The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

February 15, 2013

A love story for the ages

By Jason O'Boyd, Staff Writer

Friday, February 15, 2013 — Mattie and Owen Cranford are inseparable.

Spending just a few moments with the couple gives one that impression right away. On March 30, the couple will be married for 66 years.

The end of World War II brought them together. The ups and downs of life since have been no obstacle for a loving couple who have many stories of the happy times they’ve shared together. And even when serious, near-tragic events nearly tore them apart, their strength, love and devotion for each other pulled them through each time.

Nothing was going to separate them. Even their birthdays make them inseparable. On Feb. 9, Mattie turned 90. On Feb. 10, Owen turned 93.

“They depend so heavily on each other and have grown so much closer since they retired. Daddy will do little things like blow a kiss once in while. It’s so sweet that he wants to do that,” said Marian Cranford, one of the couple’s four daughters.

For Mattie and Owen, Valentine’s Day isn’t just another holiday. In a way, it’s the one day of the year where everyone else shows to their spouse the same kind of love and devotion Mattie and Owen have shown each other every day seemingly from the first time they met.

How They Met

Owen grew up in Albemarle. Mattie is from Orangeburg, S.C. But Washington, D.C. — where it seems nothing comes together in peace and harmony — is where the magic first began.

Owen was in the Army Air Force and served from 1942-46. He worked as a clerk stationed in Colchester, England, about an hour northeast of London. He could regularly see the German bombers that flew almost daily overhead on their route to London and their quest to blast the Britains into submission. Owen was attached to the 55th Fighter Squadron, which escorted planes that returned the favor by dropping bombs over Germany.

After the war ended, he was stationed in Kaufbeuren, Germany, which is about 40 miles south of Munich. Then he came home to the United States.

Mattie went to Winthrop College, now Winthrop University, for two years before she took a train ride at her sister’s encouragement to D.C. Her sister wanted her to work for the government like she did.

Mattie took the civil service exam and did well. She later met the assistant secretary of the treasury and he asked her a few more questions before having her take another test, one she just knew she did terribly.

She got the job anyway.

When she wasn’t working, she went to school and got her degree in secretarial administration from George Washington University.

Little did they know, two individuals leading pretty hectic lives during and right after the war were about to come together for the first time.

Owen had a 1939 Ford Roadster that he loaned to his brother while he was in the war. He came back to D.C. to get the car and, in the process, was asked if he wanted to be set up on a date.

Owen declined at first, then changed his mind when he met the babysitter of his brother’s 1-year-old baby girl.

That babysitter was Mattie. On or around March 29, 1946 is when they first met.

“My brother said ‘Now don’t get serious with that girl because all she wants to have is a good time,’ ” Owen’s brother told him.

“I’ve been having a good time ever since,” Mattie said with a laugh.

The two hit it off immediately and began dating. They exchanged a lot of letters during an era when it wasn’t easy to pick up the telephone and call.

Owen has always been handy with wood and has hand-carved and personally made numerous clocks and pieces of furniture for he and his wife as well as his daughters and their families. One day, he put a completed cedar chest he had spent hours making for Mattie into his car and drove from Albemarle to Washington, D.C.

“When my sister saw that beautiful cedar chest that he made, that did it,” Mattie said.

“My brother-in-law called the rest of (her dates and boyfriends) dadburn bums. But when he met Owen, that was the difference.”

On March 29, 1947, Owen and Mattie got married and moved to Albemarle.

Life Is Beautiful

In the midst of raising the four girls, Mattie was asked if she would teach a special education class for exceptional children. She accepted and started the first class for special education for trainable children at North Albemarle School, a job she enjoyed for 25 years.

“Mom is very patient. She had the patience of Job,” Marian said.

“She is also very organized. She knows to keep busy and that kind of nature, but it also keeps Daddy occupied to keep him going. They exercise, walk and they know that is the way to keep from going downhill.”

“She got great satisfaction when she taught them to read when they told her they couldn’t,” said Martha Cox, another of the Cranford’s daughters.

“She’ll still see people she taught, and they’ll come over and say ‘Mrs Cranford, I love you.’ My mom gets such a kick out of that.”

Owen worked at the Stanly Lumber Company for about eight years before taking a job at the post office, where he had a walking route he performed for 20 years.

“That’s where I got started building stuff and where I got the lumber to build,” Owen said.

In their house are several clocks that Owen made himself. There’s a grandfather clock that’s the centerpiece of his work in a room beside the kitchen.

But it doesn’t stop there. He has numerous small carvings of all sorts of things that sit on a table in the main living room. He carved and made much of the chairs, tables and even the bed where they sleep.

And he didn’t just build things for the house. After about 13 years of living in one part of town when they were first married, Owen built the house where they live today.

“Beautiful things he has made and a lot of the furniture in the house he has made. He’s also made furniture for all the children. They each had bedroom suites he’s made,” Mattie said.

“They can draw him a picture and he would make them whatever they want.”

Owen did sell a couple of items but didn’t do it to make a profit.

“I sold them for peanuts. I sold one for $600 but it cost me more than $600 to make it,” Owen said.

