Writ­ing let­ters of love

Cedar Lane cou­ple ‘united to­gether’ in mar­riage since days of World War II

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By DANDAN ZOU dzou@somd­news.com

In a week, Jean and Earl DeNeale will have been mar­ried for 73 years. She is 90. He is 95. On Aug. 5, 1944, they got mar­ried at Congress Heights Bap­tist Church, half a mile away from his ele­men­tary school at Congress Heights in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. He was 22, and she was 17.

On her wed­ding day, she wore a dove gray dress be­cause white fab­ric was scarce dur­ing World War II. He wore his Navy dress whites. They spent about $50 on their wed­ding.

“A room and a cou­ple of meals,” he said. That was it.

The cou­ple met in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal af­ter she moved to Wash­ing­ton from New Jer­sey

when her father came to work at the Navy Yard.

One day, she was on her way to a girl­friend’s home when he pulled his 1934 Ford coupe in front her and sug­gested to take her home.

She had seen him around a restau­rant where kids in the area used to hang out for ice cream and sand­wiches. She got in, sat in be­tween him and his friend, Monty Cos­man, in a car that had one pas­sen­ger seat. And that was the be­gin­ning of it all.

In the decades that fol­lowed, he worked as an air­craft en­gi­neer in the Air Force for about 47 years, re­tir­ing from An­drews Air Force Base in 1972. She was a home­maker and pro­vided day care ser­vices for a num­ber of years. They have three chil­dren, seven grand­chil­dren, three great-grand­chil­dren and two great-great-grand­chil­dren.

Earl grew up vis­it­ing his par­ents’ beach house in Hol­ly­wood on week­ends. The cou­ple moved to St. Mary’s in 1972 to take care of his mother and later left in 1990. The DeNeales moved back to St. Mary’s County in 2000 to be closer to their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. They have lived in the Cedar Lane Se­nior Liv­ing com­mu­nity since 2014.

About three years ago, their youngest daugh­ter, Donna DeNeale, a grad­u­ate of the St. Mary’s Acad­emy, found a box full of love let­ters when she was clean­ing her par­ents’ house.

Earl wrote Jean more than 100 let­ters af­ter she re­turned to her grand­par­ents’ home in New Jer­sey a year af­ter they met. Af­ter she left, he looked for her, went to her father, asked for her ad­dress and went to New Jer­sey to visit her on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

Dur­ing the long-dis­tance re­la­tion­ship, he wrote her let­ters from a he­li­copter hangar dur­ing his mid­night shifts. He de­stroyed the let­ters she wrote back, be­cause he didn’t want any­one else to see them.

In the let­ters, he called her “dear­est Jean” and “my fu­ture wife.”

On July 18, Donna read one of the let­ters for the first time. It was stamped Feb. 25, 1944. In the let­ter, he told her he was com­ing to visit her along with his friend, Monty.

“Un­load some of your boyfriends or there will be hell to pay,” he wrote. Donna laughed af­ter she read that part of the let­ter out loud, adding that the voice in the let­ter sounded very much like her father.

“My dad has mel­lowed out a lot” in re­cent years, but “he’s very strong-willed,” she said. “When he wants some­thing, he’s go­ing to go af­ter it and get it.”

Donna said her par­ents are “won­der­ful, model par­ents.” When she was a kid, her home was the house where all her friends and her sib­lings’ friends came to hang out.

Her par­ents had ar­gu­ments, she said. But they would tell her “we are not ar­gu­ing; we are dis­cussing.”

Mar­riage is about work­ing through the dis­agree­ments, the cou­ple said. Of­ten, com­pro­mises have to be made. “At times, you have to eval­u­ate a lot of things,” Earl said. “Some­times you got to give up some things. Maybe the next day, it will be the other way around.”

But through­out their mar­riage, they have de­vel­oped a shared love for hunt­ing, fish­ing and build­ing houses to­gether.

“My par­ents have done ev­ery­thing to­gether,” Donna said. “What­ever they do, they do it to­gether.”

If he was on the roof work­ing on things, she would be on the lad­der hand­ing him the tools, she said.

Be­fore Donna was get­ting ready to get mar­ried in 1980, her mother told her that “there’s go­ing to be lots of ups and downs,” and she and her fu­ture hus­band might dis­cover things they wouldn’t like about each other. But when Jean mar­ried Earl, she had made up her mind that di­vorce was not go­ing to be an op­tion, be­cause her own par­ents had di­vorced when she was about 3 years old.

In the 1930s, “no one was di­vorced,” Donna said. It was so shame­ful that her mother said she had to keep it a se­cret be­cause she wasn’t al­lowed to play with some of the other kids.

So when she got mar­ried, she knew di­vorce was never go­ing to be an op­tion, be­cause she wasn’t go­ing to put her chil­dren through what she had gone through, her daugh­ter said. Donna said she didn’t think her par­ents were ever close to get­ting sep­a­rated.

When they have dis­agree­ments now, he has the op­tion to pull out his hear­ing aids when he prefers not to lis­ten, his daugh­ter said with a laugh. But in his younger days, when his hear­ing was sound, they al­ways made up be­fore they went to bed, be­cause “they al­ways slept in the same bed,” she said.

Jean de­scribed her hus­band as a “lov­ing, car­ing” per­son who is the “ul­ti­mate helper.”

“With his cane, he’s car­ry­ing every­one’s lunch,” Donna said.

Re­cently, Cedar Lane changed its sched­ule and res­i­dents are asked to pick up their meal at 12:30 p.m., she said. Some res­i­dents would for­get that change and miss their meals. So her father would ei­ther get some of the res­i­dents to line up for the pickup or he would de­liver the meals to them. “That’s my dad,” she said. Earl de­scribed his wife as “good and thought­ful,” a per­son who cared for some of his rel­a­tives as they aged or be­came ill.

“We hunted to­gether; we fished to­gether; we boated to­gether,” Earl said. In sum­mary, they are “united to­gether.”


Jean and Earl DeNeale sit in their apart­ment at Cedar Lane Se­nior Liv­ing Com­mu­nity on July 18.


Donna DeNeale, the youngest daugh­ter of the DeNeales, reads one of the love let­ters her father wrote to her mother in the 1940s.

A love let­ter lays on top of the box that holds more than 100 let­ters Earl DeNeale wrote to his wife Jean DeNeale in the 1940s. At the time, a stamp costed three cents.

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