By Joanne Hill
“Dance like there’s nobody watching,
Love like you’ve never been hurt.
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.”
-William W. Purkey
James Freddie (Fred) and Minnie Martin of Stuart, who recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary, have for many, many years been dancing, loving, singing and enjoying their own “heaven on earth.”
“We’ve been good to each other, loved each other, and we don’t believe in telling lies,” they said as they explain their years together.
“God Almighty shot the arrow and it stuck,” Fred added.
Their admiration and caring for each other is obvious as they enthusiastically described their numerous experiences and adventures together, including Fred’s recent retirement after 50 years of “calling” for contra, round and square dances.
Fred remembers fondly the first time he and Minnie met—prefacing his comments by remarking on his “shyness” and “being afraid of girls.” He said once Dorothy Tuck Johnson told him he had pretty legs, and he was so embarrassed he “turned red all over.”
At the time Fred met Minnie, he was driving a truck and helping build the Danville airport. He went to Schoolfield Pool near Danville to swim and saw “a beautiful blonde girl” near the diving board. He approached her and after he asked her for a little kiss (which she refused), he asked her out.
Later he took her in his truck to show her the work they were doing at the airport. He stopped at a nearby Shell service station and asked her if she wanted a hot dog. She accepted his offer, but he found he couldn’t order one because it would take the only nickel in his pocket.
Even with that awkward beginning, they started dating regularly. They were married 1 ½ years later on April 22, 1946, in Danbury, N.C. His mother was the only witness at the wedding.
Their married life as a busy, active and talented couple had just begun. Minnie, a talented artist, painted in several different media, sculpted and was a photographer who developed her own film in their basement darkroom.
Fred, who began dancing as a child, pursued his interest in dancing and calling dances, as well as singing in the choir at Stuart Presbyterian Church for 40 years. He was often invited to sing the national anthem at square dancing conventions.
was just the beginning. They both worked at DuPont in Martinsville for 37 ½ years. They both started by sweeping floors, but advanced to much better positions.
In order to call dancing, teach dancing, and enjoy dancing themselves, the Martins added a large dance studio to their home that would accommodate several square dance formations. They invited folks to come to their home on a weekly basis to learn to dance.
They also traveled frequently to other locations as Fred called for several dance groups. He once taught dancing to third graders at Stuart and Meadows of Dan schools, which he really enjoyed. Minnie was also an instructor and taught art classes at the Reynolds Homestead.
Fred proudly pointed out a wall where hundreds of prize-winning ribbons from Minnie’s art awards were displayed. Her entries in local and regional art shows, festivals and fairs captured many first, second and third place honors.
Besides their work, dancing, art and farming, they were both athletic. When they first worked for DuPont, there was a recreation director and DuPont sponsored ball teams. The company also allowed employees time off from work to travel and play ball.
Minnie played softball and Fred was asked to manage the women’s softball team. Minnie was also an active bowler and has many bowling trophies displayed in their home.
A very proud occasion for Fred and Minnie was their induction into the North Carolina Folk, Round, and Square Dancing Hall of Fame. Fred was also in the Virginia Hall of Fame.
Fred graduated from Stuart High School where he had been a star athlete. He then worked for Polo Anglin, hauling lime in Stuart, but was soon drafted. After being discharged, he drove a tractor-trailer and made trips to New York City.
After their marriage and after beginning to work at DuPont, Fred and Minnie bought their place on Rhody Creek and built their home. Fred had an orchard with peach and apple trees, and sold apples for 50 cents a bushel.
Everything has not been easy, though. During the Bull Mountain wildfire a few years ago, large balls of burning ash were falling on their house. Fred and a neighbor had to keep everything watered-down with hoses to prevent the house from catching on fire.
During the flood of 1979, Rhody Creek overflowed its banks and washed into the road. As the Martins returned home from work, they got stranded in their vehicle in the deep water and had to remain there for the entire night.
Fortunately, Fred had a two-way radio in his truck and was able to contact people. At daylight, Fred’s brother-in-law, who lived near the creek, was able to lay a ladder from the bank to the truck and Minnie and Fred crawled across the ladder to safety.
According to Fred, their longevity can be attributed to several things: “pure air, our own water, no smoking, no drinking, we love life and we’ve not been lazy.”
They have danced in all 50 states and nine or ten foreign countries. They danced in both Hawaii and Switzerland five different times and also on an island off the coast of Australia.
They attended 40 National Square Dance Conventions and for 32 years spent Thanksgiving at a contra dance gathering in Pennsylvania.
What a life! He’s 95, she’s 91, their hair is white, their appearance is impeccable; they now take each step with care, but their smiles for each other say it all: After 70 years together, they’re still enjoying “heaven on earth.”