Valentine’s Day can be a two-edged sword. Romantic movies are watched or avoided. Flowers, chocolates, jewels, and special dinners are done in appreciation and love or to meet obligatory expectations, or perhaps even rejected all together. Retailers jack prices into discomfort zones, adding more stress and unavailability on popular giant dipped strawberries and roses. Is it more about romance and love or frustration? Here in Casper, the typical Valentine week event is Monster Trucks — for some the perfect date night … not for me although the years Tom took the kids I LOVED my gift of a truly quiet time!
I tend to lean toward being a romantic and love to make and send Valentines, make pretty cookies, set the china on a seldom used table cloth and serve family favorites. I pull out my Valentine box to decorate from my sentimental decades old collection. Of course the season begs a viewing of Sleepless in Seattle, The Proposal, or perhaps another classic or Hallmark romance.
With all of this, my preparations and celebration don’t come close to matching the Covid Romance Story of my friends Alfred and Margaret (Hein) Cheney. Their love story started in North Carolina as youth in 1955. Life took them in different directions for over six decades only to have love rekindled in the throws of the Covid 19 pandemic. I’ve interviewed them and their friend Linda (Al’s sister-in-law), who have kindly shared this special story for me to publish. It all started when Linda and Margaret were in grade school. Here are their stories:
Margaret – “I first met my friend Linda Bowman in 2nd grade. She sat in front of me in Miss Burgess’ class at Rockford Street School in Mt. Airy, North Carolina. We became fast friends, a friendship that has lasted our entire lives. Through the growing up years we spent the night at each other’s house, were in the same Girl Scout Troop, and shared our secrets.”
Linda – “Margaret was a wonderful friend. Since I lived in a stressful environment, Margaret’s positive attitude was so helpful. She was lots of fun. We laughed and laughed when we were able to have slumber parties from time to time. Margaret was a ‘breath of fresh air’ with her happy spirit. I loved it when we could get together. We were in Brownies and Girl Scouts together. There were so many exciting events that took place in our Scout experiences.
I attended the Mt Airy Friends Church (Quaker). Margaret was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). It was special when I was allowed to go to her church’s dances. We just had a great time dancing. It was always special when Margaret and I did the Charleston. She can still dance up a storm. I can’t keep up with her.”
Alfred – “I grew up in Kinston, North Carolina, oldest of four children, (three boys and 1 girl). My dad was a land surveyor, and I helped with land surveying on weekends and summers.”
Margaret – “My uncle, Ernest Jones, spontaneously bought a little country store near Kinston when he was flying all over North Carolina as private pilot. He asked my grandparents to move into the house behind the store and run the store for him. My cousin J. C. Kirkman and I went to visit our grandparents in July of 1955. I liked helping out in the store and meeting all the customers who came in. One day a good-looking young man came in at lunchtime, and I waited on him. We talked for a while and I learned his name was Alfred Cheney. He came into the store every day after that.
“I recorded this in my diary: ‘Friday, July 8, 1955: Dear Diary, Helped today at the store. Alfred Cheney came in twice today, and yesterday he asked about me when I was out for a few minutes. Gladys Cheney (Alfred’s younger sister) came in the store and asked me to her birthday party tomorrow night from 8:00 till 10:00, but I told her I couldn’t come because we are leaving for Mt. Airy that night.’ Later I added to this entry: ‘J. C. and I decided to stay until Monday or Tuesday. Called Gladys and told her J. C. and I could come.’
“Here’s an excerpt from my diary for Saturday, July 9, 1955: ‘Alfred came in twice, but I only saw him once. My hair was in curlers, so I tried to hide behind the meat counter. Went to his sister’s birthday party. My belt tore up, but Mrs. Cheney fixed it. Held hands with Alfred as part of a game. Danced with him once and with J. C. once. Listened to (his dad) Mr. Cheney play the marimba. Got home about 11:00. Alfred likes me a little, I believe. He is coming over tomorrow.’
“On Sunday, July 10, 1955, I wrote: ‘J. C. and I went to church, About 2:00 Alfred came over. J.C. went with me to Cheney’s house. When it was time for Sacrament meeting, Gladys, J.C., Alfred and I went to church. Alfred and I are going on double date tomorrow night with Gladys and J.C.’
