When Chuck and Dorothy Lishman first met in 1935, they never imagined celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary amidst their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren on a warm day in their now hometown of Coarsegold. Eighty-one years ago, they were just two teenagers in Long Beach that met at school and went to the same church.
Chuck was 15, Dorothy 13, when they went on their first date after attending their church group. They caught the 7th Street streetcar for a nickel and went down to the Pike where there were dance halls, swimming pools, and rollercoasters. After one too many rollercoaster rides, Dorothy was weak in the knees and they headed back home. It was dark by then and Dorothy recalls running all the way home because she was so scared of the dark.
The two dated off and on through their teens, but whenever Chuck dated someone else Dorothy found herself “insanely jealous” and soon the two were back together.
At 17 years old, Chuck joined the Naval Reserve and began spending his weekends at the Long Beach Airport and two weeks training during the summer. Two years later, while sitting at the bus stop, Dorothy says Chuck “romantically” proposed to her while waiting for the bus. He didn’t get down on one knee, he just handed her the ring and the decision was made - they would marry in two years when Chuck turned 21.
Change of Plans
However, a few months before they planned to marry, Chuck was called into active duty for the “duration of the emergency” or until the end of his naval enlistment which was Dec. 3, 1941. He was stationed in San Diego and was assigned to the USS Perry, a WWI destroyer that had been converted to a minesweeper.
Chuck received new orders and learned his home base would now be Pearl Harbor. He didn’t want to leave, though, without marrying the love of his life. He went to his captain and asked permission to leave so he could marry his sweetheart, and surprisingly his captain said yes.
Chuck was only given a three-day leave, though, which was not enough time to get the license and do all the bloodwork that was required to marry. However, nothing was going to stop these two from getting married, so they borrowed a friend’s car and headed off to Vegas. By the time they arrived, it was midnight and their first day was already gone.
“Chuck stopped at a gas station and asked the attendant how and where we could get a marriage license,” Dorothy said. “The attendant was helpful and offered to call the county clerk.”
So the two headed off to the courthouse and waited for the clerk.
“It was strange, following her as she unlocked doors and switched on light as we went up the marble stairs to the second floor,” Dorothy said. “After filling out the papers and getting our license, she asked if we had a preference - to be married by a Justice of the Peace or a minister. We said we would like a minister, and she said, ‘Rev. Melton is always pleasant about being called at night.’”
The clerk called the minister, and gave Chuck and Dorothy directions to his house, and off they headed into the night. They had forgotten about one thing, though - witnesses. So the minister managed to rouse his wife and told Chuck and Dorothy that “the woman next door is always willing to get up for a couple of bucks.”
“Both of our witnesses wore robes, and the pastor’s wife had a cold, so she stood behind Chuck and sniffled until I thought how unreal the whole thing was and started giggling,” Dorothy said. “Years later, we felt we should have let Rev. Melton know that our marriage was a real one, and it did last.”
They finally became husband and wife on June 28, 1941 and drove off into the night, determined to have a honeymoon. They drove through Death Valley, over Tioga and into Yosemite where they spent their honeymoon night in a tent cabin.
Although the two were finally married, it seemed the obstacles were just beginning. They ended up with a flat tire, forcing them to buy one off the “black market,” and then the car’s radiator kept overheating. By the time they finally made it to Long Beach, Chuck literally dumped Dorothy off in her mother’s backyard. She was left standing there with her suitcase as her new husband rushed back to base, racing against time before he was deemed AWOL. By the time he made it to shore, he had to beg for a ride from a couple of guys with a shore boat to take him to the USS Perry, but he made it just in time much to the surprise of his captain.
A few months later, on the morning of Dec. 7, Chuck was on his way to see a friend on the USS Oklahoma and pick up Dorothy’s Christmas presents. He was scheduled to ship back to the states the following day, but the events that unfolded that day would forever change the course of history and extend Chuck’s time in the military. He still remembers hearing “Elmer’s Tune” playing over the loudspeaker when he first saw Japanese airplanes flying into Pearl Harbor and saw the explosions on Ford Island.
For the first four-and-a-half years of their marriage, Chuck and Dorothy only saw each other four times. Now, 75 years after eloping to Vegas, it’s apparent these two were meant for each other. They still make each other laugh and tease each other like teenagers.
Never give up
Chuck and Dorothy, now 95 and 94 years old, have a few pieces of marriage advice to share with others.
“Stick with it, work on it, don’t be a quitter,” Dorothy said.
“Suck it up and be nice … and do what she says,” said Chuck, always the jokester.
But on a serious note, he added that he has always loved Dorothy from before they were married and has never stopped.
“The older I get the more I realize what a gift she is and how blessed we are,” he said.
But they both say, “A perfect marriage is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other.”