M aury and Alvena Leal, both 94, sat close to one another in their Mi-Wuk Village home Thursday morning surrounded by Christmas decorations and ornaments, while their Chiweenie dog, Scarlett, bustled and trotted along the edges of the couch.
Alvena leaned in toward Maury and gave his hand a few gentle taps. Maury turned, and they both stared into each other’s eyes, briefly, before explaining their secret for sustaining 75 years of marriage.
“Always go to bed happy instead of going to bed mad,” Maury said.
“Well, we always kiss each other goodnight, honey,” Alvena chided, again placing her hand over husband’s fingers.
“Some people think it’s crazy, but I don’t think it is,” Maury said, cracking a smile.
Though they may deny it, their union gives the impression of being preordained.
The pair began “going steady” in 1938 while attending Washington Union High School in Centerville, now Fremont, but had known each other since they were children through church and family acquaintances. They were married on Dec. 6, 1942, when they were both 18 years old and, in the many decades that have passed, the Leals have done “everything,” they said, and they have done it together.
“Doing things together for us is very, very important,” Alvena said. “Communication is very important. And if we are upset about something, we talk to the animals.”
Like little Scarlett sauntering her way around the Mi-Wuk Village home, animals have loomed large in the decades that the couple have spent together.
In 1953, the Leals “fell in love with the area” and purchased a lot with another couple, building a Winchester-style home on the property. A decade later, they purchased their current home as a weekend cabin and, finally, in 1973, moved into the residence permanently.
Since 1973, they said, they have raised, babysat, and administered care to dogs, cats, sheep, goats, horses and chickens from the inside of small homes to the expanse of large farms.
Maury’s 20-year occupation with Kimber Farms mixing feed for chickens at various developmental stages came in handy, he said, but more often than not, the animals themselves provided care to Leals.
“They listen,” he said, with each of them noting that their conversational relationships with the animals kept them from “saying bad things to each other.”
Occupations and community investments had also figured prominently in their shared history, they said, with Alvena working as a manager for a motor lodge motel and as a former president of the Mi-Wuk Sugar Pine Fire Auxiliary, and Maury in a steel mill, as a volunteer firefighter, and as a groundskeeper for the now-closed Mi-Wuk golf course.
But the most poignant and satisfying moments of their retirement, they agreed, came during their travels. Those memories, they said, even further solidified the love and dedication they felt for one another since the formative days of their courtship.
“One of the most wonderful things, if we saw anything that was beautiful, he would never complain and pull over to see it” Alvena said, referencing Sonora Pass and the Grand Canyon. “I think we always enjoyed our trips because of that.”
The couple has visited the Azores eight times, they said, a mid-Atlantic paradise archipelago off the coast of Portugal.
Their eyes lit with memories as they explained their shared heritage from the islands, blossoming hedgerows of hydrangeas, and the origin of pineapples to the island.
“The Azores are far more beautiful than Hawaii,” Alvena said, laughing.
Maury, a member of Sonora Sons in Retirement Branch 136, also fondly recalled an international trip to the Mediterranean undertaken by multiple couples in the 1990s, which took them to Italy, Greece, Turkey, and even to Russia via the Black Sea.
But now the Leals, gratified and comfortable in their twilight years, tend to an enormous family legacy as the chief elders of two children, a man and woman; nine grandchildren; 17 great-grandchildren; and five great-great-grandchildren, with another one on the way.
“They have wonderful memories, and we have wonderful memories. We are very family oriented,” Alvena said.
The couple’s 75th anniversary party will be at The Peppery in East Sonora on Saturday, they said, and they expect about 60 family members to attend. Due to the large number of guests, they said, a second anniversary party for friends has been scheduled for Wednesday.
Maury and Alvena can still, to this day, sit down with one another and laugh or reminisce about their long history of memories, they said.
“It just doesn’t seem like it’s been 75 years. I don’t know where the time has gone,” Alvena said. “I think we’ve just enjoyed our family immensely, the traveling, that’s been a wonderful thing. Like I said, I don’t know where the time has gone.”