It’s not always the first person who catches your eye that matters. Take Melvin Hayes, for example. More than 70 years ago, he spotted his future wife Dorothy at a sledding party in Garden Springs. “Somebody else caught my eye first,” Melvin recalled. He grinned at his wife. “But then I saw her.”
A group of young people had built a big bonfire and spent the day sledding, and after Melvin saw Dorothy, no one else could hold his attention.
The details of their courtship have grown murky over time. “We didn’t ‘date,’ ” said Melvin. “We just saw each other. It was the Depression – we didn’t have any money for dating.”
In fact, Melvin felt grateful to be employed at a downtown motor supply company. It wasn’t easy to get the job. “I showed up at 8 in the morning and stood there until 5 in the evening, waiting to see the boss,” he said. “Jobs were hard to come by.” Neither of them recalls the specifics of his proposal, either. “We just went together a long time,” Melvin said and shrugged. “There wasn’t a formal engagement.”
However, they needed a little help to make it to the altar. Dorothy said, “Our mothers had to go with us to get our marriage license.” Melvin was 20 and Dorothy 17 – both too young to marry without parental consent.
On June 18, 1938, the couple married at Dorothy’s parents’ home. A simple, family ceremony suited them both. Melvin grinned. “I wouldn’t have stood for a flashy wedding!”
They settled into a small home in Spokane Valley. Really small. “Tall people couldn’t even get in the house without ducking,” said Melvin.
He earned $20 a week at the motor supply store. “I got a little raise when we got married,” he said. A year later, when their daughter Marilyn arrived, he got another small raise.
In 1942, a son, Melvin (Butch), joined the family and Melvin Sr. took a job at Hanford. Dorothy and the children moved to Yakima to join him.
A draft notice arrived in 1944, so he traveled to Spokane and took the Army physical. In February 1945, a month after his job at Hanford concluded, Melvin became a soldier. “I was 27 years old,” he said. “It was fun.” Then he shook his head and laughed. “Not really! The military was the least of my ambition.”
From her seat next to him in their Spokane Valley living room, Dorothy grinned and poked his shoulder. “I didn’t know you had ANY ambition!”
She and the kids followed him to Fort Lewis. Melvin said, “We were in Tacoma when the war with Japan ended and I thought they’d muster me out.” Instead, in November 1945 they shipped him out. “They issued me a down sleeping blanket and a heavy coat,” he recalled. “Then they sent me to Honolulu.”
Dorothy returned to Spokane, where she and the children moved in with her parents. Soon, she joined the ranks of working women at the telephone company. “I worked the switchboard from four until midnight. I took the bus to work and they sent me home in a taxi.”
Because they had two small children, Dorothy petitioned the Red Cross and obtained a hardship discharge for Melvin. “I was home by the first of April,” he said.
He worked briefly for the railroad and then as an electrician before returning to his former job at the motor supply store. Two more children joined the family, Shellie in 1950 and Melinda in 1953.
In 1956, he and a partner opened their own auto parts business in Colville. “We bought a house on a hill that looked over the town,” Dorothy said. “The people there were really nice.”
But by 1964 they were ready to come home. “We didn’t like living away from our folks,” Melvin explained.
While her husband worked, Dorothy found and purchased a home in Spokane Valley – the home they still live in. Melvin took a job with Lawton Printing and enjoyed his work. In fact, he didn’t retire until he turned 90. His last pay stub is dated Oct. 20, 2008. “I might still be there if the boss hadn’t died on me,” he said.
Once the kids were grown and gone, the couple made time for travel, despite Melvin’s long hours at work. Melvin has been an El Katif Shriner since 1959, and he and Dorothy took many trips with fellow Shriners. In fact, he hasn’t had much luck retiring from that organization either. “I’ve been the treasurer since 1980,” he said. Evidently, replacing Melvin is hard to do.
And after 72 years of marriage, Dorothy is in no hurry to replace him. “We get along pretty good,” she said. She willingly confided the secret to their lasting union. “He does what I tell him to,” she said.
Five years ago, the death of their eldest daughter brought a stark reminder of how precious time with loved ones can be. Since then, each spring the couple and their three remaining children take a trip together – just the five of them. They’ve traveled to Yellowstone and Glacier national parks and are looking forward to visiting Canada in a few months.
Melvin has long forgotten the name of the girl who first caught his eye at that sledding party so many years ago. He looked at Dorothy. “Once I saw her, I loved her. She was the one.” He cleared his throat. “I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
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