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More Than 50 Years Of Heart Shaped Boxes

In honor of Valentines Day, I thought I'd share one of the greatest love stories I know. The story of my Grandparents, Charlie and Norene Strong.

Parts of this story have been told to me over the years, and when you piece it together, it's truly an amazing love story. The older I've gotten, the more I appreciate the love that they shared, and the impact it's had on my life. I've been lucky in my life to have multiple examples of true love, and have been surrounded by people who have shown me what a happy marriage looks like. My grandparents were one of those couples.

I have a very clear memory of my Grandpa telling me about the first time he saw my Grandma when I asked him how they met. He told me after returning home from WWII, he was on a bus and saw my Grandma walking outside. He told his friend on the seat next to him, "I'm going to marry that woman" and got off the bus to go talk to her. I have the sweetest image of my Grandpa walking up to her in his uniform, introducing himself. It's such a iconic scene that I've created in my mind, so telling of that time in America. (I don't think he was actually wearing his uniform, but that's how I imagine it).

If his friend on the bus that day only knew...he did end up marrying that beautiful woman. Norene, my Grandma. They were married on August 6, 1949.

They settled down in a small town, in the foothills of Placer County, California. They lived on "the ranch" as we called it. A beautiful piece of property with pear trees, close to family, and plenty of space for their growing family. In 1950 they had their first of 7 children, my Uncle Charles. Next would be my mom, Loretta in 1951, followed by four more boys and another daughter: Alan, Bobby, Fred, Lorene, and Johnny. 

My mom tells the sweetest story from their childhood. When she and her siblings were very young, they called each other "Sweetie" and "Dear" because that is what they heard their parents calling each other. To them, that was the normal way of addressing one another.  

All the stories I've heard from my Mom, Aunts and Uncles about my Grandparents and growing up in the Strong Family are full of love. My Grandpa was a very hard worker, and worked for the local telephone company to support his family. They went camping together as a family, and spent countless hours at the Bear River swimming and playing together, living the American Dream.

As a little girl, I just adored my Grandpa. I could see how he could be a very intimidating man, but I knew that he was really a big teddy bear (just don't put your elbows on the dinner table)! He gave the best hugs! But most of all, I remember how sweet he was to my Grandma, always calling her "Dear." She doted on him, and he loved her so completely. 

They were always together, and shared interests and hobbies. My grandpa would make ornaments and decorations in his wood shop, then he and my grandma would paint them together. It was fun this past Christmas showing Andrew the ornaments they had made me as a little girl, and trying to decide who had painted each one. In addition to their woodworking and sewing projects, they loved to travel in their trailer. They would go visit their children and grand kids, organize family reunion camping trips, and travel with friends as well. It brought them so much joy. 

I was lucky enough to go on a week-long trip with them in their camper to Washington and visit my cousins when I was about 8 years old. I have so many great memories of the trip. Having so many grand kids, I felt so special being able to go with them. 

The love between my Grandma and Grandpa was always evident. And I'm sure it grew stronger over the years. How could it not? After raising 7 children, watching your grandchildren grow, and the family they built together expand. Even as a little girl, I can remember how sweet they were towards each other. 

Eventually, they moved from the ranch in the foothills, to Washington where their oldest son lived. As you can imagine, after living somewhere for fifty years, you can accumulate a lot of stuff. And my sweet Grandma held on to anything with sentimental value. When cleaning out the attic, they found a heart shape box of chocolates, still in the wrapper, for every year my grandparents were together. Granted, it's kind of silly to hold onto something like that (especially so many), but I can't get past how sweet it is. Such a simple gesture from my Grandpa on Valentine's Day every year, that clearly meant so much to my Grandma. The boxes didn't make it to Washington, but I can't help but think of my grandparents every time I see a heart shaped box of chocolate.

Dressed up in 1920's costumes for a local parade! 
They loved to dance!
Blowing bubbles at their 50th Wedding Anniversary Party during our Family Reunion in Mt. Shasta - 1999
Side-note: My Grandpa's ruler suspenders were everyone's favorite!

Sadly, my Grandma was diagnosed with Colon Cancer, and after months of treatment and fighting, she passed away in January of 2008. I feel blessed that I was able to travel to Washington with my Mom and sister when she was ill, and help care for her in the final few days. I went as support for my Mom, but also to spend time with my Grandparents and family during that difficult time.

One of the saddest moments of my life is the memory of my Grandpa after my Grandma had passed away. After he had had a moment with her to say goodbye, he was sitting in his chair and broke down in tears. He kept saying he couldn't believe he had lost his best friend. It really hit me, that after spending 60 years of your life with someone, what it would be like to think of them not being at the table with you the next morning over coffee. Heartbreaking. 

The following Spring of 2009, we had planned a family reunion back at the ranch (where my cousins now live) in memory of my Grandma. There was nothing she liked more that seeing her family together. We were all so looking forward to seeing each other, especially my Grandpa. But in March of that year, my Grandpa also passed away. I'm convinced it was of a broken heart, life just wasn't the same without his sweetheart. I know they're up there looking down on us, dancing together. Happy to be reunited, and proud of the family their love created. 

Their love story is one of a kind. This Valentine's Day, I want to remember them and the love they shared. I hope to be more selfless in my relationships, and always try to love the way they did. I'm so blessed to have been so close with them, and to be touched by their love story. 

Happy Valentine's Day everyone! I hope you all enjoyed reading a bit about my family. I wanted to share their love story, to show that love really can last a lifetime. 


  1. That is the sweetest story! Happy Valentine's Day and Happy Friday! Pam

  2. This is such a sweet love story. That's so funny that he told his friend that he was going to marry here, and actually did!! So incredibly sweet. And those 1920's costumes are hilarious!!!

  3. this is so fabulous. the almost make you cry at your work desk because it's so sweet fabulous!

  4. This story brought tears to my eyes. I honestly love love stories of couples who have stayed together their entire lives. I can't think of anything sweeter or more romantic. Thanks for sharing their beautiful story!

  5. Totes Adorbs!
    But really, so so cute.
    Happy Love Day!

  6. Alright this is two days in a row I have cried from reading sentimental blog posts. I love this! What a very "Strong" role model to have grown up with!

  7. What a beautiful love story. Definitely teared up at my desk. Happy vday to you and yours.

  8. this is the sweetest!
    I love love love a real, true, unconditional love story!
    happy valentines day sweet girl!

  9. aw man you made me cry!! what a sweet sweet story!!

  10. that truly is one beautiful love story. thanks for sharing!

  11. I'm a little late reading this, but I so love this post! Brought tears to my eyes! Definitely a sweet, sweet love story!


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