This piece was one that could have taken so many different directions. There are so many stories from this one interview that I would love to share with you. Stories of life in Mexico, working on a ranch, working with Gordon Romney when he lived in El Paso.
There’s the story rabid cats and dogs, or one of the Pratt children chasing down a guy that was peering into her window. There are stories of the busloads of people that would show up at their home looking for a place to sleep as they went from Mexico or South America to the Temple in Albuquerque, New Mexico – there are just so many stories I didn’t know what to share!
So many stories!
While talking to the Pratts, I was struck by their marriage, their life when they first met, how and when they finally married. That story, this one part of their life, that’s what I’ve decided to share.
Seventy-three years of marriage. That’s a long time – 73 years. I’ve only been married for two years and cannot even begin to fathom seventy-three years of marriage. Vera and Gerald Pratt have been married that long, seventy-three years!
Vera and Gerald met in Mexico while living in the Colonies.
The Colonies is an area of Mexico, near the Sierra Madre Mountains that was found by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The towns making up the Colonies were originally in Chihuahua and Sonora. In 1912 the Colonies were evacuated during the Mexican Revolution. That led many Mormons to come to El Paso and found the first LDS Church in Texas.
At sixteen Gerald Pratt left the Colonies to help his uncle on a cattle ranch that his father and uncle leased. Vera remained in the Colonies until she graduated High School and then moved to Arizona to attend Arizona State.
When Gerald celebrated his eighteenth birthday, he joined the Merchant Marines, serving until after the war.
How does one stay married for so long? “It’s easy,” says Vera.
Gerald had a different answer: “Just live it.”
“Live it and enjoy it,” says Vera. “We have seven children, and they are all wonderful. They are all happily married. And we have 37 grandchildren, and currently 87 great-grandchildren and counting. We’ll have three more by November.”
So just how did the Gerald meet Vera? It all started with a bus ride.
“In high school, I met this handsome guy,” Vera says of Gerald as she takes his hand. “…who was in the military who came to the Colonies to see his old teachers and his friends.”
Vera was on her way to spend the weekend in Dublan, Mexico, with one of her friends.
“I got liberty, exactly three years from the day left,” says Gerald. “I got home on the Monday’s train…[and] spent time with my dad and mother. Helped my dad do some stuff on Friday. I caught the bus up to Colonia Juarez. Spent the day with the students I remembered, and the teachers.”
When the day was over, and he was heading back home, he caught the bus. Sitting behind the driver, and facing the other side of the bus, he caught his first glimpse of Vera.
“I was busy talking to the driver,” recalls Gerald. “Finally, I turned to see what was happening, and right in front of me was this vision. First time I ever saw her.”
At that moment, when he first saw Vera, he knew he was going to marry her.
“I did,” says Gerald, “but she didn’t.”
Gerald was so smitten with Vera that he was bound and determined to see her, to follow her.
“That same night everybody was going to the movies, I went along,” says Gerald.
“We walked to the movie,” added Vera.
“I went along, but she wouldn’t consider it a date,” Gerald said.
“He asked if he could take me home,” says Vera. “I said, ‘my mother taught me I go home with the one I went with, thank you.’”
It was then that Gerald asked her if he could see her the next night. She told him that she had a date with his best friend. She did postpone with Gerald’s friend and went with him.
For Gerald, it was love at first sight. He knew, without a doubt, that Vera was the one. Vera, on the other hand, didn’t know for quite a while that Gerald would be the one for her.
“He was a sailor,” says Vera. “Sailors have the reputation of having a girl in every port. Besides, his neighbor, who had grown up across the street from him was a good friend of mine. She told me that he was a wolf.”
We’ve all heard the stories, watched the movies starring Frank Sinatra and how sailors would juggle girls across the world at different ports-of-call. Vera, knowing full well how sailors were decided to remain cautious and distant.
When Gerald shipped back out, that whole year at sea, all he could think about was Vera. That vision he first saw on the bus filled him and drove him right back to her and the Colonies when he was back stateside.
When he returned, when Vera was a senior in high school, she began to Gerald for who he was. He wasn’t a wolf, or on the make. So, she began to let her defenses down. Eventually, they were engaged.
“I wore the engagement ring and didn’t date other boys for two years,” recalls Vera.
Then, she began to worry. Maybe she was wrong about Gerald.
“One time he came over, he knew what he was taking, he knew the load was hazardous. He was not sure he was going to come back. So, he decided it would be best to break the engagement.”
Vera gave both rings back to Gerald.
“He said, ‘I can’t take these with me. I’m going back overseas tomorrow,’” Vera remembers.
Gerald had asked that she take the rings back home with her to the Colonies and give them to his mother. For Vera, that was the hardest thing she had ever done.
“He had not told his mother that we were not engaged anymore,” she says. “It was a very, very difficult thing.”
I can only imagine how hard it was, telling Gerald’s parents that they were no longer engaged. However, it doesn’t end there! Vera would see Gerald again.
“I was teaching, in the fall, I guess it was early November, and after school, I got on my horse,” says Vera. “As I passed my uncle’s store, there was a new truck, and a man unloading lumber. As I got closer, I recognized it was him. He’d gotten out of the service and gone into the trucking business with his brother. I stopped and said ‘hi.’”
As soon as he finished unloading the truck, he went right off to see Vera at their home.
“Immediately we became engaged again,” says Vera.
Not long after, during her Christmas vacation, they were married. The rest, as they say, is history!
Just sitting with Vera and Gerald Pratt, you can not miss the love they have for each other. All through our conversation they would hold hands, touch each other. They are still just as smitten today as they were over 75 years ago. Theirs is a love for the ages.
And the fact that they have been sealed in a Temple, knowing their marriage will be one for all eternity makes it all the better.
I asked one more question about their marriage: if they could pick one point in their marriage, and label it as the best, what would that be?
“Oh,” says Gerald, “the first seventy-three years.”
What advice and council do they offer for the rest of us?
“I think honest in all things is very important,” says Gerald. “Even sometimes it hurts. But, it hurts more if you don’t clear things up.”
That’s very true. We need to be honest to our spouse, to our family. I’ve seen too many marriages fall apart because of secrets, or “white lies” that grew into insurmountable obstacles in marriage.
Honest, faith in Heavenly Father, and the willingness to show love. That’s what will keep you married for seventy-three years.
Vera and Gerald Pratt have a rich treasury of memories and stories. As I said, it was hard to decide just what story to tell you in this article. I chose their marriage. I didn’t want to leave anything out. So, I’ve uploaded the whole conversation. The video runs just over an hour. The first part, the first twenty minutes or so is about their marriage and part of their life in Mexico. I do encourage you to take the time to watch it. You won’t be disappointed.