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A legacy of love, longevity
DIXFIELD- September 1 marked the 70th wedding anniversary of Henry and Elaine Thebarge, something many of us can only dream about. For this couple and their family, it was a time that was made memorable through a family party with more than 60 members in attendance, including the newest addition, two-month-old, great-great granddaughter, Molly.
It all began when Henry was just 16 and Elaine was 14; they met at a basket party in Madison.
“He was the most handsome man ever,” stated Elaine. “I fell in love the first time I saw him and my love for him hasn't changed over all these years.”
Elaine laughed and shared that Henry showed up at the party with one of her friends and when it was all over, “he brought her home and came back to get me.”
Henry laughed, “That's one of the biggest mistakes she ever made.”
Two years later, the two were married and began their life together. Like most young couples in the 1940's, they were faced with Henry going off to war and Elaine left to care for their home, their first child and to find work for herself.
They made a move to Springfield, VT so that Henry could work in a machine shop there and when Henry was shipped out, Elaine and her sister worked in the machine shop. They were the first women to work there and the first time Elaine had ever put pants on.
“The men would make comments and talk about boop-di-dos all the time,” noted Elaine. “Well, one day I got mad and told them that if they didn't stop, they would find out what boop-di-dos looked like.”
They left the women alone after that.
Elaine remembered how she had gone 56 days without hearing from Henry and how her and her sister decided that they needed to be close to family.
“We called home and told daddy that we needed to come home,” noted Elaine. “He came over the next day with a trailer and moved us back.”
It wasn't two days after the ladies returned to Maine that Donice, Elaine's sister got a telegram that informed her that her husband had died in the war.
“It was such a hard time,” noted Elaine. “I got a letter from Henry right about the same time. You can't tell me that God wasn't involved there. You know, making us come home and then this all happens.”
Henry spent two and a half years in the service and Elaine remembered the day she went to meet him in Boston Station.
“I waited eight hours for Henry to arrive on the Liberty ship. As soon as I saw him walking toward me, I thought 'I'm not losing him.' We spent a week in Boston to iron out our differences.”
Upon Henry's return from the military, the couple realized that they weren't going to be able to find a home they could afford of their own yet and stayed with Elaine's parents in Madison.
During the two and a half years that Henry was away, Elaine shared, “Any man in a uniform was daddy to our son Wayne and on top of that, my parents had taken over discipline. So, I can tell you that Wayne didn't like his dad when he first came home.”
Henry worked at the paper mill and in the shoe shop when he returned home and in his spare time built two houses. Their little family grew with four and a half years between each of their three children, “not due to lack of trying,” laughed Elaine. “Oh no, my family told me not to say anything that would embarrass them. Oh well, it's the way it was.”
In 1969 they bought Marigold Cabins in East Dixfield, which consisted of a restaurant and 10 cabins. Every summer for 15 years the two maintained, fed the occupants and kept the business going. Elaine baked 15 loaves of bread each day and never had any left overs, she sold every loaf. They learned a lot and raised their three children while they were there.
Elaine remembers Henry, Jr. riding his tricycle through the dining room. When asked why their third child was a junior and not their first, Elaine noted, “Because I had a lot more control over him back when we were first married.”
Once all the kids were grown, they started traveling to Florida. For 16 years they drove back and forth. “The best fun we've ever had,” stated Elaine. “We danced, went on cruises and had a good old time.”
They hauled a little old trailer back and forth. “When we came to Maine, Danny Anctil would haul that trailer anywhere for us,” stated Elaine. “We just rattled around wherever.”
Henry retired at 62 and Elaine retired at 50. They traveled all over this side of the Mississippi River. “We did get across the Mississippi once, when we took a wrong turn to Kentucky. We didn't realize we were in a different time zone until we saw that nobody was up. And, I'm pretty sure Henry got a speeding ticket in every state this side of the Mississippi,” laughed Elaine.
Henry, now 90 years old and in a wheel chair due to a stroke 11 years ago, and Elaine, 88 and talking a mile a minute, you'd never know she suffered a heart attack and had to have a quadruple bypass just five years ago.
“I actually died on the table,” stated Elaine. “I can't explain it, but I really liked where I was. I'm not sure what I saw, but I know I didn't want to come back. I truly think I was brought back for Henry. It just wasn't my time.” The family jokes that God wasn't ready to hear her talk all the time.
Up until the time of their health problems, Henry was building houses and Elaine was walking five miles a day. Even now, Elaine finds herself caring for younger tenants and feels like a 16 year-old trapped in an 88 year-old woman's body.
They decided that traveling to Florida was too much about six years ago and now live centrally to downtown Dixfield. Henry and Elaine are happy to be where they are. She noted that she has read everything in Ludden Library and has left her mark on all of them.
When asked how they've managed to stay together so long, Elaine noted, “We're very best friends. We love each other and it's true love that's been there always. Henry has been the most wonderful husband in the world. He's gentle and always stood behind me. I was the one with a temper and he was the calm one. We compliment one another and have a lot of respect for one another.”
As for Henry, “There's just something about her that attracts me to her,” he said with a smile.
When asked what they look forward to most each day, Henry said, “I just look forward to waking up and seeing Elaine each day and the sun shining, what more could I want.” As for Elaine, “I don't look beyond the day, because you never know if you're going to get another one. How do you know when you're young if you're going to have another day? Enjoy this day, it may be all you have.”
With Henry in his wheelchair, he doesn't have as much mobility as he would like, but according to daughter-in-law Lisa, “It doesn't matter. We were at a family party a few years ago and when dad caught mom's eye from across the yard, he told her to come over and lay a lip-lock on him. She practically came running over to him.”
“He's in a wheelchair, he's not dead,” noted Elaine. “To this day, when I walk by him he'll still reach up and manage to grab my tit. Oops, that may be one of those things my family didn't want me to say. Oh well. It is what it is.”
As for the legacy that they're leaving their children, Henry and Elaine agree that it's the longevity of their family relationships that will live on through their loved ones.
“Words are so important,” stated Elaine. “I have recorded audio tapes of stories of our life up until we were in Florida and I wrote each of my children a cookbook. Each recipe has a story behind it.”
Their children, all grown and with families of their own were all present at the anniversary celebration. The oldest, Wayne, and his wife Cindy traveled from VT, Sherrylee and her husband Stephen Ames came over from Livermore and Henry, Jr. and his wife Lisa live not too far away in Roxbury.
Under beautifully sunny skies, guests went swimming in the Swift, played games of football and frisbee and visited with family. There was a nice trip down memory lane when Henry and Elaine's daughter, Sherrylee, brought out a tote full of old photos that most of the family had never seen.
“Both guests of honor were very happy with the turn out and were too pooped to peep when it was all said and done,” noted daughter-in-law Lisa.