Role models for a lasting marriage

CorrespondentNovember 15, 2009 

I just read that the divorce rate in America is hovering around 50 percent, with second marriages failing 67 percent of the time.

In the foothills last week, I took the road less traveled and ended up at the White Plains Baptist Church cemetery. As I stood before the graves of two couples who overcame the most bizarre handicaps imaginable and maintained a lasting marriage, I thought: How on earth did they manage it?

I'm talking about Eng and Chang, conjoined twins who became international celebrities before retiring as prosperous farmers in Surry County.

In 1829, an American ship's captain spotted the twins swimming and brought them to America, where for 40 years, they were exhibited as "Siamese twins," ending up as stars of the P.T. Barnum show.

Good money managers, they bought a thousand acres of farmland near Mount Airy, and adopted the highly respected last name of Bunker. They were married to sisters: Chang to Adelaide Yates and Eng to Adelaide's sister, Sarah Ann.

As I stood there, gazing at their unpretentious common tombstone, I tried to imagine what life would be like physically attached to another person. The imagination ran wild.

Let's say Chang and Eng wake up one morning and Eng says, "I think we need to plant corn today."

"No, we ought to till up the plant bed for the tobacco seed," insists Chang. They compromise by cleaning out the corn crib and shoveling out the stable.

It's Sunday, Eng wants to go to early church, but Chang has an upset stomach from eating too much hog lights and liver the night before and they can't chance what might happen during the sermon. They stay home.

On a Saturday when the ground is too wet to work, Eng wants to go fishing, but Chang says, "I promised Charlie Adkins over in Ararat we'd go to Mount Airy for the hoedown at Mitchell's Mill."

And so it goes.

It was customary for the couples, who lived a mile apart, to spend three days and conjugal nights at one home, then three at the other. Their sex lives defy imagination. Nevertheless, the two couples managed to begat and birth 21 children.

The twins died Jan. 17, 1874 -- Chang first, followed hours later by his brother, who was healthy but died of fright.

The next time you and your spouse can't decide which movie to see or whose parents you'll spend Christmas with this year, think about two couples who proved that where there's a will, enough passion and patience, there's a way to make marriage last a lifetime.

And the groom wore ...

While checking to see whether newlyweds are adhering to my suggestion that they forgo off-shore honeymoons during the economic downturn, I saw something startling in a Nashville, N.C., couple's write-up. For the first time in memory, the groom's attire was described in detail.

Ah, at last a blow for men's lib! This may by the first time a man's attire at a public function has been mentioned since Genesis noted that Adam wore a fig leaf.

Rural roads

Unusual rural road names are a fascination of mine. Such road signs as "Tatter Wagon Trail" and "Possum Trot Road" call forth all sorts of quaint images.

While driving along the winding, hairpin-curved Orchard Gap Road near Cana, Va., gazing down on spectacular views of forever and beyond, we came to a side road dubbed "Rattlesnake Ridge."

As I contemplated the unpleasant circumstances that must have prompted such a designation, we came to the next right, "Whispering Hope Road."


Bumper sticker spotted near Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem: "Would you follow Jesus that close?" or 919-836-5636

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service