The way Jim Trebbien tells it, the story of how he met his wife, Pearl, is your basic understated, small-town romance tale.
“I guess our families have always known each other, and we just kind of drifted together,” he said.
This is technically true and terribly misleading.
The real story is that Jim had eyes for Pearl in high school, but she wasn't allowed to date yet. So, he struck up a relationship with her older sister instead. When she moved to California, they broke up, allowing Jim to pursue his true love interest, Pearl.
They've been together ever since. Today, they celebrate their 70th anniversary.
Jim is 90. Pearl is 88. They live in the same Milford, Iowa, home they've been in since the early 1960s — the same house with the big front porch where they raised four children, who've gone on to have families of their own. At a gathering this summer to celebrate the Trebbiens' anniversary, Jim and Pearl were the first of four generations on hand.
“He was a farm boy, and she was a city girl, for a city of 1,000 people,” said the couple's oldest son, Jim Trebbien, dean of the culinary arts program at Metropolitan Community College. “When I was a young kid, when my dad would go out into the field, every time he would lean over and kiss mom (first). It was just the way it was. … I just grew up knowing Mom and Dad loved each other.”
They married Oct. 28, 1943, in a small ceremony in Milford.
“At that time, nobody had big weddings,” Pearl said.
“It was wartime,” Jim said. “You just got married and that was it.”
In fact, the wedding took place while Jim was on a seven-day leave from the U.S. Coast Guard. He reported back to the Coast Guard following the ceremony and eventually shipped off for New Guinea and then the Philippines. The end of World War II brought him home by way of Seattle. Pearl met him there.
They returned to Iowa, and Jim took over the family farm. They raised a family — two boys, two girls — and made a short-lived move to San Diego in the 1960s before coming back to Iowa for good.
They bought a home on Okoboji Avenue, the main drag of Milford, where the Trebbien front porch became a gathering point for neighborhood kids.
“My mom and dad always welcomed our friends at the house,” said Carol Schomburg, the youngest of the Trebbien siblings. “We just had a good childhood growing up.”
Done with farming, Jim sold fertilizer for a few years and then took a job as a clerk in a state-owned liquor store. After the kids all graduated from high school, Pearl got a job in a drugstore and later became the branch manager of a bank. Both Jim and Pearl retired in the mid-1980s.
“The best part is seeing your grandkids grow up and probably just being able to live this long,” Pearl said of today's milestone. “And still be married to the same person.”
“We seem to get along good,” said Jim.
Their kids point to the couple's loyalty to each other as an inspiration. The younger Jim Trebbien says he can't remember many times in his life when his parents were apart.
“They never took separate vacations,” he said. “They never went anywhere by themselves. They were always together. Once in a while she'll go shopping without him, but not very much.”
They were parted briefly earlier this year, however, when an illness sent Pearl to a hospital in Rochester, Minn. Daughter Carol traveled with her, while Carol's brother Jim stayed home with Dad.
It was a quick trip — Pearl would be gone for just a day and night — but almost immediately her husband of 70 years became anxious.
“Pretty soon he started saying, 'I wonder when Mom will get home,' ” Jim said.
When the door finally opened, his dad wasted no time to reunite.
“She comes in the house, and he almost runs across the kitchen to give her a hug and kiss,” Jim recalled. “I hadn't seen that in many years.”