“Monday, July 11, 1955 – ‘Alfred is the most wonderful person that I’ve ever met! He came by the store (I wasn’t there) and told J.C. he’d be by about 7:00 p.m. We went to the Park Theater. He had his arm around the seat. Or maybe it was me. Afterwards we went to Carolina Dairies for milk shakes. We made photos. Said good-bye, but he might be back tomorrow for the final good-bye.’
“Tuesday, July 12, 1955 – ‘Alfred came by and told me he was coming to Mt. Airy tomorrow (joking, of course). He’s wonderful. My grandparents kidded me about Alfred. We do plan to write each other.'”
Alfred – “When I was 18 years old, I went to a little country store that was run by Margaret’s grandparents, the Joneses. I had been in this store before, but not on a regular basis. On this day Margaret was the only one in the store and she was putting up stock. We started a conversation. She was so easy to talk to and had a beautiful smile and a wonderful laugh. After we finished talking, I went home and asked my sister Gladys to go and invite her to her birthday party the following Saturday.”
Alfred – “Margaret’s parents invited me to Mt. Airy, so we communicated with letters until I went to visit. (Over the next three years I had over 400 letters from Margaret.) It was August 14, 1955 when I got to Mt. Airy by Greyhound Bus.”
Margaret: “Here is my diary entry for Sunday, August 14, 1955 – ‘Alfred’s here! My mother picked Alfred up at the bus station while Daddy and I were at Sacrament Meeting. It’s so good to see him!’
“The days of his visit were filled with typical teen-age activities: swimming, dancing, introducing him to my friends and doing lots of family activities. We chose a song as ‘our’ song: Eddie Fisher singing ‘Don’t Stay Away Too Long.'”
Linda – “I do remember that Margaret and Alfred dated a lot. He would hitchhike to Mt. Airy to see her. They seemed to be very well suited to each other. Martin (Al’s brother) and I did write letters to each other.”
Cindy Bower – Linda doesn’t remember double dating, but a picture is worth a thousand words right? The others DO remember those times together.
Alfred: “I went to Campbell College for my senior year of high school. I came back to Kinston after my first semester at Campbell. I finished out my senior year at Contenea and Margaret and I went to my Junior Senior Dance there. We ran a stop sign and got a ticket that night. I was determined not to let it affect the night. I joined the Navy two weeks after high school graduation. We dated for the next three years, communicating with frequent letters, a few phone calls, a few visits.
“After the Navy I join the North Carolina Highway Patrol, working there for seven years. During that time I met and married Wanda Boswell. We were married for 42 years and had one son, Alfred Cheney VI. I had gone to work for National Cash Register. on January 5, 1971. I stayed there for 24 years and retired on December 31, 1993. I worked for another company from 1993 until Wanda died on March 6, 2006 from cancer. I then married Barbara H. Ewing on April 2, 2007. Barbara developed Alzheimer’s disease about 5 or 6 years later. She died March 8, 2020.”
Linda – “After I left Mt. Airy, I finished my last year in high school in Norwalk, CA. My family moved to La Mirada, CA. It was there that I met my husband. We lived across the street from each other. He was kind and polite. We got married right after I graduated. We were so young, but we were in love. My husband was drafted into the army which took us to the state of Washington while he served … I was so happy that Margaret and I kept in touch.”
Margaret: “When Alfred joined the Navy, I was still in high school. I wanted to date other boys, so I wrote him ‘Dear John’ letters every once in a while (he says annually).By the time I graduated from high school, I knew that Alfred was not going to become a member of my church. It broke my heart to admit that the temple marriage that I longed for would not be possible with him. So I left for BYU to study elementary education. After my first year of college, I married Howard Hein in the Salt Lake City Temple and moved to Casper where we lived our entire 59-year marriage. I know that marrying Howard was the right decision at that period of my life. We were blessed with two daughters and a life of service in our church. We were able to serve two full time missions, each 18 months in length that brought us so much fulfillment … I always kept in touch with my friend Linda.”
~~~~ Well friends, it’s me Cindy again and I can’t wait to finish this story for all of you in Part II. Margaret, Linda, Al, and Martin all speak of knowing the hand of God was in the details to come, so stay tuned.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Love is patient, love is kind … It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.