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50 Years Ago--
When I was a child, my parents had a rule. They wouldn’t go to
sleep angry with each other. They stayed up pretty late a few nights,
but they never held grudges and always forgave.
Frank and I married on August 25, 1963. That means that this
August is our 50th anniversary. And for 50 years, we’ve tried to live
by my parents’ rule.
In January, 1963, just after spring break, I transferred from West
Texas State College near my hometown to Abilene Christian
College. I had grown up helping my father on his weekly newspaper,
the Happy Herald, and now I was a journalism major preparing for a
career as a writer.
When I moved into Gardner Hall, my roommate and I went across
the street from the campus to the coffee shop. As we sat there
getting acquainted, I saw this boy come in. He was a boy, yet he
wasn’t. He seemed older somehow, more experienced, sadder.
Thin and pale, he had light brown hair that hung over the collar of his
"Look at that boy,” I whispered to my roommate. “I’m going to
marry him someday.”
“Him?” she said. She wasn’t impressed.
I was. I knew that that pale face was my destiny. The only problem
was that in 1963, a girl didn’t just walk up and introduce herself to a
boy. You had to find someone who knew both of you to introduce
you. And that wouldn’t be easy.
The campus was gigantic. Thousands of students attended school
there. And here I was, fresh off the farm—or rather fresh in from a
farming community of 642 people. It was 641 now that I had gone.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. It turned
out that he was a journalism major, too, and the editor of the school
paper, Carol Straughn, introduced us.
We met in the coffee shop where I first saw him, and we started
talking. His younger brothers were singing on campus with a high
school chorus, so we talked until we went to their performance, then
talked until curfew and made a date to meet the next day. We were
together every day after that until school let out for the summer.
We talked about everything—our history, our future plans, our
attitudes about everything under the sun. It was like we wanted to cut
ourselves open and share everything we were and ever had been.
Our experiences were so different. While I had spent most of my life
in one small town, Frank had lived in major cities all over the world—
New York, Washington, Tokyo and Rome. While I had one sister,
Frank had three brothers and two sisters.
He and his brothers sang together as one of those “brothers” quartets
that were popular at the time. Our family used to sing in the car and
at the shop as we worked on the paper at night. We were just “we
four and no more.” Family events at the Silveys’ seemed like a
crowd to me.
The next month, we were engaged and planning a September
wedding. But it wasn’t going to be that simple. The administration of
the college, acting in loco parentis, forbade us to marry while school
was in session. They claimed a marriage between the two of us
would never succeed.
So, instead of the beautiful church wedding I’d dreamed of, we
married in my parents’ living room that summer with just our families
and a school friend of Frank’s as witnesses. My sister was my
bridesmaid, and we both wore cotton dresses--mine white with lace
and hers blue and brown—our wedding colors. That was when I
realized that it wasn’t the wedding, but the marriage, that mattered.
We were committed to each other. We were committed to talking
things out, to “not going to bed angry,” to being honest with each
other, to working together to live and make a life.
We started by working together on the ACC student newspaper, The
Optimist. I became editor for the 1964-65 school year, and Frank
wrote a column for each issue, called “Frankly Speaking.”
One day while we were in classes, a fire started in the little house we
were renting. A neighbor saw it in time and called the fire
department, and the house and the things in it were saved, but the
smoke and water damage was horrible. We had to move out into a
motel, wash all our clothes, and take what couldn’t be washed to the
I found myself attending classes and putting out the paper all day, then
studying and ironing clothes in the motel at night. I had my first and
It was a real challenge, but it all got done. Not only that, but The
Optimist was a state award-winner that year.
That was when we lost our department. The journalism department
at ACU at the time was made up of just two people, Heber Taylor,
the quiet, sweet department chair, and Reg Westmoreland, a more
sophisticated man who headed the public information department and
taught classes. Almost simultaneously, Taylor retired and
Westmoreland left to teach at another college. We were set adrift.
We had talked often about leaving West Texas and moving to Los
Angeles. One of Frank’s uncles, Norvel Young, was president of
Pepperdine College there. And Pepperdine had a journalism
Then Frank had oral surgery. Faced with the hospital bills, we had to
cancel our move to LA indefinitely.
Frank had just come out of surgery, and I was at the hospital with
him, changing bloody dressings in his mouth, when the phone rang. It
was Uncle Norvel. He had worked out a loan for us to make the trip
on. I could write publicity for the college, and Frank could get a job
with a local newspaper. We could make the move after all.
I told him it sounded great to me, but I had to talk it over with Frank
and be sure he agreed. I’d call back. Frank was still a little groggy
from the surgery, but I got him awake enough to understand and laid
out the plan. He was as excited as I was. I called Uncle Norvel
back and told him we’d be there.
The next morning, I said something about the move, and Frank
looked at me strangely. “Billie, you know we can’t move because of
the hospital bills,” he said.
I felt a sudden chill. “But Uncle Norvel called and had it all worked
out. I asked you, and you agreed that it was a good plan.”
Frank had been groggier than I’d realized, and I had made one of the
biggest decisions of our married life on my own.
Just before we struck out for California, we heard the news. A race
riot had broken out in a part of the city called Watts. Friends,
relatives--even strangers--warned us not to go.
But we had overcome so many obstacles, and we were eager to be in
the big city. We drove halfway across the country with the leg of an
ironing board pressing into the back of my seat.
We were going to be independent, free of parents and colleges that
acted in loco parentis. When we finally drove up to the guard gate
on campus, the guard surprised us with the news that the campus was
still under curfew from the riots. We had to be in by 8:00 p.m.!
(Our story continues in the following pages of this month's
website: how our lives intersected with history, our learning
experiences, and the popular culture we enjoyed. Please feel
free to share your reactions and reminiscences with me at
"That boy," the urbane Frank Silvey
Me, fresh off the farm.
Our wedding day.
Interviewing the first person in Abilene
seen riding a skateboard.
Photo by Jim Ridgeway