Couple that does things the old-fashioned way celebrates 60 years of marriage today

STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER James and Cassandra Small mark their 60th anniversary today.
STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER James and Cassandra Small mark their 60th anniversary today.
Posted: May 23, 2014

JAMES AND Cassandra Small are each other's best friends.

Soul mates, if you will.

If she's having a senior moment and can't think of a word, the retired postal worker readily steps in. At 81, he's her caretaker, driving her to oncologist appointments and preparing meals.

But when James had his knee replacement in 1995, Cassandra, 80, was the one doting on him. Theirs is an old-fashioned partnership and one that has spanned 60 years of marriage.

In fact, today is their 60th wedding anniversary.

James and Cassandra met in the early 1950s while attending a vocational high school in Bordentown, N.J. He studied mechanics; she studied dressmaking. Casual friendship gradually became serious.

After being drafted into the Army, James went to Atlanta for training while Cassandra stayed behind, working at Whitman's Chocolates at 4th and Race streets. They talked about getting married. But he was 21 and she just 20. When you're that young, it feels as if you have all the time in the world to plan your forever.

Then the couple learned that if they got married, the U.S. Army would provide them with a monthly allotment, which they could save for their future. So Cassandra traveled to Atlanta and, on a blisteringly hot May 22, 1954, they pledged their lives to each other in a simple ceremony at a military chapel. James looked sharp in his Army uniform. Cassandra wore a two-piece summer suit.

They were blissfully happy, until reality burst their honeymoon bubble. While riding a city bus in Atlanta, a driver ordered the couple to move to the rear. Cassandra decided she'd had enough of the Jim Crow South and was ready to return to Philly.

James, still in the service, eventually was sent to Japan. While he was away, Cassandra began getting her monthly allotment from the military, which she faithfully saved in a joint account at the old PSFS bank.

After his discharge in 1956, they used that nest egg for a deposit on the rowhouse where they still live on the 1700 block of North Aberdeen Street, and set about building a life together.

James went to work for the U.S. Postal Service. Cassandra dabbled in modeling and went to work as a payroll clerk. In 1963, they had a son, also named James.

Theirs was a quiet but productive life. Although they never drank or smoked, their house frequently was party central, with dancing in the basement and the table upstairs loaded with chicken salad, string beans, mashed potatoes and carrots.

"I would call them the Huxtables before the Huxtables," said Will Mega, a school administrator and family friend, referring to the famous family on "The Cosby Show." "Just straight, old-school values. They live by the Bible . . . the type of people who value manners and are loyal."

And not just to each other. James has been an Eagles season-ticket holder for 54 years.

After six decades together, James and Cassandra are as in love as they ever were. Amazingly, they say they never fight.

Listening to them talk, I had to ask - what's your secret for getting along?

"I never argued," James explained. "One of my keys of success with her was to say 'Yes, dear.' "

My eyebrows shot up - but Cassandra backed him up, saying, "We never really had any big arguments or anything. We would always talk things over."

I guess after 60 years, there's no need to make a big to-do over another anniversary.

Today, Cassandra has a doctor's appointment. James will be there with her, no doubt reliving memories of all the good years they've had together.

"It seems like yesterday that we got married," James told me. "Time has a way of escaping you when you are having fun."

On Twitter: @JeniceArmstrong


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