyond that, she said, hes always loved and cared for his family.
Arlenes daughter Ronda said she attributes her parents long-lasting love to the fact that they have fun and play together. She also noted the strong partnership she observed growing up, referring to it as a united front.
I just saw that they respected each other, she said. There were never raised voices. They were always pretty calm. ... I think my parents were always just a team.
As for the longevity, both Arlene and Ronda seem to attribute it to farm life.
It was our humble beginnings, Arlene said. Living off of the garden and all of our fresh air and sunshine. And the work. We both had worked all our lives and enjoyed what we were doing. That makes a lot of difference.
They grew their own food, she said. We lived on a farm so we always ate very healthy. We ate a lot of vegetables and a lot of fruits. Neither of them smoked. As a child I dont ever really remember alcohol around much. There was occasionally a picnic with some beer. ... I dont remember my parents watching TV ever, really. I think they just always worked hard and had a lot of interests. They had lots of friends. They played a lot of cards.
Beyond the healthy habits, there is one other thing Arlene said has kept them alive for nine decades: each other.
Having a person who loves and cares for you, she said, and whom you love in return is essential to a long life.
Thats number one, I think, she said. The friendship and the love. The enjoyment that goes with it.
The anniversary-birthday celebration will take place Saturday at 155 S. Evergreen Road at 1:30 p.m.