On Feb. 16, 1951, a young couple from Cullman County traveled to Mississippi to say, “I do!” Today, Skip and Dean Gregory are celebrating 70 years of marriage. On Valentine’s Day, to the couple’s delight, family and friends began the anniversary celebration with a car parade at Center Grove Baptist Church.
Dean Gregory (née Kelley) said she and Skip were neighbors growing up. “He was in high school at Cullman when I was at East Point, and the bus used to let him off right there and let him catch the next bus, but of course I knew him before then.”
Skip was friends with Dean’s brothers, and they all went to the drive-in one night. That’s when the sparks flew.
“He was in a big ol’ truck, and we had to park on the back row because cars couldn’t see over his big truck,” said Dean. “That’s what he told me.”
After dating about a year, when Dean was 16 and Skip was 19, they decided to get married.
Dean recalled, “His sister got married five days before we did, and the next thing I know, he had asked me to marry him. That’s how it started.”
There was only one problem. Dean wasn’t old enough to get married. They headed to Iuka, Mississippi.
“We got married, but before we did, we were told to tell them we were 18 and 21 because the preacher had the license at his house,” said Dean. “I don’t know who told us this, but we were told to write 18 on the bottom of my shoe and 21 on the bottom of his shoe so when the preacher asked how old we were, we told the preacher we were over 18 and 21. So that’s what we did.”
Once back in Cullman, they had to find a place to live.
Said Dean, “We didn’t have a place to live and we had not prepared for any of this. I borrowed the suit I wore at our wedding from my sister. We were poor people, and my parents, with 13 children raised, they did a great job with us. We did good and we farmed. One thing I did tell him (Skip) before we married, and it didn’t stick, I told him, ‘Are you going to farm?’ He said, ‘No.” I said, ‘If you are, I’m not going to marry you,’ and I meant it.”
Dean started working, but since she didn’t know how to drive, she walked 2 miles to work. She was doing that when she found out the couple was expecting their first child, Connie. Two years later, their second daughter, Becky, was born. The Gregorys began running a grocery store/gas station and did so for 17 years. They lived with their two young daughters at their business. In 1966, they bought the house they still live in today.
Through running the store, Skip found a job with Chevron. He delivered gas for 34 years and still proudly wears his signature Chevron shirt and overalls. With Skip now on the road, Dean ran the store and was kept company by a pet squirrel named Spencer.
Skip recalled, “We had a pet squirrel in the store, and he played around and ran around the store.”
Dean added, “Every time I would go to pump gas- the squirrel was on the counter a lot of the time- but when I’d go, he would just jump on my shoulder to go with me to pump gas. I thought this poor old guy saw the squirrel when I was pumping gas, but when we came back in, the squirrel jumped down on the counter. The guy had his hands out getting his money together and I thought the squirrel was going to jump on him. He would have died.”
Eventually, the Gregorys closed the store and Dean went to work at The Ice Cream Tree, which was near Cullman High School. After it closed, she worked at the House of Shoes. After 28 years at the House of Shoes, the business closed.
Skip teased Dean, “I told her that everywhere she worked, they closed up and left!”
Dean worked until she was 78 because she loves to stay busy and loves to run stores. She said, “I love people and I think to go into business, you need to learn to love people or not go in. They say the customers are always right, and they aren’t right every time, but I’ve never had a cross word with a customer. I have worked with the public for 50 years and I never had a sassy word or hurt anybody’s feelings.”
In her spare time, Dean played softball and was a talented fast pitch pitcher. She played for several years while Skip ran the store, but eventually he became a team manager. Dean also bowled for 25 years. Skip enjoyed golfing, fishing and hunting.
They shared stories of rabbit hunting together as a young couple. He teased, “We took a chance you know that? We sat up there on the dang fender of the car and her driving up the road!”
Both Skip and Dean are retired now, but Skip, who will be 90 this year, still maintains a 1-acre farm with his daughter Connie. They stay busy planting squash two times a year and growing corn, okra, tomatoes, green beans and other vegetables.
The Tribune asked the couple, “What is the secret to a happy marriage?”
“Just stay in there and fight like the devil,” answered Skip.
Dean added, “We never had a fight. If he fought me, I wouldn’t live with him either.”
Skip agreed, saying, “If I had to fight her, I wouldn’t live with her.”
Dean smiled, “Now, we’ve had a lot of cross words but no fights.”
Skip and Dean laugh constantly and pick at each other quite a bit, but it’s all in good fun.
When asked what he loves about Dean, Skip said, “She’s GOOD! Even though she makes me mind a lot. She’s mean and she’s good.”
Skip and Dean attend Center Grove Baptist Church and have since before they were married.
“I was 12 when I was baptized,” remembered Dean. “We were baptized together and didn’t even know one another.” They were baptized in a fish pond along with 26 other people, according to Skip.
The Gregorys love doting on their family and sharing their accomplishments. They are extremely proud of their two daughters and their husbands, as well as their 12 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandson. Many came to the church Sunday to participate in the car parade.
Skip and Dean said they are still not sure how they will celebrate their platinum anniversary.
Skip laughed, “I’ll ask her where she wants to go eat and she’ll say, ‘It doesn’t make any difference to me. Any place you want to go eat, I’ll eat. She won’t pick out nothing.” Dean interrupted, “Tell her why! He’s the picky one!” Skip smiled, “Don’t worry, we’ll go somewhere.”
Beamed Skip, “We’ve enjoyed our 70 years together and just thank the Good Lord that we made it. Had it not been for him, we wouldn’t have made it. He’s blessed us real good.”
Smiled Dean, “Yeah, I don’t have any complaints.”
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