After nearly 56 years of marriage, Juan and Martha Salinas of Edmonds know a little something about love.
Like many couples, they were introduced by friends, had a two-year courtship, got married and – after a few years – had two children. But a closer look at the timeline reveals something amazing by 2011 standards: Juan and Martha met at age 15, married at 17 and started a family – all before they graduated from Roy Miller High School in Corpus Christi, Texas. They both held down jobs while going to school and Juan even managed to play on the high school football team as a three-year letterman.
“We were blessed. Our marriage was blessed,” Juan said simply.
“We didn’t really have anything but it was important we stuck together,” Martha added.
When asked for their keys to marital bliss, they were quick to cite their early independence and self-sufficiency, despite their young age. Juan worked nights in the mail room of the local newspaper, getting about four hours of sleep a night, while Martha was employed at Kress department store after school and on Saturdays. They lived in a government housing project, paying $29 in monthly rent.
“We never did live with our parents, “ Martha said.
“There’s a lot of kids today who are married and wind up living either with her parents or his parents. I think that’s where trouble starts,” Juan added.
And while the grandparents would help out with babysitting – and Martha’s father occasionally would intercept the postman to pay the young couple’s utility bill – “we would be embarrassed to ask our parents for any kind of money,” Juan said.
The couple started dating in the summer of 1953, after friends suggested they meet. “He called me and I didn’t know who he was but I liked his voice,” Martha said. “He said, ‘Let’s go to the movies.’ I don’t ever remember him asking me to go steady with him, but it just kind of happened.”
Friends and family were delighted when they decided to marry, the couple recalled. “They knew that we were meant for each other,” Martha said.
The couple married on March 22, 1955 and graduated from high school in June of 1957. In between, Martha gave birth to their daughter, Rosemary. The couple even managed to buy a house before Rosemary was born – “actually, it was a trade,” Martha said, explaining that another young couple, whose husband was in the U.S. Air Force, needed a vehicle to drive to the city where he was being stationed.
“I had a nice car – a 1949 Chevrolet,” Juan said. “The husband asked if they could trade the car for the house and we could take over the payments.” For $35 a month, the couple had a one-bedroom house. “All my friends’ mothers were always very good about helping,” Martha said. “They gave us drapes for the living room and bedrooms, everybody gave us something that we needed at the time and that’s how it was. We had lots of hand-me-down things.”
“We didn’t have luxury, but we had a lot of love,” Juan added.
A family friend showed them how to establish a household budget, and they became disciplined about how they spent their money, saving whatever they could. Entertainment expenses were minimal, the couple recalled. “We didn’t have any idle time to be going here and there,” Juan said. During high school, Rosemary would attend football games to watch her young husband play and occasionally they would go to school dances.
Two and a half years after Rosemary was born, the couple had a son, John.
“Financially, we were very, very strapped,” Rosemary added. “So it wasn’t like we had money to party or whatever. Every penny counted.”
Thanks to their disciplined savings, the couple was able to afford a two-bedroom house for their growing family.
In 1962, Juan and Rosemary took a trip to Yakima to visit relatives and also brought the children to Seattle to see the World’s Fair. They fell in love with the state’s scenery and a cousin of Juan’s promised to help him find a job, so they moved the family from Texas to Yakima.
Juan became a cement mason, and the family eventually moved to Mountlake Terrace, then Mukilteo. In 1976, after son John graduated from high school, he and his father started Salinas Construction Inc., which provides commercial concrete construction services for public and private projects ranging from airports to freeways to sidewalks.
Martha served as bookkeeper for a time, until the business “grew and grew and I said I think I’m going to retire because I’m going to take care of the grandkids, which is the best job,” she said. Juan recently “retired” from the company after 34 years, although he admits to still rising at 4 a.m. for frequent visits to the office.
Seven years ago, the couple moved to Edmonds, where daughter-in-law Judy operates ceramics studio Glazed & Amazed and granddaughter Amber now has a photo studio. Now both 73 years old, Juan and Martha have a total of five grandchildren but as of yet there are no great grandchildren – “just great granddogs,” Martha said.
Through it all, the couple admitted to having disagreements but never questioned the commitment to their marriage. Which brings us back to the question – on this Valentine’s Day – of the secret to making love last.
“The first thing that my grandfather said to him was, ‘Respect her and she should respect you,’” Martha said. “That’s how people continue to live happily married, if you respect each other.
“Marriage is not 50-50; sometimes it’s 75-25,” Martha added. “You need to be giving in a little bit – not ‘it’s going to be my way, and that’s it.’ Not if you are going to succeed in the marriage, in business, in anything. You cannot have it your way all the time.”