Love Stories

Baby boomers saw the divorce rate soar and the marriage rate plummet among their peers -- but some of them managed to build long-lasting unions anyway.

February 14, 1999|By STEPHANIE SHAPIRO | STEPHANIE SHAPIRO,SUN STAFF

Baby boomers saw the divorce rate soar and the marriage rate plummet among their peers -- but some of them managed to build long-lasting unions anyway.

The current calculated blitz of '60s nostalgia would have you believe that everyone was a tie-dyed-in-the-wool hippie back then. Not true. For every boomer president who probably inhaled, there is a boomer special prosecutor who probably tried to sell you a Bible.

And as free-loving as the '60s now appear through the media's gauzy lens, it was a distinctly unromantic time. A hard rain fell on matrimony, even as it peaked in 1969. The divorce rate soared, and the marriage rate plummeted. The aftershocks of Vietnam and the women's movement are two obvious causes.

The oldest boomers found that the "world had totally changed. Many of those people discovered that all of their expectations [from marriage] couldn't be met," says Cheryl Russell, author of the 1993 book "The Master Trend: How the Baby Boom Generation is Remaking America."

Younger boomers paid heed and delayed marriage.

For African-Americans, celebrating civil rights gains but losing jobs and respect in crumbling urban centers, marriage and divorce statistics are even more dreary.

So how did any couple endure the revolution? Russell says it was "almost the luck of the draw" to find "somebody [with whom] you have something in common. ... And the bond remains despite all this social change around you."

The following Baltimore-area couples have their own ways of explaining their enduring affection.

One couple carved a life together in the midst of a racist society. Another couple was grazed by Vietnam. A third met as political activists.

On this Valentine's Day, though, their stories lead to common ground. Gloria and Thomas "Bunny" Weaver, Kathy and Dennis Curl, Claudia Leight and Dean Pappas all point to similar constants in their marriages: a supportive community of family and/or old friends, and a willingness to change and grow -- together, not apart.

Bunny Weaver and Gloria Shorter grew up in segregated Baltimore, and knew what it was like to drink from separate fountains and suffer ego-crushing slights. They saw their community torn apart by riots after Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in 1968. Within their marriage, they worked to build shelter. Today, they are a middle-class, middle-aged black couple who made it through the storm.

At Edmondson High School, Bunny and Gloria had eyes for one another, but never followed through. After graduation in 1966, they bumped into each other from time to time. Finally, at a party, they truly met.

"Didn't you go to Edmondson?" Bunny asked.

"You know I did," Gloria replied.

Smokey Robinson played on the stereo and they danced.

They married in 1970.

At first, Bunny took the "I'm the man and I'm in charge" approach. They soon had a baby son, and he expected his wife to stay home. In a world that often denied black men their dignity, home was one place a man could exert his authority.

After two and a half years, though, Gloria was offered a job as a clerk typist with the Commercial Credit company. "What about the baby?" Bunny asked. Gloria had already secured a place in day care, "just in case."

Bunny remembered that his father always turned his check over to his mother. He knew his mother and two sisters often felt stifled by society's limited expectations for them. He had watched a friend's marriage collapse after six months, because his wife was "not going to have him tell her what she could or couldn't do."

Bunny changed.

A Super Fresh produce clerk for 33 years, he puts it this way: "I can't be right all the time."

Gloria stayed with Commercial Credit for 15 years and recently retired as an executive secretary at USF&G.

Other current events swirled around the Weavers' union. Bunny was not drafted, but many friends were. He believes he was spared the disillusionment of veterans who could no longer embrace their former way of life. He remembers one buddy, in particular. "He said to me, 'I went away and I came back a real angry man. I went through something I shouldn't have had to go through, and my wife is still living the way we were when we first got married.' "

The Weavers continued to encounter discrimination in their day-to-day lives outside home. But years of practice allowed them to leave their anger at the door, Bunny says. And he held no truck with acquaintances who blamed "the white man" for their own miscalculations. He knew that providing for his family was his responsibility, and there was no way he would use oppression as an excuse for not doing so.

The Weavers live in Bunny's childhood Cherry Hill home. Both 50, they continue to socialize with the same high school friends. Their faith in God is strong. So are their ties to two grown children and two grandchildren.

And Bunny likes to joke that he is more often than not the odd man out in family disagreements.

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