The Secret of Marriage According to Jeep Menking
When he opened the door for me, Mr. Jeep was standing in his sock feet. The freshly vacuumed carpet was light beige and spotless. I offered to remove my boots.
He took one look at them and said knowingly, “You haven’t been in the barn with those. Come on in.”
The only thing quicker than his inquisitive, miss-nothing intellect is his warm wit. His blue eyes twinkle.
I tiptoed across the living room to the kitchen. I took off my boots and met Mrs. Ruth, his wife of almost seven decades. She is 91. Her eyes twinkle, too.
Mr. Jeep left us to get acquainted as he retrieved some scrapbooks from another room. The conversation revealed that Mrs. Ruth has a twin sister, Bernice, who lives in New Braunfels.
“Are you identical or fraternal?”
“Identical, I think, but I’ve never seen it written down,” she replied with a wink.
Nothing has to be written because a picture is worth a thousand words. She flipped open her scrapbook and showed me a series of World War II era photos featuring two stunning brunettes, indistinguishable from one another, who look as if they just stepped off a Hollywood sound stage.
“How long have you and Mr. Jeep been married?” I asked.
“Too many years for me to tell you without using a pencil and paper,” she replied with a smile in her voice.
About this time, Mr. Jeep re-entered the room. His arms were filled with scrapbooks.
“Sixty-nine years,” he said. “We got married on Jan. 20, 1946 at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Round Top. We’re still members there and usher together. I got back from the war, and I thought it was a good idea to get married.”
“And I wasn’t opposed,” she said. “So we did.”
Their war-time correspondence, which led to their marriage, was prompted by their schoolyard friendship. He wore his olive green uniform, and she was resplendent in an elegant white gown.
“Mr. Jeep, while you were gone I found out Mrs. Ruth is a twin,” I said. “What if they switched on you, and all these years you’ve been married to the other sister?”
“Well, that would be okay; I got a good one,” he said.
“I got a good one, too—most days,” Mrs. Ruth quipped.
The teasing is good-natured and constant. It is one of the secrets to their successful marriage.
“We still make each other laugh—and generally, he behaves himself pretty good, too,” she said.
And they listen to one another. They don’t finish each other’s sentences, although they probably could. When stories are being told, they each add details that build the whole but don’t take away from what the other person is saying. While they’ve been married since 1946, they’ve been friends even longer.
It started in 1936, when the Menkings moved back to Round Top from Schulenburg. Mrs. Ruth’s family, the Frickes, were long-time Round Top residents. Her father was the postmaster, and her grandfather was the president of the Round Top State Bank.
The school had one building but several rooms. They were in different classrooms, but their paths continually crossed. According to Mr. Jeep, he never dipped Mrs. Ruth’s pigtails in the inkwell, but it wasn’t because he didn’t consider flirting.
“We didn’t have ink wells in Round Top, but we had them in Schulenburg,” he said.
Their teenage years were marked by lots of baseball including games played at county meets, gatherings of schools that pitted the students of all ages against one another in relay races, tug-of-wars and other games; evenings around the radio listening to the Lone Ranger and other serials; church services conducted in English and German; one telephone shared by the entire community; and occasional trips in the families’ Model As or Model Ts to watch a picture show in La Grange because Round Top was too small for a movie theatre.
“The road between Round Top and La Grange was paved, but all the other roads were dirt,” Mr. Jeep said. “It wasn’t a hard trip if you stayed on the pavement.”
Birthdays were celebrated.
“Birthday parties involved the whole family,” Mrs. Ruth said.
“A lot of times it was the whole town,” he corrected.
The day included plenty of food and beer. The men would play cards or dominoes, both 42 and straight, while the women would visit and the children played.
“People took time for each other,” she said.
This common ground of memories and shared experiences is the foundation upon which they’ve built their life. Their war-time correspondence, which led to their marriage, was prompted by their schoolyard friendship.
“We’ve always liked the same things,” she said.
“Most of the time,” he said.
“Well, yes, he’s never been much for dancing,” she said.
“But on the big things, we’ve agreed,” he said.
“And we’ve both given in on things when we need to get along,” she said.
They also don’t linger on regrets. They cite a single one: Their only son, Robert, lives in Michigan where he is an auto designer for General Motors. He and his family, which has now grown to include five great-grandchildren, are too far away for their liking.
“Every day we wish they lived closer, but we can drive to Austin, get on a plane and be with them in 2.5 hours,” Mrs. Ruth said. “Family is important.”
And they don’t take each other for granted. Mrs. Ruth has kept a piece of v-mail, the military’s preferred form of communication during World War II, tucked between the pages of her scrapbook for the past 72 years.
[pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”]It says:
Across the gap of time and space
In lands though far away
My thoughts go out with love to you
On Christmas Day[/pullquote]
It is signed “All my love, Jeep” and dated Christmas 1943.
While the world has changed since that tiny note made its way from an aircraft mechanic in the throes of war to his faraway girl, the sentiments obviously have not.