Jennifer Poff Cooper
Eugene and Marie Carcreff recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.
A 95th birthday is a rare event indeed. A 70th wedding anniversary is perhaps even more rare. And yet the two were fêted in tandem at Commonwealth Senior Living in Christiansburg last Saturday.
Eugene Carcreff turned 95 on that day, and he and his bride, Marie, also celebrated their platinum anniversary early, the actual date being April 12.
Marie Carcreff was born in New Jersey but, during the Great Depression, she went to live with her grandparents in France, her mother’s native country.
She stayed for four years and when she returned to the States, she was held back in school because she could not speak English well enough. She considers French her native language.
Eugene Carcreff was born in France and joined the French military from 1942-1946. He was a gunner, shooting at Japanese airplanes. His troop once stopped in New York City, which is where the Carcreffs met on July 14, 1943, at a French-American dance for sailors there.
The two corresponded, in French, for three years during Eugene’s stint in the service. During that time, Marie worked at a chocolate factory where the owner was well connected and able to find out Eugene’s general whereabouts and safety status.
Eugene returned to the U.S. in December of 1946. He had waited six months for transportation and it took 12 days on a cargo ship to make the trip. Marie’s family sponsored him as an immigrant, inviting him to stay with them. The two were married the following April in what their eldest daughter Annette Holley said was a “leap of faith.”
Meanwhile, in France, Eugene’s family thought that he had perished in the war as France was an occupied country with little information getting in and out. In fact, they were planning a funeral for him when Marie wrote them a letter to alert them to his very much alive status. The couple eventually visited France, where their families finally met.
Both are from the Brittany region of France and speak a Celtic language called Breton. Daughter Annette remembered that anytime her parents wanted to hide information from the three daughters, they would lapse into Breton.
For parties, the couple still liked to fix traditional French food such as pâté and tripe (sautéed cow stomach, which, Annette said, is actually very tasty).
Communication in the United States was initially a problem for Eugene. As newlyweds, Annette laughed, Marie sent Eugene to the store to buy a head of cabbage and he asked instead for a head of garbage. He learned English through immersion, according to Annette, by reading newspapers and having a boss at his first job that knew French and helped him assimilate.
The couple spent most of their lives in New Jersey. Eugene obtained his U.S. citizenship in 1954. Marie was a housewife while Eugene worked at first for Lipton Tea. The company offered Eugene a transfer to Texas, but he declined the offer in order to keep Marie close to her family. Afterward, Eugene worked in the pharmaceutical industry as a foreman in chemical operations. He retired in 1984.
The Carcreffs followed their daughters – Annette plus two others, Jeannine Costa and Denise Cadou – to Virginia during the recession, when their families moved away from New Jersey to find work. The couple lived independently well into their nineties.
According to Robin Sutphin, Director of Sales and Marketing at Commonwealth Senior Living, the Carcreffs have lived at the facility for about a year. Eugene is very active and social, she said.
While Marie’s health keeps her from being as spry and keeps the Carcreffs living in different areas of the facility, they still see one another every day.
Now that is something worth celebrating.