It’s just an example of the generosity and kindness Owen and Mattie showed to others, the same kind of love they have shown each other all these years.

“Their determination is what has kept them together for so long,” Martha said.

“We’ve tried to live like they would. They both have a very generous heart, very tender heart. We’ve tried to pattern our lives and marriages after theirs.”

Storms Of Life

It hasn’t been all wine and roses for the Cranfords.

They had fun after retirement. Owen retired in 1983 and Mattie in 1985. When the Stanly County Senior Center opened in Albemarle in 1986, they were there the first day. They used to go dancing a lot and Owen even took turns operating the music during those dances. That was a big plus for Mattie.

“I used to tell my big sister when I came home in Washington ‘If my date couldn’t dance, he might as well be dead,’ ” Mattie said with a smile.

“I love to dance. He was a good dancer.”

“Anyone can learn to dance if all you have to do is step to the rhythm,” Owen said.

And step to the rhythm they did. They took lessons and enjoyed themselves for nearly 15 years before, at 87, something struck Owen’s nervous system. He couldn’t do simple things like get out of a chair or his bed.

“I couldn’t do anything. In fact, they thought I was going to die,” Owen said.

He gets around with the aid of two walking sticks. But that hasn’t slowed him down too much.

Neither did an incident on their farm where he suffered serious injuries after falling off his tractor while mowing. Around 2006, he broke two ribs and had other injuries after he lost his balance getting on the tractor, which slipped into gear after Owen thought he had put the brake on.

“He got run over by his tractor and they didn’t think he was going to live. He was out mowing at the farm and got off the tractor to pick up a branch,” Mattie said.

But Owen is too tough a guy to let that stop him. This is the same guy who, as a child, got kicked in the head by a mule that split his skull open. It was so bad, according to Marian, that the doctor had to push part of his brain back in his skull.

He still has a depressed spot on the right side of his head from the incident.

Owen got back on the tractor, drove it to the house, parked it under the shelter, then went into the house to tell Mattie what had happened.

“I picked up (the branch) and started pulling it away and the tractor started moving. All I had to do was mash the brakes with my hand,” Owen said.

“When I hopped up on it I missed my step and fell. I grabbed a hold of the steering wheel to pull myself up. Both of my legs were under that big wheel. I don’t know how I got under the thing.”

Mattie’s had her own misfortunes which nearly took her life in both cases. In 2006, she fell off her bed while trying to answer the phone.

“I reached for the telephone and somehow I fell and hit my head. I had a pretty rough time there, and that was why they didn’t think I was going to live that long,” Mattie said.

She was in the hospital in Charlotte for 23 days and had a blood clot on her brain. A doctor drilled a hole into her skull to relieve the pressure and, eventually, she made a full recovery.

“I remember asking the doctor ‘Can I drill it?’ And he said ‘You won’t know when to stop,’ ” Owen said with a chuckle.

Mattie also fell off a golf cart in 2011 while the two were trying to fix a flat tire at the farm. The cart jolted and she fell out and broke her neck.

Luckily, Martha was on the way to help and assisted her mother. Mattie was carried to a hospital in Asheboro and later was sent to Greensboro after Martha contacted a good friend who was a doctor who agreed to help.

Mattie was in intensive care for 21 days, had a screw placed in her neck and had to wear a neck brace for nine months. At one point, they didn’t think she would survive that ordeal.

But Mattie’s tougher than that. She made a full recovery and says she can turn her neck almost any way she wants now.

The screw that was put into her neck miraculously had bone that grew over it with the aid of some medicine. Last April, she stunned doctors when they saw X-Rays of her neck less than three months after taking the medicine.

“I’ve had some close calls, but each time I come out of it. So I guess the Lord is saving me for something,” Mattie said.

What’s The Key?

Ask Mattie and Owen the key to their longevity and happy marriage and they’ll give you different answers.

“He’s the boss,” Mattie says.

“Nah … she’s the boss," Owen says.

Whatever is the case, both have the love and scars to prove that, together, they’ve made their journey unforgettable. And neither would change it for anything.

“We don’t fight, we just enjoy each other,” Mattie said.

“In fact, he was late coming back from the wood carving (one day a couple of weeks ago), and I almost had conniptions because he didn’t come home when he usually did and forgot to tell me. It was that feeling of ‘What would I do without him?’ ”

Last Saturday, around 200 people gathered at the Senior Center to celebrate the birthdays of Owen and Mattie. The occasion was one where the entire family along with numerous other relatives and friends got together to honor and rejoice in their lives and accomplishments.

“My parents’ love is truly made in heaven. It’s eternal and it’s the kind you’ll only find between my parents and fairy tales. You’ll never see it anywhere else,” said Sandra Raney, another of the four daughters.

“They’ve given to us girls and the (six) grandchildren more than we deserve. But they’ve always been there to help us,” Marian said.

“I’ve been a widow for 19 years, and they helped me raise my two kids. They have helped with college with the grandchildren. They give so much of themselves back to the family.”

Because love really does know no boundaries.

To submit story ideas, contact Jason O. Boyd at 704-982-2121 ext. 34 or email at