Cherished love letters set path for 73 years

As boyfriend and girlfriend in the 1930s, Atlee and Virginia Compher wrote to each other every week.

Waiting for the postman to arrive with her letter from Atlee was the high point of her week, Virginia said.

The couple, who were born and raised in Frederick County, plan to celebrate 73 years of marriage on Feb. 25.

At 95, Atlee is battling dementia but Virginia, at 92, rattles off dates and events as if they happened yesterday — and she has a keen sense of humor to boot.

“I love to write letters,” Virginia said. “Every week we wrote each other until we got married.”

Atlee was 20 and Virginia was 17 when they met.

“I saw him on the Square Corner and picked him out of a crowd of about 15 guys,” Virginia said. A few weeks later, they met at Braddock Heights roller-skating rink.

After almost two years, they were engaged Jan. 25, 1939, and married a month later.

“I don’t believe in long engagements,” Virginia said.

Virginia kept the letters — two batches of 88 letters. “I didn’t throw them out. They’re too precious,” she said. “Nobody writes to each other anymore. It’s a lost art.”

Virginia’s handwriting was legible.”My father was like that. He had a beautiful handwriting,” she said.

Years ago, someone suggested the couple should renew their vows.

“I told them we don’t need it. We still love each other. He’s my sweetheart, and he tells me he loves me all the time. We’re lovebirds, and he’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

The couple had been going together for three or four months before Atlee kissed her on the forehead for baking him an angel food cake for his birthday, Virginia said.

“They do everything on the first date these days,” she said. “I was afraid of men, and he was afraid of women.”

The secret to a long marriage is give and take, and relationships have their ups and downs, Virginia said.

“We’ve had our spats. We fell out every day but made up at night,” Virginia said. “He calls me Gin-Bug.”

Virginia worried about living with her in-laws and not having a home of their own.

“But I said, ‘Where would I go?’ I sure as hell wasn’t going to go home,” Virginia said. “I had to put up with my mother-in-law, but she was a wonderful lady, a Christian lady, and she helped me with my kids.”

The couple, who now live at Tranquillity at Fredericktowne, an assisted living facility, took vacations but never traveled too far from Maryland and could only afford to stay for two or three nights at a time, Virginia said.

And they worked hard.

“I got up and milked cows, and went back to school at 60 and got my GED” after raising four children, Virginia said.

“One year we had 4,000 quarts of strawberries, and I picked 1,000,” Virginia said.

Each quart sold for 25 cents. People used them for preserves.

Atlee worked for an insulation company, a railroad company, for 18 years at the National Institutes of Health as an animal caregiver and retired from Eastalco.

Longevity runs in Atlee’s family. His mother and two sisters lived to be 90; a cousin lived to 101; his grandmother lived to 99.

Virginia said younger couples should hang in for the long haul.

“I don’t believe in divorce. These days people are too quick to walk away” from marriage, she said.

“How many people have been married for 73 years?”

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