FIFTY YEARS AND SHE’S STILL HIS VALENTINE!
Charlton County Herald
February 8, 1989
Glossy pine paneling reflects the afternoon sunlight that filters through the living room windows in the comfortable rural home of Vernon and Irene Brock. A large oval multi-colored hook rug covers most of the hardwood floor under Vernon’s comfortable persimmon colored recliner where he sat last Thursday.
With one leg curled up in the chair, he quietly reflected on their marriage with the same steady quality he and Irene have lived most of their fifty years together.
Irene sat on the high back, plaid sofa near Vernon’s chair. Her short, wavy hair framed her still strong, attractive face. “We started out with each other and that’s about it,” she said remembering the early lean years.
Vernon dropped out of school after his father Floyd Brock’s death to help his mother, Mary Gowen Brock, raise a brood of brothers and sisters.
Both from large rural Charlton County families who lived only several miles apart, Vernon and Irene began their relationship with similar values. Both were reared in a time when a man was only as good as his word and hard work was a way of life.
In the late thirties when the young couple committed their lives to one another their primary goal was to have a home. “We wanted a home about as bad as anybody,” Irene said. “And we worked and saved for it.”
“It’s not the house that makes a home,” Vernon gently interjected. “It’s the people that make the home.”
And indeed, a half century, five children, fifteen grandchildren and three great-grandchildren later, no one could doubt that family has been the primary focus in the Brock home.
For thirty-five years until his retirement in 1978, Vernon traveled as a surveyor for Union Camp Corporation. For many of those years, when the children were growing up, he left early Monday morning and did not return until Friday evening. However, Vernon related that he spent more time with Irene and the family on week-ends than many men spend with their families all week.
A woman with little pretension, Irene conveys a quiet strength. “I used to live for Fridays,” she said looking back on the years when Vernon was gone. “But then I realized I was wishing my life away.”
From hearty Roddenberry stock (Susie and “Gad” Roddenberry), Irene says she stayed busy during those long week days “growing things.” Although limited now by rheumatoid arthritis, for many years Irene grew a veritable potpourri of vegetables and flowers, the envy of other less talented gardeners.
Vernon and the three boys, Shep, Mickey and Tony also farmed and raised their own meat. “We farmed mostly to have something for the boys to do,” Vernon pointed out. “So they (the boys) didn’t have to work out.”
The family which also includes two daughters, Alice and Garie, has been blessed with harmony. Harmony can be felt in their home and in Vernon and Irene’s presence. Never having experienced major conflict or discipline problems with their children, Vernon said when he started a family he intended for them to mind. Having seen children who did not mind, he said. “That’s no way to raise a family. You’ve got to have rules and regulations. And we always tried to teach them right from wrong.”
“If one of us said something, the other backed him up,” Irene added.
Irene said her oldest daughter Alice had asked if she and Vernon ever argued. She smiled, and said she told Alice they had. “But if we had any differences we worked it out in private.”
“You’ve got to take a lot. And you’ve got to give a lot,” Irene shared. “I thought it was a waste of time to fuss. Life’s too short.”
An abiding mutual respect is evident in their relationship. Vernon said that he has never attempted to pressure Irene into doing anything she didn’t want to do. Neither have been “joiners”. Indeed, Vernon said he’d never belonged to an organization. And Irene said, “I’m just not the social type. I just love to stay home.”
Their family has been relatively untouched by divorce. All five of their children are involved in twenty and thirty year marriages.
With evident love and a hint of nostalgia, the couple shared anecdotes about their children who were born like doorsteps. “It was kind of rough when they started leaving home,” she reminisced. “Seems like they all left at once.”
In contrast to the noise and activity when the clan gathers for holidays and weekends, the house (lovingly built by Irene’s brothers Tommy and Boy Roddenberry) was quiet last Thursday. A contented, peaceful quiet as if it had played its rightful role in the success of this family.
The couple agreed that the most difficult time in their marriage came when Vernon was drafted during WWII. With four little ones and a fifth on the way, when Vernon left Camp Blanding in 1944 the invasion of Japan was imminent.
However, devastating nuclear blasts that would forever change the course of history also brought reprieve for the Brock family. That fateful day, Vernon’s ship, the USS Grundy had just made its way under the Golden Gate Bridge leaving San Francisco harbor. Amid sirens and near hysteria on the shore, Vernon said, the announcement came over the ship’s speakers that a bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. “That was a lucky day for us,” he said quietly.
“I guess that was the worse time of our marriage,” Irene said remembering back to a time when news of men dying in Europe was daily fare. “You just had to take it one day at a time. And you had to have a lot of faith.”
However, ten months later after a stint surveying airports in Korea, Vernon returned home to his family and an infant son.
Vernon’s handsome face was serious and his eyes clouded as he remembered those frightening times. “I never attempted to exempt myself from the military.” He reflected. “I’ve always tried to keep a clean conscience.”
Many people look back on their lives with regret. However, Irene said she recently told a friend, “I don’t reckon I would change mine. I did the best I could.”
That afternoon as he lovingly conveyed the responsibility he had felt for his mother and his family, Vernon mentioned sacrifice as a fundamental element of a committed relationship.
Irene sat serenely looking across the warm room which was steeped in the afternoon’s sun. “Loving one another,” she said. “You’ll do a lot for the man you love to make it work.”