The house on Lake Wheeler Road was just a tiny thing when Ersie and Josie Matthews bought it in 1954 as a young couple.
It couldn’t have been more than 24 feet in either direction, remembers Josie. But they built it out, section by section, to accommodate their growing family.
She mixed the mortar in a wheelbarrow. He laid the bricks. They labored side-by-side to make a home for their family.
The couple will celebrate their 70th anniversary Tuesday. Last week, Josie, 83, said their delight in being together and with their family, no matter the task, kept their marriage strong.
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“We love to do things together,” she said. “We always did things together.”
They count steady attendance at Catawba Springs Christian Church, hours spent playing with their children and trips to the coast among the highlights of their life together. Family photos line the walls of the living room in a show of what they treasure most.
Their union has brought them six children, 17 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren. Most live nearby, and a steady stream of relatives bustled through the house one day last week, everyone abuzz with plans for the 70th anniversary celebration.
Josie couldn’t help thinking of the day as a big family bash, not just a party for her and Ersie, 90.
“I don’t know why I keep saying ‘reunion,’ ” she said. “Although I guess it will be be.” She smiled at the idea.
Josie and Ersie met very young, through their families, and the youngsters were fast friends.
When she was 13 and he was 20, the two headed to South Carolina to marry and soon worked their way to their first home in downtown Raleigh.
Josie knows that their ages seem unfathomable now, but it made sense then, in a different time.
“We really loved each other, even though I was young,” she said.
After a few years downtown, they moved to the Lake Wheeler house. Ersie ran a sanitation business, and Josie kept their home and helped with the books.
In those days, the children could run barefoot in the street with a steady stream of neighborhood friends, who all could count on the Matthews family for a bit of fun.
Josie always was there to greet them at the door. Ersie was known for his water-skiing lessons. When their children were grown, they found time to travel to Mexico and the Hoover Dam.
Sheila Pierce, their youngest child, said she always thinks of her parents as a sweet couple who could have fun together but were steadfast together in their beliefs about the importance of family and faith.
“They were in love. They didn’t look at other options. It was ’til death do us part,” she said.
Things are slower these days for the Matthews couple, as old age creeps in. Ersie, 90, has Alzheimer’s disease, and the days can be hard for Josie, who his primary caregiver.
She turns to her Bible each morning to help her find a new spring of patience.
It’s faith that carried them this far, through better and worse, and it’s what remains in these new, quiet days, she said.
“We’re very thankful,” Josie said. “We really give the credit to the Lord.”