Valentine’s Day often causes a lot of thought for teens. For those who are single: When will I find “the one?” For those in relationships: Is this “the one?” That was never a question for Patricia and Larry (Herby) Herr of West Seneca. When Patricia was 15 years old and Herby was 19, the two met and started dating. Although Herby was Pat’s first boyfriend, they got married and now, 50 years later, the two are still sharing laughs and making wonderful memories. So how can teens today share a love story as inspiring and successful as Herby and Pat? They shared their story as well as some advice for young lovers.
“I remember on our first date, he said, ‘I’m not getting serious. I’m not getting engaged. And I’m never getting married,’ ” said Pat. He even forgot to get her phone number. Obviously, his opinion changed, but that doesn’t mean that the two have a perfect relationship.
“We’ve gone through some tough times,” said Herby, “but we’ve always gotten through it because we know love takes patience and time.”
In 1963, with the Vietnam War escalating, and Herby facing the possibility of being drafted, the couple decided to get married before he could be sent off to war.
“We had a little ceremony. It was nothing big at all. I even had a blue dress because it was March and no one was selling white dresses then,” said Pat. “When we first got married we had basically nothing. We lived with his parents.”
When they did finally get their own home, however, it wasn’t effortless.
“We bought the first house built in our neighborhood,” Herb said, “I had my whole family telling me that I shouldn’t do it and that it would be a mistake because I didn’t have the finances. I said I’d deal with that when the time comes.” They are still living in that same house today.
“We had a cardboard box for a dinner table,” added Pat, “And our first Christmas together, we got one present to share: a $2.90 popcorn popper.”
No matter what their financial situation, the couple always persevered.
“We didn’t have a lot, so we appreciated more,” Pat said.
The Herrs have not only overcome monetary obstacles but health issues as well.
“I was diagnosed with cancer in ’88. They gave me six months to live,” said Pat.
“When I brought her to the doctor, they said she would die and if she didn’t, she’d be a vegetable,” Herb said. “I told them if she died, they’d have a serious problem on their hands.”
In the wake of Pat’s declining health, Herb wanted to buy her a new car.
“Of course I didn’t want him to spend the money. I asked him, ‘What’s the point?’ I didn’t need a new car if I wasn’t going to be alive long enough to really enjoy it.”
“And I told her ‘I’m gonna get the car,” Herb said. “If anything happens, I want it anyway. I knew she’d make it. I always knew.”
Of course Herb was right and more than 20 years later, Pat is healthy, which the whole family is thankful for.
“It was a hard time, but you have to overcome adversity. When you’re young, you’re carefree, no responsibility or anything. Adversity can either tear a couple apart or put them together,” Pat reflected.
The couple doesn’t think about those difficult times too much though; they seem to have far too many happy memories to overshadow the challenges.
“When we first started dating, we’d just go to drive-ins or simple things like that. Sometimes we’d go down to the pizzeria and get a whole pizza and just eat it in his car!” Pat laughed. “There was one time a police officer came up and shined the light in the window and asked what we were doing and all we could say was, ‘Eatin’ pizza.’ ”
Herb began to reminisce about the beginning of their relationship as well. “I used to pick her up from school and she’d make me park my car a block away so no one saw the old thing.” They laughed. “And then we’d go hunting or fishing, and she got pretty good at everything I liked to do. She even played a few jokes on me while doing it.”
“There was one time that we were fishing down at this pond and there was a bunch of cows that were slowly moving toward us,” Pat said. “I got up without saying anything and set my pole down and went back to the car. By then all the cows had pretty much surrounded Herby and I just called to him to turn around.”
It’s nice to see a couple that has been together so long smiling and laughing together. They even joked about when Pat broke up with Herb for one day.
“He wouldn’t go to prom with me! So I broke up with him for that one night and took somebody else,” she said.
Pat also explained why she calls her husband Herby instead of his real name, Larry. “It came from a comic strip,” Pat said. “I don’t know how it stuck, but it did. One day I just started calling him Herby and now there are people we know who think his name his Herbert because I never call him Larry!”
Even after all of their stories, it was still hard to grasp how they have maintained such happiness for so long.
“Most everything we did was simple,” Pat said. “If we went hunting or fishing, we’d bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or crackers with hot tea and we’d share it. We didn’t need expensive restaurants or to spend a lot of money to have a good time.
“Couples today have too many expectations. They concentrate too much on that one big wedding day, which is so beautiful, but they don’t concentrate on the person they’re marrying and how they’re going to spend the rest of their life.”
Herb had his own opinion: “We’ve always done a lot together, but we have our own things too. She likes to travel. I’d rather stay at home. Either way, she goes out on vacation and then she comes back and tells me all about it, and I love to listen.”
When Herb was asked what changed his mind about marriage and why he proposed to Pat, his answer was just what the couple had been stressing: simple. “I liked her. There was something different about her. She was willing to go hunting and fishing with me and I thought that was just great.”
The couple, who will celebrate their 50th anniversary March 16, had some advice for teens: “A relationship is friendship, love and lust all mixed into one,” Pat said, as Herb agreed. “You have to learn to balance everything and be each other’s best friend as well as everything else. When we were dating, we used to talk on the phone for hours every night. I think kids today get lost in texting and all their technology. We didn’t have that problem. We had to see each other face to face. But you need to remember that you need to actually see each other and communicate effectively. Keep it simple and balanced.”
While this is wonderful advice, some modern-day teens, like Violet Perry, a junior at Immaculata Academy, depend on technology to keep in contact with their significant others.
“She and I don’t get to talk face to face often, because we live two hours apart, so we rely on technology like Skype and texting to maintain any sort of connection at all,” Violet said, “but I do think that some people get too wrapped up in it and don’t interact in real life as much as they should.”
Violet’s girlfriend, also a junior but preferred her name and school remain undisclosed, agreed. “Technology is definitely an important part of our relationship ... we Skype or talk to each other almost every day. Despite that, I think that it can be easy for anyone to fall into a pattern of surface-level interactions when people use texting for constant communication, but as long as people are aware and make sure to spend some time talking directly to each other without other distractions, I don’t think that has to be an issue.”
The two agreed that there were many important aspects of a relationship that need to be maintained.
“I think mutual respect, love and communication are needed. If any of these are missing, I think that the relationship is at risk,” Violet’s girlfriend said.
Violet added, “I think honesty is key. Without honesty, the relationship really can’t continue because there will be no basis of trust.”
Violet and her girlfriend will be together six months on March 7.
Another couple had a different opinion. Matthew Gabalski, a sophomore at St. Francis High School, and Taylor Heinold, a senior at Immaculata Academy, believe the key to a good relationship is romance and friendship intertwined.
“I think its just being able to have a friend in the person you’re dating and maintaining romance even though we’ve been going out for so long, like how he makes me laugh and is such a sweetheart,” Taylor said. “I’d also say it’s better to date younger guys.”
Matt had a much simpler answer, “I think the key to a lasting relationship is just being sweet.”
As Taylor heads off to college, the couple believes that with trust and faithfulness their relationship can endure. Matt and Taylor will be together for one year on March 18.
Violet had one last piece of advice: “Definitely just go for it. Don’t hold back your feelings because you really only have one chance at life and you might as well because what have you got to lose? The worst a person could say to you is ‘no.’ ”
Hannah Gordon is a senior at Immaculata Academy.