Letters, Sister’s Urging Lead to Over 60 Years of Marriage for Cashwells

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MTT News's picture
Katherine Perreth
Marilyn and Dick Cashwell at their wedding, and today.

CROSS PLAINS–Although the couple didn’t know it at the start, the deluge of snail mail letters, written in cursive, carefully folded into an envelope, affixed with a lick-able stamp and placed in the mailbox for delivery, were actually intercepted and shot from Cupid’s arrow–aided and abetted by a persistent matchmaker. For four years, so many letters traveled the nearly 800 miles between New Bedford, MA and Raleigh, NC that neither Marilyn Andrews nor Dick Cashwell bothered counting.

Both are now 83 and have been happily married for 61 years. 

“I’d write every day,” Marilyn Cashwell recalled of her late teens. “My mother wondered what in the world I had to say.”

Their beginning was prompted then nurtured by Dick’s sister, Barbara Pearson. She had met and married Marilyn’s first cousin during WWII, and got to know then seven-year-old Marilyn. At family gatherings as teens, Marilyn and Dick first met. When Dick headed off to college at North Carolina State in Raleigh, Pearson approached each separately, suggesting they correspond. 

Neither stood a chance. “I was young, easily convinced of things, and Barbara is 12 years older,” Dick said with a laugh. “She took me to my first day of Kindergarten.” 

To gain Marilyn’s cooperation, Pearson played the homesick college Freshman card, “Dick would be getting mail, Barbara said, and I was willing.”

The burgeoning friendship continued to deepen and cement. “When you write down how you feel or what you really think about something, you do have to think, rather than saying it off the top of your head,” Marilyn explained. “We got to know each other pretty well.”

During the summers between Dick’s years in college, Pearson continued to tweak what she’d started. “My sister worked it out, got me a job in New Bedford,” Marilyn’s hometown and where Pearson also lived with her husband, “It was part of her plan,” Dick remembered, grinning. The plan also included use of a car, so the couple could date.

They married October 11, 1958, a year after Dick’s graduation. For a few years, the Cashwells bounced around the US, following Dick’s nuclear engineering jobs to Georgia, Maryland and California. Marilyn had quit her job, choosing to be a stay-at-home mother, and the young family moved to Wisconsin in 1962.

For 39 years, Dick worked as the UW-Madison nuclear reactor caretaker, he said. He trained others, taught radiation safety, and set up a security system that he wryly explained now bars him from attempting to visit the machine he looked after for so long.

Post-retirement, the Cashwells moved to Cross Plains. There, Dick joined the Lion’s Club, volunteering with eye-screening and the transporting of eye tissue, he said. Marilyn has helped out with cornea transporting and the administration at children’s eyes screening too.

“I’m not even a Lion,” Marilyn said, “but I have a Gift of Sight award from them for helping out. That was pretty neat.”

A shared love of singing also binds the Cashwells. For years they sang in a Middleton community choir, and continue to sing in their church choir and with the “Silvertones,” they said.

“We sing the old songs, for nursing homes,” Marilyn said. They’ve been doing that for 15 years.

Over the years, the couple traveled extensively with the Cross Plains Prime Time Club, they said. Throughout the US., and to Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Kenya, so different from anywhere else, was their favorite trip, they said.

“It’s strange when you’re taking a picture from a vehicle and a lion walks up,” Dick said. Guides reassured the group that lions don’t believe you’re edible if you’re in a vehicle, Dick said, still marveling, “You see lions acting like lions, animals living in their own habitat.”

And hear them too, from a luxurious tent on a hill far above a river, said Marilyn. She recounted the noise hippopotami made during the night, “It sounded like weedwhackers, and I’m wondering, who’s running that?”

Dick never kept his letters; Marilyn did, until a few years ago. “I read them again, and after all that time it was like reading somebody else’s mail,” she said.

She chose to keep the thousands of words Dick had written to her private, and destroyed them, laughing that neither of them had written beautifully constructed missives anyway, “like those Civil War letters.”

The Cashwells raised three daughters and lived in Middleton for 36 years. They’ve resided in Cross Plains for 18.

Nearly every day but Sunday the Cashwells get coffee at Crossroads Coffeehouse, citing the importance of “old people” getting out socially. Staff and customers alike know them well, and stopped by offering spontaneous accolades: “They’ve been boyfriend and girlfriend for a very long time.” “They sit and talk to each other every day.” “They’re a couple to emulate.”

In that spirit, the Cashwells offered tips for a happy, healthy marriage, acknowledging their shared faith and respect for each other played a big part. As has a shared sense of humor. At the start of the interview, Marilyn had quipped, “I’ll correct him if he’s wrong.”

On a serious note, “Be in love to start with, and stay in love,” Dick advised, by spending time together and having shared interests and activities.

“Treat each other well, be aware of that, and tell each other that you love them, very often, even though they know it,” added Marilyn.

“It doesn’t hurt if you’re friends too,” Dick offered. As his friend, Marilyn cues Dick socially, he said, explaining his “engineer mind” has trouble with that. “I depend on her a great deal,” Dick said. “Because she sees things in people’s reactions I don’t.”

She also helps him locate things, not a new problem for him, Dick said laughing. “She can find anything. I don’t know why it is, but guys, we can sit there and look, and if it’s not in the same place, facing the same way, in the same container, we don’t see it.” Recently, he said he was quite proud that he found something Marilyn couldn’t.

There’s nothing but heartfelt thanks to Pearson for her wisdom in encouraging a relationship built in friendship and grown in love. “She did everything in her power to get us interested in each other,” Dick recalled, gratefully.

It’s obviously worked out very well. Big sister Barbara, and Cupid, knew best.

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