Life often hangs upon a thin thread, but you would never know looking at Virden couple Ed and Hazel Wadham who celebrated 72 years of marriage on Sept. 4.
Ed turns 96 on Oct. 3 and Hazel is 93. She reflects on their years together, “I think we’ve had a wonderful marriage, wonderful years and we’re both still together.”
A visit with Ed and Hazel provided a colourful stroll through history – a story of destiny despite difficulty.
Hazel’s mother, Gertie Sirett (Curtis) was born in New Denham in Buckinghamshire, England. Just two pounds at birth, she was not expected to live and was given the simple name of ‘Gertie’. But live she did, and grew up to do sewing for the then Queen of England before becoming George Curtis’ war bride (WWI).
Ed’s life hung on the thread of the successful escape of his father, a prisoner of war. Frank Wadham was one of nearly a dozen prisons who planned their escape from a German prison camp. It was the Officers’ Ball and Frank, a talented violinist was in the orchestra. His battered violin was replaced by a Stradivarius for his performance at the ball, the night of the escape.
That Stradivarius violin came with him as he and only a couple of others among the dozen, actually dodged German bullets to make it into the countryside where they hid in haystacks and ate farm fresh eggs to survive. The Strad may be one of the oldest of these rare violins in Canada. It’s now in a museum.
Fast forward, Ed and Hazel meet:
“My sister was in the hospital to have her appendix taken out and Hazel was in and had her appendix out, and they put them both side by side,” says Ed.
“He came in to see his sister, and he met me,” Hazel chimes in. “So, then he phoned me one day and said, ‘Can I come and have a visit with you?’ and I said, ‘Who’s talking? … Oh sure.’”
Ed was smitten. He recalls spending a lot of gas on visiting the “saucy little red-head” as Ed’s uncle called the Kenton girl, Hazel Curtis.
Hazel’s sister Nan and her boyfriend John Roseveare announced they wanted to get married that fall. By this time Hazel had her diamond also and spoke up saying she and Ed were getting married too. When her mother said she would 'not put up with two weddings’, a joint ceremony was planned for September.
Ed and Hazel raised four children: Gilbert (Airdre Alta.), Ken (PEI), Glen (Prince Albert, Sask.) and Noreen. John and Noreen Stowe continue to live in Miniota. Among five generations are nine grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.
After starting life farming with his father, a hail storm with stones the size of golf balls changed everything, forcing Ed to find a vocation. He trained as a diesel mechanic and Ed and Hazel spent their early years either working for a garage owner (A. Hoffman at Virden ESSO) or owning and operating a garage. Hazel managed the restaurant side of the service station business.
They went from Virden to Binscarth joining brother Ralph and their father Frank at the Imperial ESSO there; then to Oak Lake to own the BA Oil Co. garage. A move to Miniota saw Ed as a mechanic for Freddy Bryant and then in Jim Morton’s garage. Ed retired from mechanic work and drove the Twin Valley Co-Op fuel truck for about 15 years.
It was at Miniota that Ed became a Lay Reader with the Anglican Church, because there was talk of closing the church when the minister, who had been travelling to Miniota from Virden to take the services, decided to move away.
Ed recalls, “I said if you close the church, we’ll never get it open again.” The Deacon paid a visit and he agreed. Ed volunteered to lead the church on the condition that there wouldn’t be any sermons for a while.
“We had more hymns, to cover the service time.” When the organist passed away, Ed got out his guitar and played. He drove throughout the parish (Hamiota, Birtle, Shoal Lake), at one time doing three services on a Sunday. He served the Lord with the Anglican Church for 50 years.
Hazel and Ed have lived in Virden for 15 years, currently residing at Princess Lodge. Asked what kept their marriage going these 72 years: “Actually, love,” they both answered. “Our marriage was not easy,” recalls Hazel. “We worked hard.”
“And we haven’t really had a fight yet,” says Ed smiling at her. Hazel quickly counters, “Oh we had fights! But we always got over them.” They made it a practice to reconcile by bedtime.