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Worth the wait: High school sweethearts reconnect 70 years later

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

As high school sweethearts in the late 1930s, Lewis and Virginia Freeman went on a double date to the Varsity in Atlanta. A hamburger cost a dime and a Coke a nickel. Lewis had just enough money, raised by his paper route, to cover dinner for two.

When Virginia wanted onion rings, Lewis had to say no.

"I only had 30 cents in my pocket," Lewis said. "She turned as red as a beet."

He made it up to her seven decades later when they took another courting trip to the Varsity.

"I bought her all the onion rings she could eat," he said smiling.

Lewis and Virginia, both 89, took a shine to one another as teens but didn't share married life until 2004.

"I tell people it took me 70-odd years to get her, but I got her," Lewis said.

As children, they lived next door to one another in the West End neighborhood of Atlanta. They played kick-the-can and hopscotch together and swam at the local pool.

At age 16, they began to date but a trip to a boarding school for Virginia and a path to college for Lewis led them to new loves and eventual marriages to other people.

Lewis married Sara Godsey, served in the Air Force from 1942 to '46, had three children and became an administrator for the city of Jackson, Ga.

Virginia married Charles Smith, a retail distributor who served two terms as a Rockdale County commissioner, and had two children. She volunteered her time on the Nancy Guinn Library Board and played piano and organ for her church, First Baptist Church of Lithonia. Her talents also led her to provide the music for countless weddings and funerals.

Lewis and Virginia didn't cross paths again until Lewis contacted her to play the piano for his 50th wedding anniversary celebration.

"I never forgot her and I don't think she ever forgot me," Lewis said.

The two kept up with each other, telephoning every couple of years. Lewis remembers reading Charles Smith's obituary in the newspaper and sending his condolences to Virginia.

Virginia recalls watching Lewis nurse Sara through Alzheimer's disease for five years. When Charles became exhausted from feeding, bathing and watching over her, the family decided to relocate Sara to a health care facility.

"He went to the nursing home every day, so that tells you what kind of a man he is," Virginia said.

After Sara's death, Lewis began to call, e-mail and visit Virginia frequently. He still lived in Jackson, she in the Rockdale neighborhood of Lake Capri.

"I kept the road hot," Lewis said.

The two began to rekindle their relationship and though neither had ever considered remarrying, they found themselves falling in love. Already accustomed to one other, it seemed "natural" that they spend the rest of their lives together, Lewis said.

"We got so thick, we decided we better get married," he said.

They married, with the support of their families, on Oct. 29, 2004.

Early on in their marriage, the couple led an active life, camping and traveling with friends. Lewis, a Methodist, said he taught his Baptist wife to dance and even to do a little "gambling," as the two enjoyed playing cards on their camping trips.

Virginia laughs easily at Lewis' humor and admits that he is completely devoted to her.

"He has a very sweet disposition. And we are both pretty level-headed," Virginia said.

These days, health problems have slowed the Freemans down a bit. Lewis broke his hip a year ago and Virginia is losing her eyesight. But Lewis and Virginia, who now reside at the senior living complex of Remington House, look after one another.

The couple said they are blessed to have a spacious apartment, where Virginia has managed to fit her baby grand piano in the living room. Some days, when she's feeling up to it, she plays a few songs for her high school love.

"She is so sweet to me," Lewis said. "I just thank my lucky stars that we got back together."