In an era of cell phones, e-mail and Melrose Place, it’s easy to forget that communication once took place—and love could grow—at a gentle pace. But B.B. and Josie Blakey never forgot. The couple met in 1927 and began writing to each other. Slowly, by mail, they fell in love. Married in 1929, they remained devoted to each other for almost 63 years, until B.B.’s death in 1992.
“They had a commitment that we all search for throughout our lives and few of us are fortunate enough to find, “says their granddaughter, award-winning photojournalist Keri Pickett, 36. Moved by their abiding romance, she combined passages from the more than 700 letters the couple wrote during their 1928-29 courtship with photographs taken during their last years to produce Love in the 90s (Warner), a recently published book about their lives.
Bernard Buckner Blakey was born near Maude, Mo., in 1895; Josie Walker was born the next year in Indian Territory, now the state of Oklahoma. She was 32 and a traveling minister, helping to establish church schools in a 15-state area, when she first met B.B., who was in the hardware business in Tulsa. They started as pen pals; the first hint of romance began, perhaps, when Josie hatched a mischievous plan to get rid of an unwanted suitor.
July 7, 1928
The preacher here has fallen madly in love with me. I do not care for him in the least and never shall. If you want to do me a favor, write me often and play the part of “my friend.” He may lose heart if he sees letters coming constantly. So long, here he comes.
This is the first of the series of letters you’ll receive. I’ll put my whole name on the return card so he won’t think I’m a girlfriend…
I am thoroughly enjoying every one of [your letters]. Today after church, Mr. Perry handed me two, saying, “What is the meaning of all these letters marked ‘personal’?” You need not label the others, for I’m sure he’s seen enough so that he recognizes them. Good night, sweet dreams.
I can’t say I blame “the preacher” in the least for his ambitions. Maybe I’d better go get a diamond ring to give him heart failure. Best wishes from your devoted friend…
I am sitting in front of my cabin where you found me yesterday. I guess I should have been prepared for what happened last night, but was not. Blakey, are you sure that you really love me? It seems to me that we hardly know each other. Please give me plenty of time that I may think about it and pray about it. Sincerest wishes…
My heart beats strong and true for you. And you may have all the time you need to find the answer, for I have complete faith that you’ll do all that’s right and good. It’s that knowledge that makes me love you and want you for my wife.
I want you to know that I am not in the habit of allowing men the liberties which I allowed you. Never before have I allowed any gentleman friend to kiss me. Really, I want to learn to love you, and feel that the process ought to be gradual.
Dearest, I suppose I should feel repentant for the liberties I took, but I can’t when I think of the thrill that went through me as I felt your arms about my neck and your lips against mine as we stood there in the moonlight. Please give me credit for considerable willpower, though, in that I didn’t try it again. Your unrepentant lover…
I am beginning to realize how much you mean to me, and I don’t believe I could be happy without you now. When would you like to be married?
Sweetheart, I just want to say, I love you, in a million different ways and languages tonight. I hope that it won’t sound silly. I love you, Jojo. I do truly.
July 11, 1929
Pal 0′ My Dreams,
As you drive to Wichita, keep in mind that I love you with all my heart. Honey, don’t be too free with your demonstrations of affections while we’re here. There’ll be plenty of occasions afterward.
My Own Darling Jo,
I believe this is the last letter you will receive from me before you change your name to Mrs. B.B. Blakey. The future looks bright and my heart is overflowing with happiness.
Jojo and Blakey settled in Enid, Okla., where they raised a son and two daughters. Josie, 99, now lives in a Minneapolis nursing home. B.B., writes Pickett, “is never far from her mind. Her constant refrain is, ‘Bless his heart, he was the nicest person I ever knew.’ ”