When you hear about a boy from the Colville Indian Reservation who meets a girl from Kansas City, in Japan of all places, you know you’re in for an interesting story. And for Sol and Darlene Ferguson it’s a tale with a happy ending.
Sol’s father had been drafted in 1944, and when the Ferguson family left for Japan in 1947, they made the news. “I went over with eight siblings and came home with 11,” Sol said. “We were the largest family to be deployed at that time.”
Darlene came from an Army family as well. She arrived in Japan in 1949 and quickly spotted Sol playing pool with his brothers at the NCO Club. She asked her mom, “Do you think they’d let me play pool with them?” Her mom replied, “Go ask!”
So she did.
Sol shook his head, “My sneaky brother invited her to play pool with us. I didn’t want anything to do with her. I was a farm boy and scared of women!”
He quickly got over his fear. Despite their differing backgrounds he and Darlene got along well. “We even wore the same size jeans!” Sol said.
Darlene laughed. “Size 28 Levis. Can you believe it?”
The two spent a lot of time in each other’s homes, but Sol had yet to make a move. Darlene finally took matters into her own hands – or lips. “I finally kissed him one time, and look! I never got rid of him!”
That fateful smooch took place when she was 15 and he 17, but it was enough to seal the deal for Sol.
“He was so young and dumb,” Darlene said.
But he was smart enough to know what he wanted. When Darlene’s dad was injured during the Korean War, they went to see him in the hospital in Tokyo. “That’s when he put the question to me,” Sol recalled. “He asked, ‘What are your intentions toward my daughter?’ I told him, ‘I’m going marry her.’ ”
However, they faced a separation. Darlene’s family had received orders to return stateside. When Sol recalls that time he still chokes up, though it occurred 62 years ago.
“Our parting was tough,” he said. “It was so hard on me my mom stopped and bought me a beer on the way home from the airport. I was 18 at the time.”
The couple wrote letters to each other every day and as soon as Sol graduated in 1951, he returned to the United States, ahead of his family. With marriage on his mind, he took a logging job in Oregon.
When Darlene’s family returned to Kansas City, he met her there and they married July 10, 1951. “Kansas City was magic to me because that’s where Darlene was,” said Sol.
They returned to Oregon where 16-year-old Darlene relished the logging life. She said, “We lived in a tent in the woods. We bathed in a creek. It was an adventure!”
Sol had received a football scholarship to the University of Puget Sound, but injured his ankle on the first day of practice. Unable to attend college without a scholarship and with no job in sight, he enlisted in the Air Force.
When he left for basic training, Darlene returned to Kansas City. “I was expecting our first baby.”
Their son, Jerry, arrived May 13, 1952, after a very difficult four-day labor and subsequent cesarean section. “I almost died,” Darlene said. The Red Cross sent for Sol and he made it to the hospital in time for the birth.
Military life meant more time apart for the young couple. As a B-26 gunner, Sol served 10 months in Korea during the war.
A second son, Gene, arrived in 1954 and Darlene had her hands full. When Sol’s enlistment was up in 1956, he decided to leave the service, and the family returned to Kansas City. But after a month of investigating the bleak job market, the couple agreed that Sol should re-enlist.
In 1958, he was sent to England and Darlene and the boys joined him. “We stayed there three years,” she said. “It was the longest we’d been in one place!”
While in England, a daughter, Sherrie, completed the family.
Darlene loved the adventure of military life. “When he’d get orders I’d say, ‘Yay! Where are we going?’ ”
Her favorite posting was Puerto Rico. “We had a cabin on the beach,” she recalled. “The kids surfed and snorkeled. When they closed the base, I cried all the way home.”
By then, Sol was trained as a B-52 gunner. He flew more than 100 missions over Vietnam. That was too many for Darlene. “The last time he flew out, I was beside myself. I just went to bed for a while.”
After serving 23 years, four months and 26 days with the Air Force, Sol retired in 1975. Despite the frequent separations, Darlene loved the adventure. “I don’t think she’s ever forgiven me for retiring,” said Sol.
They settled in north Spokane in 1976. Sol found work at the Sherwood Uranium Mine near Wellpinit, Wash., and later took a job with the Civil Service as an operating engineer. He retired after 24 years.
The Fergusons have never had an empty nest. After raising three children, they ended up raising three of their grandchildren, one of whom still lives with them. In addition, Darlene’s mother lived with them until her death four years ago.
Darlene welcomed her help when their daughter, Sherrie, was severely injured in a work accident. “She became a paraplegic at 24,” said Darlene. “I was her caregiver for 17 years. She lived until she was 41.”
As they reflected on their daughter’s death, the room grew silent. Finally, Sol said, “You don’t want to lose a child. You don’t want to go through that. It was horrible.”
But they turned to each other in their grief; their solid relationship has been a constant throughout the changes in their lives.
When asked the secret to their 61-year union, Sol grinned. “Many years ago when we had a disagreement she told me, ‘You have to go to sleep sometime!’ ” His shoulders shook with laughter as he said the fear of what might happen while he slept kept him in line.
Then he grew serious. “We started out as friends, and fell in love, and just stayed that way.” Glancing at Darlene, he added, “There’s never been a doubt in my mind of where she was in my life – always most important.”