MOOERS — Charles Drown was a farm boy living in rural Ellenburg Depot when he was invited to attend a birthday party, something he didn’t do very often.
Eva Nephew thought her sister’s birthday party would be just cake and family time. When Charles arrived, he saw Eva, asked who she was and said “I’m going to marry her.” So began a friendship, courtship and eventual marriage that has lasted nearly 72 years.
“We lived just five miles from each other but never knew the other existed,” said Eva. “We didn’t go many places back then.”
Eva is the 12th of 18 children born to Albert and Emma Rock Nephew. Fourteen children survived.
“My mother worked so hard,” she remembers. “We all helped. I had to bake a cake every day when I got home from school. We didn’t buy much. It was all homemade.”
Eva started school at the one-room Bush schoolhouse. She spoke only French. The teacher spoke only English. She learned quickly by listening to every lesson and moved up two years at a time. She started higher-learning classes at 11 because she was so advanced.
She and her siblings walked seven miles to the church in Mooers Forks, barefoot in the summer because their hand-me-down shoes left blisters.
“When we’d see the church, we’d put our shoes on and take them off again on the walk home,” she added.
She wanted to be a school teacher but quit school at 16 and worked for the Harnett family in Altona to help with expenses at home. The Hartnetts had boarders, and Eva did huge loads of laundry and ironing.
Charles lived through his own hardships. His mother died when he was 9. He didn’t have a good relationship with his stepmother. He attended Fernwood, a one-room schoolhouse near Cannon’s Corners, but went to high school for just one day.
“I went home and told Pa, ‘School’s not for me,’” he said. “My Pa said I’d probably have the truant officer after me, but he never came. I grabbed an ax and went into the woods to work.”
Charles and Eva were married Feb. 24, 1941, at the Burke Methodist Church parsonage. They honeymooned for a week in Syracuse, settled into farming in Mooers and never looked back.
Eva, 88, said even though she’d never been near the barn, she learned how to milk cows by hand. Her father had always told her “Boys in the barn and girls in the house,” but that had to change now.
Tragedy struck on Christmas morning, 1944, when a fire destroyed their home. Eva found herself standing in the snow with two babies, Stephen, who is now 70, and Judy, who died 12 years ago at 55.
“There were no firemen then, and our water machine in the barn was broken, so there was nothing we could do,” she said.
She recalls that the neighbors saw the smoke and came to help, but it was too late. Images she still carries in her mind are of baby clothes frozen in the ice and all her pies and a roast for Christmas dinner destroyed.
They stayed with Charles’s family for a few weeks and then moved into an old grainery all winter until a new home could be built. Another son, Leonard, was born. Years later they bought a larger farm with Leonard, now 65, and worked until they decided to retire in 1975.
“We bought a camper and drove to Alaska,” said Charles, 92. “We had eight flat tires because the road graders would leave metal slivers behind. The trip was an adventure and fun.”
Home again, Charles admits he couldn’t stay completely away from helping his son with farm chores. They spent 32 winters in Florida, but the last few years stayed north. Eva hunts during deer season. Her family won’t let her climb into a tree stand anymore so they built her a little cabin.
“I have a swivel chair so I can crank open a window and just shoot my gun,” she said with a smile. “Charles sits in an easy chair near me, and we have good days. It’s heated, too.”
Just being in the same room with Charles and Eva you know they are sharing “eyes across the table.” He smiles when asked how the years have been. She’s constantly watching to make sure he’s doing all right.
Both have health challenges, but it has only brought them closer. Disagreements have been few and handled with care.
“There have been rough times, but we both accepted Christ into our lives early in our marriage,” she said. “When we have a problem, I just say to Charles ‘Perhaps you better go talk to God about that.’
“It has always worked.”
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