SALT LAKE CITY — Asked how his marriage has lasted 77 years, Chester Memmott turns to his bride, Esther, and says, "It's my wife's fault. You took too good care of me."
"Yes, I waited on him hand and foot. And I milked the cows, too," she says, softly laughing.
Valentine's Day marks 77 years, two months and 15 days of marriage for the couple who met as teenagers. Now in their 90s, the Memmotts still hold hands and observe a nightly ritual of saying their prayers followed by three kisses and an "I love you."
Ask them the secret of a long, happy marriage and the couple pauses a moment to reflect.
"You just make sure you never win an argument," said Chester, 96.
"You have to give and take, even if you're wrong. You just move on. One day you love them, and then you want to kick them out the next day. Then you want to look for them the next day," said Esther, 94.
The Memmotts were both born in Scipio. Until the past couple of years, they lived in Scipio, where Chester drove a truck, farmed and worked construction.
As a young couple, they loved to dance and roller skate. Once they were the only couple from Millard County selected to perform at a dance at Saltair with 500 other couples.
Living in Scipio, "we made our own fun," Esther said. Once in a while, they'd spend a quarter to go to a movie.
The Memmotts are presently staying in Salt Lake City with their daughter Susan Allred. Allred said she particularly treasures her parents' ability to laugh in good times and bad.
"I'm really grateful they have that nature. From them, I learned to work really hard. We all did. And we learned to love the land," she said.
But mostly, Allred grew up watching and learning about marriage and commitment from a couple in it for the long haul.
"I learned about love and about enduring. Marriage is not always bliss or easy. I'm so grateful they made it though," she said.
Allred said her children tell her they want marriages like her parents'.
"You don't get that kind of marriage unless you stay in it. I don't see how you arrive at that kind of love unless you go through it," she said.
Between courting and marriage, the Memmotts have been together nearly 80 years. Chester and Esther knew each other as children, but they didn't interact socially until Ether's sister Donna hosted a party at the family home.
Chester didn't have a date — "His girl had just quit him," Esther said — so her mother seated him next to Esther. Little did Chester know, Esther had her eye on him for quite awhile.
"He was the best looking guy around. I just held on to him when I had him," she said.
Esther was a petite, black-haired beauty. Chester recalled seeing her in a photograph she had taken with a childhood friend at a local hotel.
"She was in a black dress. I guess I fell for the dress," he said.
They started dating, although Esther's family insisted she milk the cows before they could spend time together.
Two years later, Esther's parents gave their consent for the couple to marry. She was 17 at the time. Both sets of parents drove to Salt Lake City for the wedding at the City-County Building.
With little more than $10 in their pocket, they purchased a simple gold band for Esther, a marriage license and a night's stay at a hotel. Esther still wears that ring.
Asked why they married in Salt Lake City, Esther explained that "there wasn't much excitement in Scipio. I had two of my sisters up here."
Once they were married, Esther dropped out of high school. But she eventually went back, earning her high school diploma at age 60.
"All my family got the same diploma from the same high school," she said proudly.
The Memmotts raised six children — three boys and three girls — on their farm. When Chester was away driving truck or working construction jobs, Esther tended to the farm and cared for their children. She also baked eight loaves of bread a day to feed their growing brood.
When Chester would come home from a job, "I'd have dinner all ready and his bath water ready. Of course back then we heated our bath water in an old tin tub. And I'd have that ready and the cows milked."
Whatever the challenge, they faced it together, whether it was riding out tough economic times on the farm or the death of their son Raymond in 2000. The Memmotts have also served two missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Again, Esther explains, marriage is about compromise and hanging together no matter what life brings.
Asked why the divorce rate for first marriages has topped 40 percent in the United States, Esther said some young people "don't want to work it out. It's easier to say 'Goodbye.'"
Chester added, "There's lots more distractions for the youth today. They can go off and leave a woman and not think anything about it."
As for Chester and Esther, they face whatever each day brings together. On Valentine's Day, they plan to hold hands and enjoy another day together.
"Yes, we still hold hands," Chester said, smiling at his wife.
"It makes you feel a little closer," Esther said.
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