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'I couldn't imagine anything different...'



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Robert and Elenor Barker in 1950. (click for larger version)
January 19, 2011 - Goodrich- Eleanor and Robert Barker recognize hard times.

The village residents were born and raised during the Great Depression. Robert Barker's mother died when he was a toddler and he was sent to live with an aunt.

The current economy is bad they say, but they've been through worse, and for six decades, they've been side by side through it all. Last month, the couple celebrated 60 years of marriage.

"I always told people we were too poor to get divorced," says Robert, laughing. "We had too many kids too fast."

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Eleanor and Robert went to high school together in Goodrich. Back then, everyone knew each other as there were only 45 kids in their graduating class. In their senior year, Eleanor had a friend that told her to invite Robert and his friend Chuck over for hot chocolate after a basketball game. Eleanor's friend had her eye on Robert.

"Her friend wanted to be with me, but no one told me," Robert said. "I was shy, I had hot chocolate, and I was hanging out with Ellie."

After, he and Eleanor were hanging out often. They didn't have many formal dates and Robert didn't have a car, but they were "going together." After graduation in 1949, Robert went to Flint to work at a Hammady store, and Eleanor attended Baker College. When he turned 18, Robert started working for Buick and would work for them for the next 30 years. Eleanor graduated from Baker and on Dec. 16, 1950, the pair were married at an old home in Flint with a big, winding staircase.

It was a small wedding, less than 100 guests. They were both 19.

"That's how it was back then," said Robert. "You got out of high school, got a job and got married. Now people wait until they're 30 or older... I don't recommend what we did to anyone. The older you get, the more set in your ways you are and you also see more pitfalls. There are pills now to prevent babies you aren't ready to have, but for us, getting married young worked."

"We grew up together," laughs Eleanor.

Within six years, they had five children— Sherry, Denise, Robert, Bill and Carol. The early years were difficult. Robert says Eleanor was more ready for children, while he was "rattle-brained." Both parents worked— Robert at Buick, Eleanor at a series of jobs in between children, including an auto dealership, The Flint Journal, and the unemployment office for the state of Michigan.She later worked for Buick, from where she retired after many years.

Robert had to visit the unemployment office during two different six-month lay-offs from Buick during the first five years of their marriage.

"That was the hardest time," he recalls. "We had four kids and were expecting the fifth and I got $28 per week on unemployment. You get in debt... Our arguments were over money— not having any."

"It was a hardship that we didn't have money, but it never felt like that," said Eleanor. "It was just our life and we did it."

They moved a few times during the early years of their marriage, starting out in an apartment in Flint, moving to another, then buying a "junker" house in the south end of Flint where they lived for a couple years, before moving to a home in Mt. Morris where they spent about five years before buying a home on Hill Road in Goodrich in 1958. They raised their children in that house and Robert's aunt helped to take care of the kids while he and Eleanor both worked.

"The free time we had, we spent with our kids," said Eleanor. "After work, we cooked dinner and played games."

They never had a honeymoon and the few vacations they had, they took their children on. That family orientation, Robert and Eleanor believe, is a major key to the success of their marriage.

"We were naive and dumb, but we genuinely had love for each other," said Robert.

"And for our family," adds Eleanor.

That family now includes eight grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.

Robert and Eleanor moved a few more times, but more than a decade ago, they moved back to Goodrich, where they intend to stay.

The couple say life got easier as they years passed. Robert had co-workers who got divorced after 20 years of marriage. It baffled him.

"All I could think was, 'You got through the hard times, now enjoy the easy times,'" he said. "I could never marry again if something happened to her."

"He could never train another," laughs Eleanor, who advises couples to ride it out the first few years. "You will have a lot of differences. Get over that hump. He was great at airing out our differences, he always wanted to talk. I was the opposite. But you have to get to know each other."

"We've been together so long, I couldn't imagine anything different," says Robert, "and I wouldn't want to."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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