Lebanon Reporter

September 4, 2013

Nearly 80 years after sharing first kiss, couple marries

By Sally Sexton
CNHI News Service

ALEDO, Texas — It started with a kiss, a long time ago.

Billie Joyce Williams Shaw-Bell and her neighbor friend, Delbert Garner, were both 6 years old when he kissed her on her cheek.

"I didn't even know what a kiss was then, but I knew that I liked it," Shaw-Bell said.

The pair seemed inseparable until four years later, when Garner and his family moved to California.

"I cried a lot when they took him away," Shaw-Bell said. "And then he never wrote me. I'm still mad about that."

"I never thought to get her address," Garner said.

Fast forward more than 70 years, and the childhood sweethearts who were separated at a young age finally got together, marrying in a ceremony this past Saturday afternoon.

"We were so glad to get back together," Shaw-Bell said.

After Garner's family moved, Delbert would occasionally come back to Texas to visit family and check in on Shaw-Bell.

"We'd visit, but every time he'd come down, I'd have a boyfriend," she said.

Garner would enlist in the service, serving in World War II before getting discharged in 1945.

"He'd come visit, and he was just so beautiful in his uniform," Shaw-Bell said. "I met a lot of soldiers when I was working, but none were like him."

Garner's first stop out of the service was to Texas to visit Shaw-Bell, with the intention of making their relationship official.

"I found out from my family that she had married two months before that," he said. "I was a little devastated."

Shaw-Bell was married to her first husband for 45 years until his passing. Eight years later, she married Junior Bell, a friend of her late husband's. That marriage lasted 10 years until his death.

Garner married his wife in 1950, and the two were together for 62 years.

Their marriages produced several children.

"We were both happily married," Shaw-Bell said. "If things hadn't have happened like they did, we wouldn’t have our children."

The couple's reunion was set in motion when Shaw-Bell's daughter, Cheryl, made plans to throw a surprise 85th birthday for her mother earlier this year. Cheryl found Garner’s address in Colorado through an internet search, and she sent him an invitation to the party.

"When I got that invitation, I called the number on it," Garner said. "It was probably no less than 15 minutes after I had opened the invitation."

Garner, who was nursing his wife in the late stages of Alzheimer's, was unable to attend. Shortly after, his wife passed away.

Garner and Shaw-Bell began spending more time together this year, making the decision to wed a few months ago with the full support of their families.

"As a very young child, my grandmother was in love with the neighbor boy," Shaw-Bell's granddaughter, Celeste Green Leinberger, wrote on Facebook earlier this month. "Eighty years later, several wars, widowed twice, three kids, a ton of grandkids and great grandkids, floods, fires and tornadoes later, Grandmother is finally marrying the neighbor boy who always appeared with the right intentions at the wrong time."

Sally Sexton writes for The Weatherford (Texas) Democrat.