PORT PERRY, Ont. – If love means never having to say you’re sorry, then most couples probably won’t last as long as Jessie and Vital Emard. They’ve been married for 80 years.
The couple – possibly with the longest marriage in Canada – always talk about their day before going to sleep and both vow never to go to bed angry.
“Every single night they did that,” says the elderly couple’s daughter, Valerie Menzies, 63.
It is a very Canadian marriage. Vital is of French-Canadian background and Jessie was also born in Canada. They met during a hockey game in the winter of 1930. Vital played on a Timmins junior hockey team, and when he spotted Jessie Perry in the stands with her vibrant red hair, he skated over to her.
“I thought she was beautiful,” Vital, now 102, says.
They wed on May 2, 1930, after only a few months of dating. The groom was 21 and bride was 16. There were four guests at the wedding.
“My mother actually went to the skating rink with my father’s brother and when she was standing around in the arena with some of the girls, my dad came in and my mom thought he was going to ask her out. He skated right up to my mom and asked her to skate and she went home with him and she never went out with his brother again,” Menzies says.
Jessie, 97, blushes when asked about what she thought when she first saw Vital.
“He’s a hockey player and you know how girls go for hockey player,” she said. “It was more or less of a bet. Two other girls said he’s coming to skate with them and I said, ‘No, he’s coming to skate with me.’” Eight decades later, they have four children, eight grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren.
“She’s always worked hard at her marriage and my father still loves her after all these years,” Menzies says. “He’ll just sit and look at her. He won’t go to dinner unless my mom is there.” Though, on that particular day, he left his wife at the dinner table with another man because he was in desperate need of a nap. People often say that those in love have to spend every waking moment with each other – but Vital and Jessie exude their affection towards each other without that.
Jessie is looking for her own private room because she needs a break from her husband’s snoring. “You give a little and take a lot,” she jokes. “I don’t know if I can take another 80 years. … Honesty and trust are important in a relationship, too.”
The longest marriage in the world still belongs to Herbert and Zelmyra Fisher in New Bern, N.C. They’ve been married over 86 years since May 13, 1924. He just turned 105 on June 10 and she’s 102.
For Jessie and Vital, it’s something to aspire to. And when Vital speaks about his loving wife, he always smiles. “She doesn’t look 97,” he says. He points up to the ceiling when asked what his secret to a successful marriage is.
“God,” says Ron Emard, 77, the couple’s second-oldest son. “He thanks God.
He’s very religious.”
In fact, religion caused a rift between their families, but their love has marched on.
“He was Catholic and she was protestant and the priest said, ‘Why don’t you find yourself a nice French girl?’” says Emards wife Leona. “He didn’t want to marry one, so he got married by the minister. He was an altar boy at one point, but he gave it up for her.”
Vital was recruited as a soldier in the Second World War, but was sent home from Scotland after he injured his knee and ended up working at the Hollinger Mine in Timmins, Ont.
In 1965, the couple moved to Oshawa, Ont., where he became the head custodian at Courtice Secondary School where he retired 37 years ago.
They have been living at the Port Perry Community Nursing Home since last winter.
“The most romantic thing I remember my father doing was only a few years ago. He used to love going to the dollar store and he came out with teddy bear holding a heart that said, ‘I love you’ on it and gave it to my mom,”
Menzies says. “I thought it was so cute because he had to be in his 90s then.”
Emard adds that he was always told by his father not to go to bed mad after a fight with his wife. “That’s his philosophy – he told me that many times.
And if you have an argument, you make up before you go to bed. And you don’t worry. That’s another thing. Everyone knows stress is the worst thing in your life,” he says.
Leona, 75, says it’s wonderful that Jessie and Vital could very well be the longest married couple in Canada.
“They’re both beautiful people and have been the best in-laws anyone could have,” she says. “We have a long way to go because we’re only married 54 years, but it’s good to aim for that.”
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