By Ashley Lodato

With the newspaper being published on Valentine’s Day this year, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to tell a Methow love story.

This love story begins many years ago, on a country lane 3.5 miles up the Chewuch, where my neighbor Donna Northcott Martin’s grandparents and her future husband Tom Martin’s grandparents lived. “This was clear back when I was a little kid,” Donna says. “We were kids together, and my parents knew his parents and aunts and uncles; they had all been kids together.”

Tom and his family moved away for a while when he was 16 and Tom entered the service as a paratrooper, but then in 1958 Tom returned to the Methow Valley, working up Hart’s Pass at the Western Gold Mine. Mutual friends thought Tom and Donna would be a good match and they set up a first date at Sam’s Place, a restaurant then located in the building next to Farmers State Bank.

It was a comfortable first date, says Donna. “We knew each other from growing up. We had backgrounds in common.” Donna had three sons from a previous marriage and Tom’s mother had told him “You’re 31 years old — you need a family.” In Donna, Tom not only won a life partner but also an instant family. Tom and Donna were married Nov. 1, 1958, and remained married 40 years until Tom passed away in 1998.

Donna says that from the time she and Tom had their daughter, Kelly, Tom always gave them both a heart-shaped box of candy or flowers on Valentine’s Day. “He did that right up to the very end,” Donna says, “and the last one was on Valentine’s Day in 1998, just two weeks before we lost him.” That year, Tom gave Donna a red rose in a red vase.

“Tom was just a basic guy,” Donna says, “not too romantic, but he almost always gave me a card on Valentine’s Day. He seldom bought flowers, but if he did it was on Valentine’s Day.” She adds, “You don’t think about that kind of thing until it’s over.”

I asked Donna for her advice on the secret of a long marriage. “Communication,” she says. “You have to talk through your problems; don’t let them fester. Respect each other, too.” Donna encourages couples to find time to be a twosome and talk through relationship issues, especially spouses with children. Otherwise, she says, “the kids come to the forefront and you kind of forget how to be a couple.”

Donna has many stories from earlier days in the Methow Valley, including memories of a community that was much smaller and quieter before the opening of the North Cascades Highway, and a time of almost unparalleled kinship and interdependence. But that’s a different kind of love story, to be saved for another day.

PREVIOUSLY, IN WINTHROP

Email Ashley