80 TO 100: Carney: A marriage remembered

When Eleanor Carney met her future husband in November 1944, he couldn’t dance.

By Daniel Nash | The Courier-Herald

When Eleanor Carney met her future husband in November 1944, he couldn’t dance. He didn’t lack talent or claim embarrassment the way men do when they don’t want to be forced onto the floor by a wife or girlfriend: rather, he had been wounded in Fema Motta, Italy, during World War II.

“William would come to the dance (in Buffalo, N.Y.) with his cousin, just to watch the people dance,” Eleanor, 82, said. “I saw him there a lot before he ever asked me out. I saw him in a cast, then a brace, then out of both.”

Eventually, the two officially met and William asked Eleanor out for coffee.

“We stayed at the coffee shop for a long time, and I think I had so much coffee that I floated,” Eleanor said with a brief laugh. “At some point he mentioned it was getting late and I realized it was 12 to 1 a.m. so I told him ‘I should get home, my father will be back soon.’”

The two arrived just as her father got in. After introductions, all three of them sat and talked.

“He (William) eventually turned to my father and said to him ‘Mr. Silas, can I marry your daughter?’ And my father, who had no idea we had just met that night, told him ‘Don’t ask me, ask her.’”

Eleanor said yes. She was 17 years old, he was 23.

Family Life and Work

After marrying, Eleanor and William lived on a farm in Colden, N.Y., for 10 years before moving cross-country to Washington state, where they raised a family.

Home life was pleasant. The family even kept three raccoons as pets after their German shepherd killed the mother. Named Peaches, Cookie and Scamper, the animals were so domesticated that one slept in bed with their owners.

“We had chickens, but we never worried that they would get into the coop because they hated raw eggs,” Eleanor said. “One liked them boiled, one liked them fried and the other didn’t like eggs at all.”

In Washington, she worked as a certified nursing assistant for almost 30 years, in nursing homes and providing private home care.

She enjoyed the work, she said, but the hours were demanding, as was the proximity to health failure and death. One man in her charge, close to death, experienced edema in his legs so severe that as she lifted her hand from a gentle examination, it left an embedded print in the fluid under his skin.

Seniors today are fortunate to have the network of care and community, she said. In addition to their medical needs being met, they have access to hubs of social interaction and activity like the Bonney Lake Senior Center, to which Eleanor belongs.

How does Eleanor stay active?

“Well, I know the way I used to stay active,” she said with a smile. “I hunted.”

The Nature of Marriage

Years ago, as a young girl, Eleanor spent summers on her uncle’s farm. She enjoyed each visit, and she promised herself that she would one day marry an outdoorsman.

That outdoorsman was William.

Occasionally, they ventured out to hunt deer and elk. They would never hunt bigger game like bears, because they had a strict policy of only killing what they would eat.

Nature appeared to affect her husband deeply.

“We were driving on a road through the forest, and we passed a fallen tree,” she said. “William told me to stop by it, so I did. He said to me, ‘Eleanor, look at these trees. In a hundred years, not one of them will be standing. God made animals and nature first, and then he made man to take care of them. Fine job we’re doing. When an animal kills, it’s for food. When a man kills, it’s because he doesn’t like the color of someone’s skin, because he doesn’t like his politics or because he doesn’t have as much money as somebody else. Fine job we’re doing.’”

That’s the way William was, she said. As the head of a branch of the Veterans of Foreign Wars that would be closed by Gov. Daniel J. Evans, he ordered the men in attendance at a meeting with the governor to turn their back to him before adjourning. Yet another time, he called a man smoking in an elevator ignorant, a man who turned out to be a Supreme Court Justice.

William passed away in 1995. Eleanor looks fondly on the 50 years and 22 days of marriage she had with him.

Today, people can’t seem to marry as young as she did without the union ending before its even begun, Eleanor said.

In fact, she had second thoughts of her own on the night before their wedding.

“We were out dancing with friends, and I was sitting to the side with William since he couldn’t dance,” she said. “He took my hand and said, ‘Listen. This is how our marriage is going to work,’ and I said to myself ‘Uh-oh.’

“He said ‘Rule one: I don’t hit you and you don’t hit me. Rule two: when we’re close to an argument, we’ll go our separate ways, we’ll come back, I’ll apologize, you’ll apologize and we’ll never speak of it again.’ And I think that’s how we made it work all the way until his death.”

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