In 1937, John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” hit the bookshelves, Fred Astaire crooned “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” milk cost 14 cents a gallon, and 9 cents would buy a loaf of bread.
And on June 9, Emil and Mary Larsen wed. Seventy-five years later, Emil, 99, still smiles when he recalls the day he first saw Mary.
“She had long black hair down to her waist,” he said. “Her aunt owned a dance hall at Eloika Lake and got her milk, cream and vegetables from my father’s farm.”
On that afternoon Mary and her brother had been dispatched to the Larsen farm near Elk to fetch fresh milk. Emil happened to be home. “I’d just arrived from working in Oregon,” he said.
Emil and his father had worked at a sawmill in Edwall, but when the mill closed, they were forced to look for work outside the area. They found jobs in the Blue Mountains of Oregon. “My mother had to run the farm.”
While Emil was smitten with the 17-year-old dimpled beauty, Mary said, “I didn’t give him much thought.”
But when he asked her out, she agreed. That first date proved memorable. Emil took her to a movie in Hillyard and treated her to an ice cream sundae afterward. On the drive home they heard an ominous thunk. The car shuddered. Then Mary spotted something in the road ahead of them. “What on earth is that?” she asked.
It turns out it was a tire from Emil’s Model T. “It was rolling down the road,” she recalled, laughing. “We were so close, he walked me home, and my cousin helped him fix the car.”
Emil had had enough of the logging life and decided to go to Kinman Business College. “Mr. Kinman put me to work in the janitor squad to pay for my business school,” he said. The industrious young man worked two additional jobs, as well.
He still made time for Mary and she fell in love with her hardworking suitor.
“When he started school, he asked me to marry him,” said Mary. “He had to get my dad’s permission first. My dad said that’s fine, but ask your mother.” Mary laughed. “My mom said, ‘Oh, but you’re just a baby!’ ”
Mary, who’d just graduated from high school, replied, “I am not a baby!”
So, the couple wed in her parents’ home.
When Emil graduated from Kinman, he went to work for Union Carbide. He was an office manager there until he retired 43 years later. His job spared him from being drafted during World War II, because Union Carbide was considered vital to the war effort.
The Larsens found some property in Hillyard and built a home. “The whole house was built on credit,” Emil said. “I asked the lumberman for wood and he said ‘If you fall back, I’ll come get your car.’ ”
So, he didn’t miss a payment. “We dug the basement ourselves and went to Sears and Roebuck for plywood.”
Mary said, “I slept on 55 sheets of plywood! We built the house up around us.”
They welcomed daughter Arlene in 1939, and when son Darrell was born in 1943, they decided they’d outgrown their one-bedroom 18-by-22-foot home.
They moved to Orchard Avenue in Spokane Valley where they lived for 62 years. “We raised chickens and sold eggs,” Mary said. “That was the children’s chore – they had to gather eggs. We had regular customers.”
After dinner, Emil often played the accordion or piano for the family.
And their building days weren’t over. “We built another house at the end of the property for my dad,” Emil said.
While that house was under construction Emil’s father lived with the family. “He liked the fact that young people dropped in, so we ending up renting out the house we’d built for him,” said Emil.
The family enjoyed camping and fishing together. Emil smiled at Mary. “I taught her how to fish.”
They’d take the kids out in a flat-bottom boat and each kid got a comic book to keep them quiet while they waited for the fish to bite.
When their children were grown, Mary went to work for Maier Radio and TV. She stayed there for 20 years before retiring.
The couple became world-travelers upon retirement. Their daughter was a teacher for the Department of Defense. They visited her in Germany and England, and took a memorable tour of the continent. Emil was even able to take his father to his native Denmark.
They stayed busy locally, too. Both had leadership roles in the Danish Brotherhood and Sisterhood International and were active in the Orchard Avenue Community Center, as well as serving as Scout leaders.
Mary, now 95, offered these words of advice to couples: “You give a little and take a little. Be understanding of the other party. You can’t always have your way.”
Much has changed in the past 75 years, but one thing has not – the deep and abiding love of Emil and Mary Larsen. He said, “She’s always been my ideal. I couldn’t have found anyone better.”
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