Love for the ages
Conyers couple keeps romance alive after

Pat and Cleo Porter relax in the den of their Lake Capri home, which offers a picturesque view of the sun sparkling on the water. Mr. Porter is considering the question of what first attracted him to Cleo, his wife of 70 years.

Rising from his armchair, Mr. Porter, 93, shuffles over to a drawer and pulls out a photo of him and his wife taken in 1939. He is a young, sinewy man with a shock of wavy hair atop his head, wearing a tie and a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up past his elbows; she is a willowy young woman dressed in a print dress and pumps, her hands folded primly behind her back.

"I'm gonna show you why I stuck around," said Mr. Porter, holding up the photo. "See how beautiful she was."

Mrs. Porter, 89, chuckled.

"Oh, no doubt about it," he said.

Mrs. Porter chimed in.

"He was so handsome. Look at him. Why would I let him get away?" Mrs. Porter said.

"Oh, I'm nothin' but an old plow boy," he said.

"And I'm nothin' but an old cottin' pickin' girl," she shot back, laughing some more.

Thus flows the banter of this elderly couple who met as teenagers, married a few years later and over seven decades has remained betrothed and happy to be such.

Growing up in Carroll County, close to the Alabama line, Mr. and Mrs. Porter shared similar backgrounds. Both came from tenant-farming families and they lived within several miles of each other.

The two met at a church dinner, the culmination of a two-week singing camp. Mrs. Porter was 13, Mr. Porter 18. When Mr. Porter sallied over to sit next to one of Mrs. Porter's friends at the dinner, the friend popped up and moved away from the stranger. Mrs. Porter stayed seated and accepted Mr. Porter's invitation to walk her home that evening.

Over the next few years, Mrs. Porter visited Mr. Porter's home with some of his younger sisters. When Mrs. Porter turned 17, the two started dating. They married in May 1938 with Mrs. Porter being 19 and Mr. Porter 23. They had to borrow the $5 for the marriage license.

"We didn't have a dime," Mr. Porter said. "We was tenant farmers after we married for four years."

Mr. Porter then ran a grist mill, buying and selling the meal and hauling it to locations like LaGrange and Loganville. He also sold produce on the side and worked some for the Work Progress Administration. His family ran a farm where they grew their own chickens, eggs, hogs and vegetables. With no electricity, they kept their milk cool by lowering it into a well. Mrs. Porter sewed all their clothes.

Two years after the Porters married, their family began to grow, with daughter Myra born in 1940, son Jack in 1941 and son Bobby in 1945. When Bobby was just an infant, Mr. Porter was drafted into the Navy to serve in World War II. He reacted with anger at the prospect of being taken away from his young family and leaving his wife with the burden of raising their children by herself.

"I was so mad with everything, I think Japan surrendered because they knew I was coming," he said.

Even though he served less than a year, Mr. Porter found a way to move his entire family down to Miami where he was stationed so he wouldn't be far from them.

After his service, the Porters moved back to Georgia and Mr. Porter worked in a planer mill and then in the building materials business. The Porters lived in College Park, Tucker and finally settled in their Conyers Lake Capri home in 1965. Theirs was the only house on the street and Mr. Porter used to hunt along the river nearby.

During the time the Porters were finding their way to Conyers, another son, Mike, was born in 1954.

"We always wanted four children but I had bad health for a while," Mrs. Porter said.

With Mr. Porter having an eighth-grade education (he worked the fields as soon as he was old enough) and Mrs. Porter holding a high school diploma, the Porters proudly list the colleges from where their children graduated - Myra, Georgia State University; Jack, Georgia Institute of Technology; and the University of Georgia for Mike and Bobby, who died in 1997. All built successful professional careers.

Photos of their four children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren line the shelves and cover the walls of the Porters' den.

With their children grown and making lives of their own, the Porters bought a pop-up camper in the 1980s and set out to see all of the wonders that the United States had to offer - Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, the Grand Canyon, Redwood National Park. Sometimes they'd take the grandchildren with them. The Porters' favorite camping spot is Standing River Campground, located at the headwaters of the Nantahala River in North Carolina.

Today, their lives have slowed down a bit. They are still members of First Baptist Church Lithonia, where they joined when they moved to Conyers. Mr. Porter grows gourds, which he donates to preschool students at Trinity School in Atlanta who, in turn, use them for art projects. He proudly shows off a notebook with photos of each of the children and their completed gourds.

The Porters claim they've never had a serious argument in all their 70 years together. When asked if money was ever the source of friction, the couple answered with a definitive "no." They pay all bills off at the end of the month, including credit cards, some solid financial instruction in these tough economic times.

"Don't ever buy what you want," Mr. Porter said. "You buy what you need first and if there's any left over, then buy what you want."

Their words of advice for staying content together all these decades are simple - don't lose your temper and love one another.

"Put the other person above yourself," Mrs. Porter said.

E-mail Karen J. Rohr at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.