Dogged determination key to happiness

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

For Maury and Alvena Leal, the answers to a successful marriage have been pretty simple: Don't go to bed angry, do things you enjoy together and watch other people's pets.

The Leals have been living by the first two for their entire lives together, and the last one for more than two decades. It's worked for them - the Mi-Wuk Village couple celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary earlier this month with friends and family.

Maury and Alvena, both 89, have been spending much of their golden years together bobbing from place to place keeping watchful eyes on furry friends while their owners travel.

"It's what's keeping us young," Maury said of the cottage pet-sitting service the two have been providing in and outside of the area since 1986.

More than a hobby and less than a business, the unique retirement plan for the Leals capped off diverse careers that dipped into education, agriculture, golfing and hospitality between the two of them. And it's served as a fun chapter for a couple who have seen and done a lot.

"It's wonderful. If you're having a bad day and the animals are doing something cute, you don't have time to be upset," Alvena said.

The two waded into the world of pet-sitting at the end of a stretch running

a Motor Lodge motel in Mi-Wuk Village. They received word about plans to close the business, and not long after a customer came into the office and asked to use the phone.

Alvena said the man was concerned about a flight and wanted to contact his "sitter." She thought he was talking about a babysitter for kids, but he meant for pets.

Alvena said this was the first she had heard of people hiring other people to watch their pets, despite the two of them growing up around animals and having their own over the years.

"I said, 'That's what we're going to do when we leave here,' " she said this month.

The Leals started watching pets for friends and family, and their services spread by word of mouth. They've had pet-sitting jobs as far as Southern California and Oregon. While most people ask them to sit for dogs and cats, they've worked with all sorts of animals - horses, birds, chickens and even goats.

Though they have a place to stay in Mi-Wuk Village during off time, the Leals say they spend most of their time at clients' homes.

"You name it, we've done it," Maury said.

The Leals grew up in what is now Fremont, raised in Portuguese families that had travelled to the U.S. from the Azores. Their families were close with each other. Maury and Alvena were friendly even as young children speaking limited English while attending one-room schools in the rural community.

They started dating in high school, and Maury proposed their senior year not long after the senior ball.

"Everybody just knew that's what was going to happen, even when we were young," Alvena said. "We knew it too."

The two were married on a rainy Dec. 6 at the Catholic church in Centerville. The rain on their wedding day didn't concern them much, Alvena said, and it even cleared up soon after the service.

"Later, we decided (the rain) was a good omen," she said.

The couple moved to Tuolumne County in the 1960s, after Maury put in work at a steel mill and a working farm and Alvena as an educator. They learned of the area when they took a youth group on a snow trip in the early 1950s, and bought property soon after.

They moved to Mi-Wuk Village when Maury got a job as groundskeeper at the now-closed golf course in town. When that closed, they managed the motel.

Keeping a family together for 70 years isn't always easy, and both said there are "ups and downs." But when asked to share any relationship advice, they keep it simple.

"Don't go to bed angry," Maury said.

"Just being together - doing things together, laughing together, crying together," Alvena said.

Their three children, nine grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild are examples of the success of that advice. And they've had their fun together, having taken multiple cruises and traveled seven times overseas to visit their roots in the Azores. They've also visited all but three of the 50 states - Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Maybe that's why the past 70 years have practically flown by for the Leals.

"It really doesn't feel that long," Alvena said.

The Union Democrat
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