2018-02-11 / Insight

Valentine’s Day love

Widower shares memories of nearly 70-year marriage
BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com


Stuart Crandall and his daughter, Dianne Craig, show off Stuart and Barbara’s high school graduation photos. Dianne said their open displays of affection embarrassed her as a teen, but she’s grown to admire it. 
Photo by Phil Foley Stuart Crandall and his daughter, Dianne Craig, show off Stuart and Barbara’s high school graduation photos. Dianne said their open displays of affection embarrassed her as a teen, but she’s grown to admire it. Photo by Phil Foley LAPEER — Valentine’s Day would have been Stuart and Barbara Crandall’s 70th wedding anniversary. But she passed away in 2016 and today Stuart lives with his memories in a senior living apartment.

Stuart and Barbara went to school in Pontiac at a time when there was one public high school and two Catholic ones.

Stuart was a rough and tumble kid. “I’d fight at the drop of a pin. I liked to fight,” he said smiling.

Barbara was quiet, played the piano and went everywhere with three girlfriends.

The girls had gotten jobs as cashiers at Packers grocery on the corner of Perry and Glenwood in Pontiac and Stuart, who was 16, hung around the store Fridays after school offering to haul people’s groceries home. It was 1942, World War II was underway and “there were no cars. There was no gas for cars,” Stuart recalled.


Stuart Crandall, 91, shows a photo of himself as a 17-year-old sailor in World War II. He proposed to his wife, Barbara, before shipping out to the Pacific and three years later made good on the promise on Valentine’s Day. 
Photo by Phil Foley Stuart Crandall, 91, shows a photo of himself as a 17-year-old sailor in World War II. He proposed to his wife, Barbara, before shipping out to the Pacific and three years later made good on the promise on Valentine’s Day. Photo by Phil Foley One of those friends, Helen Bruski, invited Stuart to a party and he noticed Barbara playing the piano. When Helen invited him to a second party, Stuart said he asked her, “Will the piano player be there?”

She was and when Stuart spotted another boy holding her down on the ground and tickling her, he stepped in. “She was crying,” Stuart remembered.

He said he told the other teen to let her be, but the boy told him, “Nobody’s big enough to make me.”

The teen was wrong.

“I got the girl and we’ve been together ever since,” he said with a smile.

Every night they’d go to the local drug store and on Saturdays they’d go to the State Theater, always with Barbara’s three friends in tow. “There was no fooling around,” he said.

“I was pretty hot stuff. I played baseball. I played football. And I had me a girlfriend,” he recalled. He’d also taken the V-12 test for the Army Air Corps and was looking forward to training as a pilot after graduating high school.

After Barbara graduated high school in 1944, Stuart got a letter from the Army telling him that with the war settling down in Europe, they were closing flight schools and he was surplus, so he signed up for the Navy. His older brother Ray had joined the regular Navy in the mid-1930s.

He said that while he’d been guaranteed not to be called until after he graduated high school, the next thing he knew he was being called down to the recruiting station in Detroit for a series of physicals and tests and by the end of the day, he and seven others were told they were shipping out for the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Chicago.

“I told ‘em I couldn’t go, that my mother was home with three little kids and couldn’t drive. And besides I had school uniforms that didn’t belong to me,” he said. The Navy gave him five days to go home and return his textbooks, sports uniforms and band instruments.

While he was in Pontiac he proposed to Barbara and they agreed, if he survived the war, they’d get married.

Eventually he was sent to Saipan in the Pacific, where he joined the crew of the USS Stockdale, a destroyer escort, but as the war wound down, he was transferred to a successively smaller series of vessels, ending up on a patrol craft escort doing air/sea rescue work.

The whole time, from basic training on, Barbara wrote every day and Stuart wrote back. Dianne Craig, their youngest daughter, found a box in their Lake Orion house after her mother passed in August 2016. “She had kept every one,” Dianne said.

Stuart was on patrol on a patrol craft escort in the Philippines when an oil line burst in the engine room. Though not yet 20, he was one of the “old guys” in the crew. As he was climbing down a ladder into the engine room, he slipped on the oil-soaked ladder and twisted his ankle.

The next day it was swollen the size of a bologna loaf. “We only had a corpsman on board,” he said. It was another month before he got to a Navy hospital in Chicago.

In Chicago they discovered Stuart was suffering from osteomyelitis, a serious bone infection. “They wanted to take my leg, but I wouldn’t let ‘em,” he said.

He spent a year-and-a-half in the hospital, the same amount of time he’d spent at sea and Barbara wrote every day. She and his mother also took the train twice a month from Pontiac to see him.

Eventually, the doctors fitted Stuart with a brace on his left leg and when he was discharged on Dec. 12, 1947, “I told her, ‘We have got to have a talk. I don’t know how you’re going to feel about this leg brace. I don’t want you to feel obligated.”

Turns out Barbara had already bought a plot of land in Lake Orion. She told him, “You’re going to marry me and build my dream house.”

They said their vows on Feb. 14, 1948.

Stuart built the house and they lived in it for the better part of seven decades. “She was the only girl I ever dated,” he said.

“It was different in those days,” he said.

Diane said her parents were “something of an embarrassment” when she was growing up. She said where other kids’ parents dropped them off at soccer, her parents came to her games. Diane said she “lived through a lot of years of friends asking why both my parents were at everything.” She noted, “If they weren’t at work, they were together.”

Diane said her dad always referred to her mother as “his bride,” and every time she walked into a room he sang the Miss America theme song. “There she is, Miss America…”

In time, she said, all of her friends took to calling her parents, “Uncle Stu and Aunt Barb.”

After Barbara passed away August of 2016 Stuart moved to Devonshire Apartments, ostensibly to be closer to his four kids. But, said Diane, “I believe it was just too hard to be there without her.”

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