William and Rosa Lassiter were married on Sept 6, 1958.
That was more than 50 years ago. So long ago, William says, that the two now look alike, act alike, think alike.
For the telling of this story, that’s a good thing. Because after suffering a series of strokes, Rosa no longer can talk.
“I think it’s pride more than anything else,” William explains “Because she can’t get the word out as fast, she just won’t talk.”
Rosa is seated across the room in their Rock Hill home in her wheelchair. William is in a lounger. They glance at one another and Rosa is smiling.
Theirs is a love story.
Mostly, though, it is a story about commitment, a promise made more than a half century earlier.
William and Rosa had been married 39 years when she began complaining about pain in her foot. Doctors were stumped.
It was November 1997, a week before Thanksgiving, when Rosa had what would be her first major stroke. “One of the worst days of my life,” William remembers.
By the time doctors figured it out, she had probably had three or four little strokes, they would later learn.
But this one, in November ’97, was big. It left her needing a cane.
Two more would follow, one in April ’98 and a third three months later.
“That last one put her in the wheelchair,” William says.
Seven out of 10 of us were not yet born when William Lassiter and Rosa Davis were married at her home in Apex, N.C. They were both 18.
It was the year NASA was born. The microchip was invented that year. Pan-Am started daily trans-Atlantic jet service in 1958, the first airline to do so. And the District of Columbia Bar Association voted to admit blacks.
William and Rosa met in 8th grade. They took part in a school play that year, but that was all. A local newspaper did an article. William still has it, yellow and brittle.
The two became study friends in high school, but that was all… well, at least at first. There were several kids in that study group, all superior students.
“I guess I was the weakest one in there,” William says. “I was a B+ student. The rest of them were really smart.”
William uses that word a lot. He had always liked that in a woman.
And standing just 5-foot-5, he also had favored them short.
Rosa topped out at 5 feet.
Still, the high school friends shared no chemistry, except in the books they studied.
Then Rosa’s family moved to a neighboring school district. Although Rosa got letters from other members of her former study group, from William there was only silence.
She sent word asking why?
William drove to see her on Thanksgiving Day. He took a friend.
“We just kinda clicked,” he says.
Dreams. They both had plenty.
Rosa wanted to attend college. William fancied himself in the U.S. Air Force. But six months after their wedding, their only child, Elton, was born.
Dreams, they knew, would have to wait.
William took a job cooking in a Chapel Hill hospital. Rosa went to work in a doctor’s home.
He later found work selling insurance, and then got into retail. Promotions would come. Better money. There were always, it seemed, bigger stores to manage, transfers to new and bigger cities.
“That’s the reason we didn’t have no more children,” William says. “It was always, ‘wait till next year, wait till next year.’ …Next thing we looked up and Elton was 15 years old, and I said, ‘Uh oh, we can’t have no children now.’ And that’s how it went.”
Life, for most people, is entirely unremarkable. We work. We worship. We raise our children and care for our families. We do what we can with what God has given us.
William and Rosa’s life was largely no different.
He joined a bowling league. She immersed herself in civic activities, especially groups that sought to uplift children. And, of course, there was church, a centerpiece in their life.
Yes. That’s William’s word.
It’s how he describes their marriage — “It’s like one person living one life.”
He quickly explains: “We’ve had some argument, now. We’ve had some doozies. We never had no fight, or hitting or nothing like that, no threats about leaving, getting divorced. ”
William boils it down to three decisions they made, knowingly or not: Jealousy is banned, they don’t allow money to divide them, and they never stay mad for long.
Since 1998, much of William’s life has been about caring for Rosa. She depends on him completely.
At a family gathering once, some of her relatives quietly pulled William aside. They had seen him struggling to get Rosa in and out of a car. Her family would not be angry, they confided, if William decided that a nursing home was best.
William said no.
“It ain’t gonna happen,” he says, “not long as I’m living, as long as I’m able to take care of her. Nope. It ain’t gonna happen.”
“It just wouldn’t be right,” he continues. “I’d feel worse than if she’d just passed away. She’s got to be with me.”
William says Rosa’s strokes have drawn them closer, if anything.
He says he is grateful for the life they share. To him, he says, she is the same woman he married, maybe just a wee bit smarter.
“It’s fantastic when I look back at it,” he says. “Sometimes I be thinking, I must have did something right. No, I must have did a whole lot right.”