A love that’s lasted a lifetime
More than 70 years ago, a “country lady” from Adelino married the guy down the road who, when they met, seemed to only be interested in “combing his hair in the sunshine.”
Their love and their life has been anything but storybook, but for Elias and Elena Calles, they wouldn’t have had it any other way.
When Elias and the former Elena Gurule first met, Elena was too involved with her farm life rather than in her soon-to-be husband.
“I didn’t pay too much attention to him at first,” Elena remembers. “I was busy over there working on the farm and he was always inside the house combing his hair in the sunshine.”
“You were too busy to pay attention to me,” Elias replied. “They had a big farm out there, she was always taking care of the cows and she was working outside. She’s a country lady.”
But when they finally decided it was time to get to know each other a little bit better, their relationship, their love, blossomed.
Elias, who had dropped out of school in the 11th grade, had just returned home from Arizona when he learned he was being drafted by the Army. Upon his return, in his prized 1937 Chevy, he and Elena began dating, going to dances and talking about their future.
“Finally, one day, I asked Elena if she wanted to be my girlfriend,” he remembered. “Of course, she said yes.”
After Elias left to Fort Sill in Oklahoma, their relationship was up in the air. It was when he was able to get his first furlough and come home, he made up his mind — he was going to marry that country lady.
“When I came home, I talked it over with my mom and dad, and her mom and dad didn’t want us to get married,” Elias said. “They got mad at us.
“Her parents asked me how I was going to support their daughter when I didn’t have any money,” he said. “I didn’t have a house and I was going into the Army. ‘How are you going to take care of my daughter?’ they asked me. Then they got me mad.”
Elena explained that her parents were against the marriage, not because they didn’t approve of her choice of a husband, but because the couple was young and they were afraid for their future.
Upset with her parent’s reaction, Elias told Elena, “Are we going to get married? I want to be honest with you, I love you Elena, and we’re friends and we’re in love.”
Determined, the couple decided they would figure out — one way or another — how to make sure they could be together regardless of their parents’ concerns. They first went to their priest, who told them they would have to wait five weeks. Elias’ colonel told them they couldn’t wait five weeks for him to return.
Instead of waiting, the couple decided that their love was too important to wait and got married by the justice of the peace on Oct. 19, 1943. While it wasn’t exactly how they wanted to get married, they were happy and Elena was able to go to Fort Sill with her new husband.
Several weeks later, Elias’ colonel allowed the couple to return home for a month’s vacation.
“When we came home, we went to talk to the priest again and we got married at (Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Tomé),” Elias said. “Our folks were finally very happy, and we were happy, too.”
Happy and in love, the couple returned to Fort Sill, Elias continuing his military training while Elena decided to find work at a local jewelry story with other military wives. But it wasn’t long before that fateful day came when Elias received his orders — an overseas deployment to Germany during World War II.
The night before Elias was to board the boat to Germany, they both cried, not knowing how long he’d be gone or if he’d even come home to her. Instead of contemplating what could happen, the couple decided they would, in their letters, have a code to make sure she would know he was OK.
“I told her that when I write a letter, I would put the initial “V” that meant that I’m hurt,” Elias said. “If I put an initial “G,” that means that I’m alright. But when I came home and saw the letters, I guess the military would read them because the initials were always erased, so she never knew that I didn’t get hurt.”
While Elias was in Germany fighting for his country, Elena returned to Adelino, living at both her parents’ and her in-laws houses. It was hard, she remembers, not knowing when her husband would return home. But three years later, he finally did.
“When I came home, she said to me that she had been very sad,” Elias remembers. “She didn’t have no place to stay. I didn’t leave her nothing, no place to stay. All I sent her was $160 a month from what I was getting paid.”
He remembers he gave Elena a hug and a kiss and told her that he was finally home and he was going to take care of her — and he did. With the help from both families, Elias and Elena had a choice of two properties their parents gave to them. Ultimately, they decided on one and began building the home they raised their family in and that they still live in today.
“I remember we went to church and turned ourselves to God and asked him to help us,” Elias said. “He knew our struggles, he knew we were hurting and he helped us.
“We lived in a little tent while we were building,” he said while looking at Elena. “We lived so happy.”
With Elias’s new job at the Belen Ice Co., the couple decided it was time to start a family, with the birth of their first son, Ambrose, followed by their other three children, Rick, Patti and Jeanette C. Urtiaga. (In all, the Calles’ have 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.)
Elias worked for the ice company for 26 years and then for GE for 13 years before retiring in 1986.
Today, as they look back at their 70 years of marriage, they both say they’ve enjoyed their lives through the good times as well as the bad. They enjoyed raising their children, having a farm and trusting in God that they would be alright.
“Life isn’t easy,” Elias says. “We went through a lot. But today, we’re still doing fine. We’re Catholic and we believe in God.”
Elias says the Bible has taught them both that forgiveness is the key to any marriage.
“We fight and argue, but we still love each other,” he said. “We have to forgive and keep going. We’re still friends and we love each other.”
While they still fight, Elena says jokingly because Elias talks too much, they are able to talk things out.
“Have patience and take one day at a time,” Elena says about how others can have a good and long-lasting marriage.
The couple celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary last year with a party at their daughter’s house. Later this year, when the weather warms up, they will set out on a road trip with their daughter to Tennessee to visit one of their grandchildren.
But on their way, they’ll stop at Fort Sill, which is now a museum, to remember the days early on in their marriage while treasuring the life they built together.
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