FORSYTH -- Ezma Chambers didn’t have to go far to find her Romeo in Juliette.
He lived right across the street.
“She was so close I could throw a rock and hit her house,’’ said Joe Chambers.
Joe and Ezma Smith Chambers were born four months apart and have known each other since they were 5 years old. They can’t remember exactly when they started courting. It was after Ezma moved back to Juliette from Thomaston, where she had gone to live with her sister.
“I had been loving him all along, but when I came back I saw he had gotten very handsome,’’ she said.
Ezma picked out her ring from the Sears Roebuck catalog. It cost $6.
They wanted to get married on Valentine’s Day, but both had to work their shifts at the Juliette Mill. So they planned their nuptials for the next day, a Saturday.
That was 77 years ago -- on Feb. 15, 1936.
Their wedding day did not get off to a smooth start. Ezma’s brother-in-law said they could borrow his car, but they couldn’t get it to crank. A doctor in the mill village came to the rescue and offered the keys to his car.
They traveled 23 miles to the courthouse in Jones County, but the ordinary (justice of the peace) refused to marry them. So they drove another 26 miles to Monticello to tie the knot at the Jasper County Courthouse.
(Two years ago, on their 75th anniversary, their daughter, Angela Harbuck, took them to that same courthouse and snapped pictures next to the bench where they said their vows.)
They didn’t have the time nor the money to go on their honeymoon until the following year. They made it down to Jacksonville Beach, Fla., to stick their toes in the ocean and fill their lungs with salt air.
It took a while to save enough money to buy a car.
“I made $18 a week, and that’s what we lived on,’’ Joe said. “She made $14.40 a week. We put that in a suitcase and slid it under the bed.’’
When they had $150 in their “bank account” they bought a Model A Ford from Willingham Motors.
Joe was a pretty fair country baseball player, talented enough to be inducted into the Georgia/Florida/Alabama State League Hall of Fame. He worked all day in the mill and wore the uniform of the mill teams every night. In Juliette, he would climb into the back of the company’s truck and ride off to dusty fields to belt home runs across the Bible Belt.
He once cracked two homers in a game against the old Atlanta Crackers and played a few games at Luther Williams Field in Macon. In a game at Carrollton, he smacked one over the fence with baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler watching from the stands.
After his days playing second base were over, he ran Joe’s Sinclair station on the square in Forsyth, while Ezma ran his other business -- Joe’s Sporting Goods -- across the way on Main Street. He also operated a country store, drove a school bus and served two terms as a Monroe County commissioner.
He and Ezma now live on a road named after him, Joe Chambers Road, along a winding two-mile stretch between Juliette Road and Dames Ferry Road. They will both be 96 this year.
Angela, their only child, is also a testament to marriage longevity. She and her husband, Ricky, have been married for 51 years.
Last week, The Associated Press reported that John and Ann Betar, who live in Connecticut, have officially been named the “longest married couple” in the U.S. by Worldwide Marriage Encounter.
The Betars have been married 80 years. They were hitched on Nov. 25, 1932. He is 101 years old, and she is 97.
Angela said her parents hope to make it to 80 years of marriage ... and beyond.
I asked Mr. Joe the secret to a long, happy marriage.
“Don’t ever be mad at the same time,’’ he said. “Oh, we’ve had a few cross words over the years. But we’ve learned to cool off.’’
They’ve played it cool. And they kept the home fires burning.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.