The year was 1925. Calvin Coolidge was president, Adolf Hitler released the first part of his book, “Mein Kampf,” Charlie Chaplin’s big movie was “The Gold Rush,” flappers were singing and dancing to “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “I’m Sitting on Top of the World,” the Scopes Trial played out in Tennessee, the first television images were broadcast, Al Capone ruled the streets of Chicago, flagpole sitters were all the rage, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington were the newest recording artists, the price of a first-class stamp hit 2 cents.
And in Hugo, Minn., an 18-year-old man named Clarence Vail married his 16-year-old sweetheart, Mayme. They had met in the eighth grade, and marriages at such young ages were more the norm than the exception back then. Unremarkable at the time, that union, now 83 years old and still as strong as ever, has finally claimed a place among the historic events of the year.
NBC’s Kevin Tibbles reported for TODAY on Monday that Clarence and Mayme Vail are going into “Guinness World Records” for being married longer than any other living couple on earth.
They don’t have a magic formula to explain the success of their marriage. They just took seriously what they said to each other when they stood at the altar.
“You take your vows, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer,” Mayme said. “I guess you just stick to it, come what may.”
They say they haven’t had an argument since 1946, something that Mayme attributes to the fact that her husband, who is 101, is the strong, silent type who isn’t given to argument. “That’s why we got along so well,” joked the 99-year-old Mayme. “He never spoke out of turn. I didn’t give him a chance.”
The 1920s were in full roar when they were married and moved into their first home — a one-room house. They survived the Great Depression and World War II, raising six children along the way. But their biggest challenge came in 1948, when Clarence was diagnosed with tuberculosis.
‘Look to the future’
According to “The Catholic Spirit,” the newspaper of the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Mayme promised that if her husband survived, she would attend Mass every day for the rest of her life.
She kept it up for nearly 60 years, until the couple moved into a retirement home within the last year. Now, she’s down to two Masses a week, but she still says the rosary regularly — another daily ritual for nearly her entire life. She offered few secrets to long life and a long marriage, other than to say they never smoke or drank — both seemed a waste of money.
Their faith told them to stay faithful through thick and thin, and they did that. It also told them to be fruitful and multiply, and they did that, too.
Their six children — three have been married for 50 years or longer — begat 39 grandchildren, who begat 101 great-grandchildren, who have so far begotten 40 great-great-grandchildren. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 186 descendants.
One of those great-great-grandchildren, David, has been married for two years to Christine. He was asked if he was shooting for the record.
“Two down, 81 to go,” he said. “Yes, yes, absolutely we’re working on it. Look to the future — no matter how old you are.”
Clarence and Mayme are still doing just that. He’s slowed down considerably and spends much of his time napping, but Mayme, who looks a decade or more younger than her age, continues to make quilts as she has all her life. And she takes care of her husband.
Just as she vowed to do 83 years ago.