By Kyle Lovern
WILLIAMSON - When Mary V. Harris, of Thacker, W.Va., prepared to step up on the bus after attending a Sunday afternoon matinee, little did she know she was about to meet her future husband.
It was August of 1942, and John Jude, a handsome, strapping young man, was just exiting that same bus in downtown Matewan, W.Va. to go to the same theater. Sixteen-year-old Mary had already seen the Betty Davis movie and was headed home.
“He asked me to go to the movie with him,” Mary said with a smile. “I told him I had already seen the movie, and my mother would be upset if I didn’t get home soon.”
Jude wouldn’t take no for an answer and immediately went to purchase two tickets. The rest, as they say, is history.
Less than two years later, March 14, 1944, while home on furlough from the U.S. Army in World War II, Jude married Harris. Their nearly 70 year love story continues to this day and is still clearly evident as the couple sat in their Valley View, W.Va. living room and reminisced about their past.
After his stint as a Combat Engineer in the Army during the European Campaign of WWII, Jude returned to Mingo County and his war bride.
“I tried loading coal by shovel, but I didn’t care much for that,” Jude recalled of his first job back home. “Then I went to Detroit for six months to work for Hudson Motor Company, but got laid off and came back home.”
There was an opening at the Thacker Post Office and Jude was fortunate enough to get the job. He stayed there 32 years until he retired in 1984. The couple raised four children, all Matewan High School graduates. Mary also worked 8 ½ years at the Head Start in Thacker.
After John’s retirement, they decided to travel the country. Starting out with just a pup tent and a few camping supplies, the Jude’s headed west. The next year they moved up to a pop-up camper (which they still own) and continued traveling the continental United States.
From 1984 to 1986, the happy couple camped in all 48 states on the mainland. They also visited Mexico and Canada.
Their eyes beamed with pride and satisfaction as we looked through their scrapbook of photos of all the places they had visited like the Grand Canyon, Mt. Rushmore, Mount St. Helens, the Four Corners and so many more.
“We loved going west, we preferred it much more than the big cities like New York,” Mary said as she spoke of some of their favorite places. She recalled throwing snowballs in the middle of June in Oregon and the beautiful, expansive countryside they enjoyed while motoring the highways and byways of the wild, Wild West.
John reminisced about eating his first “buffalo burger” near Yellowstone Park, and the time they were “rear ended” after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The couple made two separate trips out west, one covering the southern section, and the second taking a northerly route.
Due to health problems over the last few years, they don’t travel as often as before. Mary now has another hobby, making Appalachian quilts. She has made one for each of her three sons and one daughter, all of her 13 grandchildren, as well as her great-grandchildren.
John watches a lot of television, and like most males, likes to have control over the remote. The lifelong Democrat also pays close attention to political issues. “I’ve been a Democrat all of my life,” Jude stated proudly. “I remember my daddy bouncing me on his knee when I was just five years old and he told me ‘you’re a Democrat and a Baptist.’”
The two both grew up during the depression in the Tug Valley area, and then saw the prosperity of the FDR era. In fact, Jude was a member of the now famous 3-C’s (Civilian Conservation Camp) that helped a lot of young people across America find work after the depression.
Jude also traveled extensively during his Army duty, including Fort Campbell, Ky., Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, CA, England, France and Belgium. He was also at the Battle of the Bulge.
Like many local residents, the Jude’s were flooded by the devastating waters of the Tug Fork in 1977. As part of the flood relocation program, they moved to the new Valley View subdivision just outside of Williamson in 1990, where they have lived ever since.
Though this endearing couple has traveled many miles together and visited many special places, their love has remained constant. That little bus stop in Thacker, W.Va. may have just been the most special place of all.
(Kyle Lovern is the Sports Editor for the Williamson Daily News. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 304-235-4242, ext. 33 or on Twitter @KyleLovern.)