A young Marine sent life-changing flowers 64 years ago
Back home in Detroit, Lois Blair wondered: How could she let him know she still cared? And did he care, too?
They were engaged, but that had been rushed — a few words on a quick visit before he shipped out. Was it real?
In frigid Korea, Ted Hitchcock wondered, too: How could he let her know how much she meant?
She said it with letters, a new one almost every day.
He said it with roses and orchids — which, from a battlefield half a world away, was not as easy as it sounds.
A bouquet and a corsage showed up on Valentine's Day, 1951. Ted and Lois married the next year.
On July 26, they'll celebrate their 63rd anniversary, and Ted will tell you the key to everything was the flowers, a $10 extravagance on a Marine private's pay of $21 a month.
"I've always been a big spender," he says, and in the living room of the house on a leafy Southfield lot they've shared for 40 years, Lois rolls her eyes.
A few weeks ago, Ted tried to pay an old blessing forward, offering to buy a bouquet for the wife of a service member in a war zone. Wesley Berry of Wesley Berry Flowers sent back his $50 check and turned Ted's idea into a thoughtful thank-you for military newlyweds.
With help from officials at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Berry found some local spouses waiting out an overseas deployment. He sent them flowers and invited them to a luncheon today at the base, and he says he'll do it again every Memorial Day.
Ted, 86, is moving a little slowly these days. A broken hip and a second go-round with cancer have him in a wheelchair, wheezing when he laughs. But he and Lois say they'll be there.
Ted was at Northwestern High School and Lois was at Southeastern, and the twain rarely met in those days.
Even if they did, the distance between the west and east sides in 1947 was far greater than it looked on a map. But they started talking at a New Year's Eve party at her friend's house, they went for a stroll in the snow, and then darned if he didn't call the next day.
He took a bus and a streetcar to her house for their first date. They walked two blocks to the Uptown Theater, and Lois, 84, says she can't remember which movie they saw. Ted, ever smooth, asks, "What movie?"
She worked at the Kresge department store downtown, selling ribbon. He stocked shelves at an A&P grocery with his best friend, John Tawber, and Tawber's brother-in-law.
Too young for World War II, they all joined the Marine Reserves "to prove we were real men." It seemed harmless enough until June 25, 1950, when North Korean troops swept across the 38th Parallel.
Their unit was activated in August. Three months later, they were in Korea.
A week after that, Tawber was dead. There are no guarantees, Ted thought, but there is Lois, and he sent a $10 postal money order to the Detroit Free Press with a note: please buy Valentine flowers for my fiancee.
By then, she was a secretary at what's now Wayne State University. She wound up in the Feb. 15, 1951, issue with a photo of a professor pinning a three-orchid white corsage to her dress.
"Cupid," the story said, "shot a guided missile."
Tradition doesn't wilt
Ted went to Wayne on the G.I. Bill and wound up retiring as director of finance for SEMCOG.
Lois taught piano, which helps explain why there's a well-loved Cable-Nelson grand and a cache of CDs in their living room, but no television.
They raised four kids — girl, boy, girl, boy — traveled to every continent except Africa, and swam in every ocean but the Indian. They ate Mexican food in Point Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost spot in the United States, and were chased out of a hot spring in Antarctica by sea lions.
Lois turned 70 on a trip to New Zealand, and Ted arranged for more than six dozen friends to send birthday cards that were waiting at their hotel.
"It worries me so when you hear that people don't get along," she says. She believes in compromise, in considering someone else's position and "seeing some of the positivity in it."
He believes in flowers.
For their 62nd anniversary last year, he gave her 62 red roses. He says Kroger had them on sale, and it wasn't any big thing.
Lois smiles anyway. She knows exactly what it was.