The number rolls off the tongue in a matter of seconds. But it represents a lifetime, the lifetime Jose and Sylvia Garcia have shared as a married couple, and as proof that love never gets old — no matter your age.
Their love story began on opposite sides of a border. Jose is a native of Zacatecas, Mexico and came to the United States at age 17. Sylvia was born and raised in the City of San Fernando.
They first met on a blind date. Jose’s friend was going out with one of Sylvia’s friends. There was a party and Sylvia came along to accompany her friend.
“A lot of us lived at this house where there were dances every weekend and she showed up there,” remembered Jose, 68. “She was so beautiful.”
Was it love at first sight?
“Not really,” admits Sylvia, 70.
They were both young and seeing other people. But they kept going out and soon sparks began to fly.
“He was very different [from] the other boys,” Sylvia says. “He was very handsome and more of a gentleman.”
“She was the best around,” says Jose, bringing a smile to his wife’s lips.
But they didn’t follow every tradition.
“I asked him,” says Sylvia of the marriage proposal. “I think I was ready to settle down.”
Jose promptly said “yes.” They got married about two years after they first met and they have never looked back.
Sylvia’s father got Jose a job with a sanitation company, where he worked until his retirement. Sylvia was a stay-at-home mom, caring for their two sons. The family now includes two granddaughters and one grandson.
Beating the Odds
According to the National Health Statistics Report, the probability of a first marriage surviving 10 years is 1 in 15. In fact, 41 percent of first marriages in the United States end in divorce.
The Garcias have already beaten those odds. In fact, they’re right about at the norm for the median length of marriage, between a first wedding and either divorce or the death of one spouse, which is more than 40 years.
They will tell you that it’s not easy. “You have to have a lot of paciencia (patience),” Jose said.
But they also say things were different back in their day.
“Before, you knew a marriage was a marriage,” Sylvia said.
“It was for life,” Jose adds.
They had their fights, their challenges, their ups-and-downs. But “you have to stick together,” Sylvia said.
The secret of their long union?
“Always sleep in the same bed; don’t even think about moving out one night or any of that,” Jose says.
“You don’t stop talking, even if you’re angry,” adds Sylvia.
Three Marriage Ceremonies
They were first married at the Santa Rosa Catholic Church in the City of San Fernando, and renewed their vows there 25 years later. They renewed vows again last year in Mexico in a special celebration for their 43rd wedding anniversary. They didn’t want to wait until the Golden (50th) Anniversary.
“My sisters were here (visiting in San Fernando) and they told me, ‘you should get married in my hometown,” Jose said.
So they headed to La Estanzuela, Zacatecas, where family members there prepared a feast they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.
“It was two days of ‘party,’” Jose says. “There was mariachi one day, banda the next.”
“It was raining and I was dancing at the plaza,” Sylvia adds, still savoring that moment.
And they hope to reach their 50th year together and do it over again.
Enjoying Their Lives
Things have slowed down now. Their kids are grown and have their own families. They’re back on their own, just like when they started.
They often spend their days at Las Palmas Park in San Fernando, sharing time with other seniors. They go out on trips; some of them they organized for other seniors, including a visit to New Orleans not too long ago.
How do they celebrate Valentine’s Day?
“I used to get a dozen red beautiful roses every year,” Sylvia remembered. But nowadays they never miss the St. Valentine’s Dance at Las Palmas Senior Citizen Club.
Despite some health challenges for Sylvia, they say it’s nice to have each other at this stage of their lives.
“In sickness and in health, for rich or poor.” Those vows mean something to the Garcias.
“There are arguments. No money, But you stay together. That’s what you’re supposed to do,” Sylvia said. “It’s hard, but if you stick with it; it’s good at the end.”
After all these years, they are each other’s best friends.
And yes, the love is still there, they readily admit.
“We’ve been very lucky to have each other,” Sylvia said.
The Las Palmas Senior Citizens Club will have its annual St. Valentine’s Dance on Feb. 17, starting at 7 p.m. The club is at Las Palmas Park, located at 505 S. Huntington Street in San Fernando.