Love can make a person do unexpected things. For Rusty Clemons, it motivated him to wash dishes at his brother’s Colville restaurant.
A pretty waitress named Marie had caught his eye. One night when the dishwasher didn’t show up, Marie offered to pitch in, and Rusty quickly volunteered to help her.
“I went over to Colville a lot to just hang around,” Rusty recalled. “I was footloose, you know.”
It had been awhile since the 25-year-old young man felt footloose. He’d grown up in tiny Rice, Wash., and times were tough. “I quit high school in my junior year,” Rusty said.
He joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1940. “I fought fires and dug ditches for $30 a month, and 25 of that went home to the folks.”
By August of 1942, Rusty had a new boss. “I got drafted into the Army,” he said. “A busload of us went from Colville to Spokane to catch the train.”
Assigned to the 551st Signal Battalion, he shipped out to the Pacific after training. “I was gone from home 42 months.”
Fifteen of those months were spent on Bougainville Island. The Japanese-occupied area became a focal point for Allied forces. “We set up radar to keep an eye on enemy planes and to help our own planes go on their missions,” Rusty recalled. “Our radar was going 24/7.”
Consequently, he didn’t get time off for extended rest and recreation. However, he did enjoy USO shows with Bob Hope and Jack Benny. Rusty said, “It was a nice break.”
From Bougainville, his unit went to the Philippines. Finally, in December 1945, Rusty had earned enough points to go home.
Though none of his family knew when he’d return, the first person he saw when he got off the bus in Colville was his brother, Clem. “I couldn’t believe it!” Rusty said. Clem showed Rusty the restaurant he’d purchased, and that’s where Marie caught his eye.
“I was in high school and waited on tables in the evening,” Marie said. She liked Rusty’s friendly manner, but his wavy blond hair really attracted her. “Boy, I wanted to run my fingers through it!” she said.
The night her suitor offered to help wash dishes proved pivotal. “We got to holding hands,” Rusty said. “I don’t know whether it was during the wash or rinse cycle.”
With the dishes finished, he offered to walk Marie home. “I fell pretty hard for her,” he said, and he’s not kidding. It was a freezing January evening. “I went to kiss her good night and we both slipped on the ice and fell down.”
Seeing Marie home became a regular part of Rusty’s routine. The night policeman took a liking to the couple and often gave them a ride. Marie worried her parents wouldn’t like Rusty because of their seven-year age difference, but her parents quickly accepted him.
“I thought she was a cute little trick,” Rusty said. “But I really didn’t have marriage in mind when I met her.”
He’s still not quite sure what happened – but on July 20, 1946, he married that cute waitress, having sold his prized 1939 Dodge to afford a wife.
Finding steady employment proved difficult. Rusty worked at a service station and drove truck for the Stevens County Road Department and later for a local mining company.
In May 1947, Marie gave birth to their first child, Jim. “I was too young to have kids,” Marie said, shaking her head. “What was I thinking?”
From their Spokane Valley home, the couple laughed as they recalled their adjustment to parenthood. One night the baby woke and Marie asked Rusty to warm a bottle for him. “While the bottle was warming, I fell asleep on the couch,” he said.
The bottle warmer boiled dry, the bottle shattered, and the baby was screaming when Marie got up to investigate.
“There was some debate as to whether I could stay around or not,” said Rusty, shooting his wife a quick grin. “It took me awhile to get back in her good graces.”
Marie shook her head. “I could have killed him!”
Their family grew with the birth of Janet in 1948 and Jerry in 1951. “My folks helped out with the babies,” Marie said. “Thank goodness!”
They moved to Spokane Valley in 1958, after Rusty took a job driving truck for the Nehi Beverage Co. Rusty said, “I met a fellow who lived in Spokane Valley and who had to move to Colville, so we traded houses.”
The couple still lives in that house. Unfortunately, Nehi soon canceled the route and Rusty was out of a job. “I took what work I could get,” he said. “I dug ditches, delivered packages …”
Finally, Rusty got a job at the Ridpath Hotel in the maintenance department, where he worked for 16 years before moving on to a position at the Spokane County Courthouse.
As for Marie, she likes to say she went back to school: She became a cook for the Central Valley School District in 1960. She enjoyed her work, but after 18 years on the job, she found the kitchen innovations unpalatable. “When I started, we peeled our own potatoes and cleaned our own birds,” she said. “Things changed so much. It was all prepackaged mixes and – I couldn’t stand it.”
Upon retirement the couple indulged in their favorite pastime. “We loved to camp,” Marie said. “When we first started camping it meant taking the bedding off the beds and the pans out of the cupboard. We eventually bought a motorhome to go visit the kids.”
They say their 65 years of marriage has gone by in a blur. Rusty still shakes his head when he recalls the night they washed dishes together in his brother’s restaurant. “I don’t have a clue why I did that! I never did like to wash dishes.”
Marie smiled at him from across their table. “I couldn’t have a better husband,” she said. “Every day, even now, is precious.”
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