Vows still strong after 71 years

It was a day before their 71st wedding anniversary, in the quiet of their apartment and away from the balloons and ballyhoo. George and Mary Mickaelian were asked a series of the obligatory questions, one of them being where they spent their honeymoon.

To which George, 97, sitting in the comfort of his chair in the couple's apartment at the Newport Beach Plaza retirement community, after thinking about it slowly, said, "We went to the World Series."

Said Mary, 91, nearly biting his head off: "It wasn't the World Series, George. It was the World's Fair."

Actually, it was called the Golden Gate International Exposition, which was a part of the World's Fair. The theme was "Pageant of the Pacific," where all sorts of products from other nations bordering the Pacific Ocean were showcased in San Francisco.

The year was 1939. The month June. The date sometime following the 25th, the date of their marriage.

As it turns out, George ended up taking Mary to a show at the fair that featured (gasp!) topless volleyball players, a display of nudity that was gaining popularity back in those days — thanks to a burlesque dancer by the name of Sally Rand and her so-called Nude Ranch.

"I was pretty mad about that!" said Mary, looking over at George, who after triple bypass surgery more than a decade ago, not to mention the recent onset of diabetes, has seen better days and doesn't have the fight in him to argue.

But he instinctively knows better than to admit to anything that took place more than 70 years ago.

"I don't remember that," he said, his walker splayed out before him. "But I do remember my racehorses. We had 17 winners at Los Alamitos. Seventeen of them. I've got the pictures."

Mary knowingly rolled her eyes. She had a hair appointment to get to inside the retirement community on Superior Avenue.

It's the sort of exchange one might expect between two people who've been married for so long. They already know what one is going to say or do long before it's actually said or done. It's that quintessential tit for tat, the sort of banter that's mostly entertaining to the outside observer as the wife browbeats the husband and the husband, in this case nearly a centenarian, takes it in the gut for his past transgressions — all in good humor.

It's what's made their marriage last for so long as they are well past the sunset of their lives.

But there was a time when they were living large in La Cañada Flintridge just above Pasadena, with George working and socking it away, as Mary played the role of housewife and life unfolded before them during the post-World War II boom in Southern California.

Ultimately, they had three children: Steve, Janet Valentine and DeeAnne Dean.

It all started, of course, in a small Spanish-missionary stucco home that doubled as a chapel in Los Angeles after Mary, taken by George's great looks and sense of responsibility, kept going back to the open market where he worked selling fruits and vegetables.

George ended up proposing to her after just a few weeks of courting.

Then he kicked into overdrive, followed in his father's footsteps (a farmer from Fresno) and embarked on his own agricultural enterprise, purchasing more than 100 acres of land in what is now Gardena.

From there, it was just a matter of rolling up his sleeves and cultivating all sorts of vegetables, mostly asparagus. Hay came later, which he'd feed to the horses he bought over the years.

He made a killing, so much so that he was exempt from World War II service because he was too busy supplying the soldiers overseas with what turned out be healthful rations, said daughter Janet Valentine, who often visits her parents at the retirement home.

Then George invested his money wisely, later buying and selling real estate.

Life was good through the years, especially with his sidekick, his bride.

"I wouldn't care to have any other woman," said George. "But I would like a ranch."

He could put his last racehorse there, a thoroughbred.

In all, he's owned eight of them, a present to him for having pulled through on the hospital bed more than a decade ago. There he lay, deathly ill, with his family surrounding him. They promised George that if he recovered from triple bypass surgery, they'd go ahead and buy him a quarter horse like he always wanted.

"He woke up at that moment," said daughter. "It was a miracle."

The racehorses ended up winning many races at Los Alamitos.

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