After 60 years apart, Ray and Margaret Fisher tie the knot
GOLD HILL — Of his many terms of endearment for Margaret, Ray Fisher seems to call her “Baby” the most.
“It was tough back in those days wasn’t it, Baby?” Ray asks.
He’s talking about their early courting days, and specifically the night he missed the 10 p.m. curfew to have Margaret back home. Ray and Margaret pulled up to her house 10 minutes late, and her father was waiting on the porch.
For all Ray knew, he might have had a shotgun. Not even daring a glance back, Ray drove away without risking a confrontation. Margaret wasn’t as lucky.
“Just the look,” Margaret remembers. “Boy, he let me have it for being 10 minutes late.”
Ray and Margaret “Dolly” Fisher act like newlyweds, because they are.
Believe it or not, that night — the one that ended with her daddy waiting on the porch — was the last date Margaret and Ray had with each other for more than 60 years.
In between, they led separate lives, often filled with heartache and, yes, some regret.
In the end, tomatoes brought them back together, and they recently celebrated their first year of marriage.
Ray is 79; Margaret, 78.
“Tell them what you got for your anniversary, Baby,” Ray tells her.
Margaret can’t hide her excitement. It was a new Buick LaCrosse.
“I said, ‘Well, what can I expect next year?’ ” Margaret laughs.
Margaret Fisher tends to an amazing, meticulously cared for garden, which includes 140 tomato plants this year compared to 200 in years past. She quilts in the winter, sings in the church choir and sometimes still plays the piano for the early service at Organ Lutheran.
She holds her five children, 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild close to her heart. Yet somehow, Margaret says, she always left a space in her soul for where Ray should have been.
Now he’s there.
“The happiest I’ve ever been in my whole life,” Ray says.
John Foster, a son-in-law of Margaret, marvels at the couple.
“They’re like two teenagers,” he says. “They just cherish each other.”
In March 2011, Ray finally proposed to Margaret, and from that day until they were married in John and Gail Foster’s backyard on May 14, 2011, Ray paid a visit to Margaret’s house off Liberty Road for 44 consecutive days.
“He said, ‘I’ve got you now, and I’m not going to let you go,’ ” Foster recalls.
Their story starts when they were young and attending Organ Lutheran Church. Even as a girl, Margaret Shue was singing in the choir. Ray sat in the balcony, straight across from her. They traded plenty of glances on those Sunday mornings, but that was all.
“We never did talk to each other in five years,” Margaret complains. She attended Rockwell School, and he went to Mount Pleasant.
On a school-sponsored, ninth-grade hayride, Ray and Margaret abandoned the people they came with and paired off, finally taking the opportunity to talk.
“I think that’s when we got our first kiss,” Margaret adds.
But at church, they continued to go their separate ways after the service. They explain that parents were stricter then, especially Margaret’s father. She was the baby of 10 children and much younger by far than her siblings, some of whom were already married.
Ray and a buddy took the friend’s 1935 Ford coupe to Margaret’s house one Sunday, and Ray asked permission to take her to a program at Ebenezer Lutheran Church.
On the way, they had to ride in the car’s rumble seat. Afterward, they went to an ice cream social at Ed Fisher’s house.
“I asked her for a date that night,” Ray says. It was 1949.
They eventually went to the movie house in Rockwell, where you could see a double feature and have a bag of popcorn and a soft drink for 25 cents.
Not long into their dating came the night they missed the 10 p.m. curfew. Margaret didn’t realize it then, but it was the end of their relationship.
Their silence with each other at church continued. Meanwhile, Margaret was writing secret letters to Ray that she gave to a girlfriend, instructing her to pass them along to him at the Rockwell movie theater.
Ray never received those letters, and Margaret figured out years later her friend might have had her own crush on Ray.
Circumstances — and deafening silence — led Margaret and Ray in different directions.
Margaret married Clifford Brady, and the couple had five children — Revonda, Gail, Frank, Phil and Cindy.
The children ranged in ages from 10 to four months old when Clifford was killed drilling a well in the backyard of the couple’s house. They had been married only 13 years.
