February 21, 2013 in Washington Voices

Love Story: Sharpshooting city girl right at home on farm

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Ralph and Geraldine Reifenberger live near Fairfield on farmland that has a 97-year-old barn on the property. They have been married for 63 years.
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For more than 60 years, Ralph and Geraldine “Gerry” Reifenberger have made their home in Fairfield amid the rolling hills of the Palouse.

“I married a city girl and transplanted a rose,” said Ralph, a third generation farmer.

They met on a double date arranged by mutual friends in 1948. Ralph’s friend was paired with Gerry. They all had a good time and agreed to go out again. This time Gerry ended up with Ralph.

“She kinda liked the looks of me better,” Ralph confided.

Pickings were slim in tiny Fairfield, so Ralph was delighted when he and Gerry hit it off.

“When the girls graduated from high school, they scattered like a covey of quail,” he said.

She lived in south Spokane when they met and later moved to Spokane Valley, so it was quite a trek for Ralph to see her.

In addition, his shyness hampered their early courtship. Gerry cited an example of Ralph’s reticence.

“I was sitting in the living room and saw his car go by, but he didn’t stop. He drove by again and didn’t stop. I started to feel bad. He drove by again and finally called me.”

He’d gone in search of a phone to make sure of his welcome before he stopped. Gerry said, “I thought Ralph was pretty nice.”

They found creative ways to continue their courtship. Ralph was a pilot. “We used to do these breakfast hops and fly to Sullivan Lake,” he said. Then he grinned. “She was a nice passenger – at first.”

It seems Gerry reveled in a bit of excitement. “He was a real neat pilot,” she explained. “He flew straight and smooth.” She mimicked the flat path of the plane with her hand. “I thought it would be nice to take a few dips.”

So Ralph gave her a few flying instructions and let her have the controls. “She’d rock the wings and wiggle it around,” he said, shaking his head.

Winter made dating more difficult. “I’d get snowed in at the farm.”

But when Gerry could make it to Fairfield, Ralph would don a pair of skis and make his way to town to see her. “I felt so bad when he had to ski home at night with a flashlight in one hand!”

Ralph recalled what Gerry’s father said when he asked permission to marry his daughter. “He said, ‘She’s a nice girl, but she’s a little bit stubborn.’ ” Ralph grinned. “I told him I thought I could put up with that.”

His father proved to be a bit skeptical about whether the city girl was cut out to be a farmer’s wife. Ralph said, “My dad asked Geraldine if she wanted to go out and shoot some squirrels.”

She agreed. Her future father-in-law shot a few squirrels and when he missed, he handed the gun to Gerry.

“He didn’t know she was Annie Oakley in an apron!” Ralph said.

In fact, he was so impressed by her marksmanship he went out and bought her a brand new rifle saying, “Anybody who can shoot like that deserves a rifle of her own.”

When asked if she had any qualms about trading city life for small town/farming life Gerry shook her head and looked at Ralph. “No, I kind of liked him.”

They married in Spokane on May 14, 1949. “It was after spring work but before we started haying,” Ralph said.

A highlight of their three-week honeymoon was dancing to Les Brown and His Band of Renown at the Hollywood Palladium.

However, when the couple first met Ralph didn’t dance at all. When he found out Gerry loved dancing he decided he’d better learn. “Unbeknownst to her, I went to the Arthur Murray School of Dance and took lessons,” he said.

Then he invited Gerry to a dance. “I said, ‘Well, you can’t dance,’ ” she recalled. “He said, ‘We can go listen to the music.’ ”

So off they went and Ralph surprised her by asking her to dance. “The only problem was Arthur Murray danced differently than Geraldine,” Ralph said. “She said, ‘We don’t dance like that!’ and I said, ‘Well, Arthur Murray does!’ ”

When they returned from their honeymoon they settled in town as there weren’t any farmhouses available. Daughter Joan arrived in 1955, followed by Lois in 1956.

They eventually moved to a farmhouse built in the 1910s and Gerry relished the role of farmer’s wife, cooking for harvesting crews and engaging in target practice with the guys when they took their supper break.

They raised their girls on the farm and in turn their daughters raised chickens, rabbits and bottle-fed lambs.

Twenty years ago when Ralph retired from farming he found plenty of things to keep him busy. First and foremost, he was instrumental in establishing the Fairfield Library.

“The Ladies Improvement Club had a little house with a few donated books they’d check out,” Ralph said.

A local carpenter drew up plans for a library and told Ralph he could build it for $16,000. So Ralph launched a fundraising campaign and soon Fairfield had its own library filled with books and shelving provided by Spokane County Library District.

Ralph shrugged. “A lot of people like to read and it was a chance to improve the town by adding a library.”

The couple also helped establish the local historical society (or as Ralph calls it the hysterical society) and are active in the food bank and the annual Flag Day celebration.

And they still have a trace of wanderlust. Every now and then, they get into their car and drive to the end of their driveway. “We flip a coin,” said Ralph. “Heads we go north, tails we go south.” They make up their itinerary as they travel.

He offers this piece of marital advice, “Treat the other person as you’d like to be treated.”

Gerry shook her head. “I’m not quite as good as you are,” she said. “But I’m blessed to marry who I married.”

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