Earl Shadle played the sousaphone for the Lincoln High School band in 1941, the year Eva moved in next door.
He was 17, working a job to help support a family and two years away from being drafted. And he was in love.
“We walked to school together in the mornings, and I knew pretty quickly she was the girl I wanted,” he said. “So I asked her out.”
Their first date was at the Puyallup Fair.
Earl and Eva Shadle were married two years later and haven’t missed a fair since. There were a couple of war years when no fair was held, but altogether they’ve been to 70 of them.
Eva turned 90 this summer, Earl will be 91 in November, and this week they’ll head to their final fair, driven by one of their sons, accompanied by the wife of another son.
“This will be the last one, I think,” Eva said. “I need a scooter to get around, Earl will use a wheelchair this week. That’s enough.”
The fair has been part of their lives since that first date, and they have taken their children, Earl’s mother, at least one grandchild and one another every year of their 70-year marriage.
“For the last 25 years, at least, I played the tuba in the Tacoma Banjo Band,” Earl said. “I had to drop out this week. I took a fall last month and banged myself up pretty good. I just didn’t think picking up the tuba again would be a good idea.”
What will he miss most about an instrument he’s played since seventh grade?
“I really liked the tuba solo in ‘Alabama Jubilee’ and playing ‘Down Yonder,’” he said.
Earl was born in Tacoma and lost his father to pneumonia when he was 6. After that, his mother, older sister and two younger brothers moved often.
“We used to joke that mom always moved when the rent came due,” he said. “She had a tough time of it.”
So tough that her oldest son took a job to help the family make it.
“I liked Earl, but he could be pretty cranky in the morning walking to school,” Eva said. “Then I found out he was going to work at the service station every night at midnight.”
He was drafted in 1943 and joined the Army band, marrying Eva during a brief furlough. After the war, he came home to find Sears had saved a job for him and he spent the next 40 years there, mostly as a customer service manager.
He and Eva had two sons and two daughters. Tim lives in Graham, Rob’s in Olympia, Patricia’s in Spokane and Virginia’s in Illinois.
Earl and Eva now live with Rob and his wife, Sharon, but Tacoma was their longtime home.
“We lived in the same house on East 72nd Street for 50 years,” Earl said. “About five years ago, we just couldn’t keep up with it.”
Still, they’ve never missed a fair.
“Every year, we eat scones there and bring a half dozen home for somebody or other,” Eva said. “I love the Grange exhibits, the flowers — and last year, they took the floral exhibit away.
“I never miss the quilts and the art work, and I always enjoy the Hobby Hall and seeing what people are up to there.”
Earl enjoys the animals, the music and the food.
“We used to see more shows,” Eva said. “We saw Kenny Rogers there, and the Oak Ridge Boys.”
They don’t see shows anymore.
“I can’t hear,” she said.
It’s been a tough summer for Earl. He not only had to give up playing the tuba, but also is fighting occasional memory problems. And Eva’s hearing has gotten worse.
One thing hasn’t changed.
“We’re still in love,” Earl said.
This week, when he’s pushed around the fair in a wheelchair and Eva drives around on her scooter, they will stop in front of one exhibit or another and hold hands. They always have.
Back in 1941, it was all new to them, their lives stretching out ahead. Now, they contemplate one last fair, their 71st together.
And look forward to it.Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 larry.larue@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/larue