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Monday, February 8, 2016

Valentine's Day Family Love Stories #4: Bessie and Walter

      My father's parents, Walter and Elizabeth "Bessie" Peterson, were married for over 60 years.  Theirs is the gold standard marriage I try to emulate.

     Walter and Bessie met in College. That has been a very common meeting place for couples since the 40's of 50's.  But it wasn't so common in 1912. Walter and Bessie were both enrolled in George Williams college in Chicago majoring in Physical Education.  As soon as Walter saw her in her PE outfit he was done for.  He had met his dream girl! (This is the term he used in his "Celebration of a Life" written in 1977 for use in his own eulogy). Here she is:

            Unfortunately, he was already engaged to a girl back home in Boyceville, Wisconsin. He decided that he had to break off the engagement.  The problem was that the girl's mother was adamant about the marriage taking place.  So he went to see the mother.  He explained the situation and told her that he would keep his promise but that he was afraid that her daughter would be unhappy being married to a man who didn't love her but was in love with another woman. The woman saw his point and gave him permission to break the engagement.  He then saw the girl and did so.  He didn't think it mattered to her as much as it had to her mother!

     Walter was a Lutheran and a pacifist as the country was heading into WW I. Bessie was from a strong Presbyterian family. Her family was concerned that Bessie was getting married too young and that Walter was not a good choice. She overcame their opposition and even persuaded her husband to change to the Presbyterian Church. They were married on 17 Aug 1917 at her family Church, the Hemphill Presbyterian Church of Fort Worth, Texas. The local paper had this description: "The bride entered on the arm of her father, B.M. Hudson.  She was beautifully gowned in white net satin.  An extremely graceful tulle veil was draped over the folds of the skirt, falling from a lace cap of Mexican drawnwork and held secure by two white asters and tube roses.
     "At the altar were embankments of ferns and petunias and tube roses with a background of stately palms.  The piano, which was to the right of the altar, was half concealed beneath an archway of smilax.  The lights were shaded by clusters of smilax, which lent a very pretty softness to the scene." Here she is in her wedding gown (sorry about the photo quality)

Examples of Smilax used as wedding decorations:

          Walter and Bessie were happily married for almost 65 years. When I asked my grandfather why he had become a Presbyterian Minister when he was raised Lutheran,he answered simply and with a bit of surprise that I would ask, "Because Bessie was a Presbyterian."  When he decided to go into the Seminary to become a Minister it was the middle of the Depression yet she took a job and supported the family and even helped him study Hebrew and Greek! To me these two instances show their devotion to each other.  In 1977, at their 60th Wedding Anniversary, I asked them what they attributed the success of their long marriage.  They both said. "Communication.  We were always able to talk about our difficulties and resolve any problem that way."  My grandfather stood up at the table and raised his glass and said how grateful he was to have been able to spend "Sixty years with my sweetheart!"


  1. Yes, a very sweet story. And thank you for the pictures of similax. With the petunias, tube roses and ferns, it must have been charming!

    Grandma told me that she had a trauma on her wedding night, though (and not what you might think!). She had a lovely new nightgown that had a lace panel at the neckline. But when she put it on (or maybe when she unpacked it), she saw that the lace was baggy. She burst into tears, since she wanted to look perfect for this special night. An older woman at the hotel (a maid?) looked at it and said that it was baggy on purpose because the lace would shrink more than the gown when washed. She helped Bessie pin it in an inconspicuous way, and all was well.

    Somehow I doubt that the groom would have cared about baggy lace -- or even noticed it! But it was important for the bride to have things right!