Margaret suddenly was faced with raising five children on her own with only $141 a month from Social Security. She grew everything she could in her vegetable garden, and her father helped at times with meat from his farm.
“I really knew how to stretch a dollar,” she says.
In time, she added $90 to her monthly income by keeping five other children during the day.
Meanwhile, Ray had been drafted into the Army toward the end of the Korean War. Much of his two-year hitch was spent at Fort Bragg, though he also attended jump school at Fort Benning, Ga., so he could earn an extra $50 a month.
Back in Rowan County, Ray divorced his first wife, and he started a 30-year career at the Owens-Illinois box plant in Spencer in 1958.
He and Margaret would still see each other at church and, for a time after her husband’s death, Ray dropped by Margaret’s house.
Margaret thought it was leading to something, but Ray feared he could not support her and the five children.
“I didn’t have pocket change,” Ray laments. “Lordy, I high-tailed it again.”
Margaret began a 25-year career at Carolina Maid in Granite Quarry and would follow that with six more years working for a greenhouse.
She also went on to marry Wade Caudle, who died of cancer 12 years later.
In 1990, Margaret declared she would never marry again.
Ned Brown, a brick mason, changed her mind. But only 15 months into their marriage, doctors diagnosed Brown with pancreatic cancer. He beat the odds and survived, but five years later had to deal with prostate cancer, then lung cancer.
Margaret cared for him during scores of radiation and chemotherapy treatments. In 2009, Brown died of pneumonia and lung disease.
Ray moved to Faith in 1968. He wed Duree Hodge of Salisbury, and the couple were married for 38 years.
After his retirement from the box plant, Ray became known as the man who walked each morning in Faith, waving to everybody along the way.
His route never varied, and residents knew what time it was based on where Ray was in his 30-minute walk. He always ended up at Faith Soda Shop, where he had breakfast with Duree.
After a long fight with leukemia, Duree Fisher died in 2007.
All these years — these decades — Ray and Margaret kept attending Organ Lutheran Church, and a lot of times they would speak to each other.
“I’ve always loved him,” Margaret says.
After church one Sunday, Ray walked across the church parking lot and asked Margaret what she was doing for lunch. Margaret said she planned to go home and have a tomato sandwich.
Ray invited her to Johnny’s restaurant in Rockwell instead.
Even after that lunch, Ray took his time.
“I thought it’s just not going to happen,” Margaret says.
After awhile, Ray started coming by Margaret’s house at least twice a week to buy tomatoes. She keeps a small stand in back.
“I couldn’t see how he could be eating all those tomatoes,” Margaret says.
Ray was giving them away to friends in Faith, so he had an excuse to visit Margaret again. On occasion, the couple also were eating at Johnny’s after church.
The courtship may have hit full bloom one day when Margaret, who was delivering Meals on Wheels, decided to detour to Ray’s house and drop off two pies she had made — one lemon, one coconut.
Margaret’s a great cook, but something bad happened to the lemon pie. Ray says, “It about killed me.” But he appreciated the gesture, and the couple officially started to date.
Ray finally kissed her at the door to her house on a cold, cold night after a church Christmas program.
“Everybody at church said it was getting serious between us,” Margaret recalls.
The night Ray proposed to Margaret, he kept pacing the floor at her house and seemed distracted. He finally grabbed his coat and told her he had to go outside.
After going to his car’s trunk, he came back inside, only to pace some more. He then surprised Margaret by getting down on a knee in front of her chair. He pulled off a birthstone ring she was wearing and replaced it with a diamond.
“I’ve loved you all these years,” he told her. “Will you be my wife?”
Both of them were crying as Margaret said yes.
“It just seemed like it took forever for us to get together,” Margaret says. “It seems like it’s been a lot of wasted years.”
So started the 44 consecutive days leading up to their wedding.
“Tell the truth,” Ray says to Margaret. “I went home every night, didn’t I, Baby?”
But this time, Margaret knew he would be back — back for good.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@ salisburypost.com.