The Story of Brooks + Rena


1951: Brooks and Rena, shortly after their wedding 

My husband's paternal grandparents, Brooks and Rena, have now been married for 62 years.  One of my favorite stories that Brooks tells is the one of how he and Rena got together.

Brooks grew up in a valley 120 miles east of Rena in a town called Webster Springs.  Rena, two years younger than Brooks, grew up in a town on the Kanawha River called Nitro.  Brooks was a football player in high school; Rena was a cheerleader and was nominated "Most Mischievous" in her class yearbook.
"I didn't meet her until I started to work on the Charleston newspaper, fresh out of high school," Brooks said. "I was living in Dunbar, WV, about 10 miles away [from Nitro], and one of my buddies said, 'Let’s go down to Nitro, they've got some pretty girls down there.'"
Webster Springs, WV, 1948: 
Brooks is the player farthest to the right
It was Halloween night of 1949.  The high school was hosting a Girl Scouts Halloween party and Rena was there, a popular junior at Nitro High School.  "I know what I was wearing," Rena chuckled. I was dressed up like a pirate, and I had a short skirt on that was cut off and, y’know, a low blouse and a sash and the whole bit!  And, so, I met quite a few boys that night!"  

Brooks walked her home that night, and they began dating shortly after.
"She and I started going together," Brooks said. "We dated for about three months, she was a junior then, and then I moved up the river to Marietta [nearly 100 miles away] while she was still living in West Virginia."
They broke up, and for the next year Brooks remained single while he worked at the Marietta Times.  When asked why he and Rena broke up, Brooks laughed.
"Well … I dunno … her mother didn't like me, for one thing!" He said, laughing.  "But I was also living in Marietta, I had no car, and I couldn't drive."
However, several months later, one of his coworkers helped to change that.
"The publisher of the Marietta Times said, 'Get yourself car, I’ll put it in my name, and get yourself an insurance policy.'  So one of the guys on the Times taught me how to drive," Brooks said.  "That meant I could get back to Charleston, WV, and Rena and I [could resume] our relationship."

St. Albans, WV, October 1949: 
Rena, age 16, around the time
she first met Brooks
In the middle of Rena's senior year, just a few weeks before her 18th birthday, they began to date again.  It quickly became serious.
"She turned 18 on the 8th of February, and on the 23rd of February, we were married," Brooks said, laughing at the memory.
The 23rd was a Friday.  After feeding a false story to her family, they got in the car and began to drive, hoping to cross the right state line and be married in a single day.
Kentucky, just an hour away, was their first attempt.
"We got over to Kentucky, took a blood test, and we found that we couldn't get married in Kentucky in one day, so we crossed the Ohio River," Brooks said.  "We went to Cincinnati [another 100 miles away], and I made a wrong turn and got back over into Kentucky again!"
They continued to follow the Ohio River west from the Kentucky side until they were just across the river from the state of Indiana.
"I had a world almanac, and I found out you could marry in Indiana in one day," Brooks said.  But the trick was getting there - they had already gotten turned around before, and there were no bridges in sight.
"We were looking at the Ohio River, wondering, 'How on earth are we gonna get across the river to Indiana?'" Brooks said.  "So, we looked across the river, and there was a factory over there, in Marchburg – it’s right across the line – and here was a ferry boat carrying cars and stuff from the factory over to the Kentucky side where people were working on the Kentucky side."
Hamline Chapel United Methodist 
Church, where Brooks and Rena
were married
With admirable pluck, they drove down to the ferry dock.
"I said, 'How about taking us back across the river?'  So he took us back across," Brooks said.  "That ferry boat, that was a Godsend."
They were 200 miles from Nitro, had driven hours through parts of four different states, and had endured both getting lost and a failed attempt in Kentucky.  But, finally, they had made it to a state that allowed them to elope in a single day.

"We went to the courthouse, the courthouse issued the license, and they called the Methodist church’s minister.  The minister’s wife and the janitor stood up for us, and we were married!" Brooks said, laughing.

When asked why they got married for quickly, Rena shook her head.

"Dumb, dumb," Rena said.  "I didn't think I was going to college, and there was a whole bunch of us that got married that year, other girls that I went to school with. But not a one of them that got married that year got divorced, they all stayed married."


Pittsfield, MA
Grandpa Charlie: Part II

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