In 1935, as a part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal plan to relieve unemployment caused by the Great Depression, Carl Gardner worked as a surveyor and mapmaker. While on assignment one day in Monroe, N.C., Mr. Gardner viewed more than just the land through his survey telescope. Off in the distance he saw a young blonde woman wearing a big straw hat working in the yard with a push mower and sling blade.
"He thought I was real handy cutting grass," said his wife Cornelia Gardner, now 90, with a chuckle.
Mr. Gardner married his vision in the fields three years after spotting her. Seventy years later, they remain betrothed.
At 92, Mr. Gardner doesn't hear as well as he used to, so his wife leans over to his ear and asks him what it was that attracted him to her in the first place.
"Because you were good looking," he said smiling and putting his hand over hers. "And she still is."
Mr. Gardner, a South Carolina native, and Mrs. Gardner, who grew up in North Carolina, exchanged vows on Feb. 21, 1938, in the First Methodist Church of Monroe, N.C. The couple settled in East Point, Ga., where they would live in the same house on 3 acres for 52 years.
Mr. Gardner worked as an auto mechanic for a few short months before being drafted into World War II. He served in the Army as a mechanic in Europe and the Middle East from May 1942 until August 1945. During his military service, Mrs. Gardner also got involved with the war effort working in a factory that produced firing pins for bullets.
After the war, the couple postponed having children and worked, Mr. Gardner as a mechanic for a Chrysler dealership (where he stayed for 42 years) and his wife at a clothing warehouse. At age 34 and 32 respectively, Mr. and Mrs. Gardner became the parents of a baby boy named they named Sidney. Four years later, son Jerry was born and two year after that, daughter Patsy.
The couple loved being parents.
"He paid as much attention to them as I did, if not more so," said Mrs. Gardner. "I think we wished then that we hadn't waited so long."
Mrs. Gardner said she and her husband led a quiet, uneventful life, raising their children, tending to their garden and attending the First United Methodist Church of East Point, which was located right next to their house.
A proficient handyman, Mr. Gardner built a barn by himself from scrap wood and also constructed a playhouse for the children. He enjoyed tending to his 1-acre garden where he grew potatoes, tomatoes, corn, squash, beans and okra. The couple also kept an assortment of cats and dogs, a few goats and a pony.
Known for his generosity, Mr. Gardner would regularly leave extras from his garden in sacks on the porches of neighbors whom he knew could use the additional food.
"He'd feed the whole neighborhood," recalled Mrs. Gardner.
The couple could often be seen showing their affection for one another by holding hands. Mr. Gardner enjoyed doting on his wife.
"He wanted to wait on me and he still wants to do it," said Mrs. Gardner.
They never fought and instead discussed their differences.
"We didn't fuss, we didn't argue and didn't go to bed mad at each other," said Mrs. Gardner. "If we disagreed, we talked it out."
When asked what's kept them together all of these years, Mrs. Gardner replied with an answer powerful in its simplicity.
"Our love," she said.
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