Love Story: from Mt. Olive Baptist Church's very own...

Childhood crush blossoms into 64-year marriage:

Lela and Vernon Johnson went from school playmates to happily ever after

In 1934, when he was just 6, Vernon Johnson couldn't take his eyes off a pretty and sweet girl named Lela in their one-room schoolhouse in rural Louisiana. From first until fourth grades, Vernon carried a silent crush on Lela.

"I just couldn't stop staring at her," Vernon said. "There was something about her, and every time I saw her, I would rather look at her than even eat."

In fourth grade, Vernon moved to another school, and he didn't get to see Lela again until he was 16 and going into the service during World War II. He never stopped thinking about her because he found her to be the "loveliest person, and such an easy person to get along with."

For a few fateful minutes, they were at the same grocery store in 1943, and Vernon got up the courage to ask Lela for her address so he could write her from wherever he would be based.

"We were just playmates at school, but I knew his father, and I thought it was harmless to give him my address," Lela said. "I didn't know how he felt."

If she didn't know then, Lela would find out soon enough as Vernon wrote love letter after love letter from 1943 until 1946 when he returned home from war.

"In one of the letters, I wrote her that I wanted to marry her, but I asked her to wait to give me the answer when I returned," Vernon said. "I wanted to be looking at her when she said 'Yes.' "

"I wasn't interested in marriage at that time," Lela said. "But then when he returned, we both ended up at school in Natchitoches, Louisiana, and I let him visit me on Thursday and Saturday evenings and on Sundays."

The romance bloomed, and Lela realized she couldn't keep putting Vernon off. She gave him the 'yes' he had been waiting for, and, though her parents' couldn't afford a wedding just then, they were married in his parents' home before a preacher in July 1947 after Lela finished high school.

"I was just a girl, and I had no other boyfriends," Lela said. "I knew if our marriage was going to work, we had to do everything together. We washed clothes and hung them together, we cooked together, and we never had an argument because when I saw that he was upset about something, I wouldn't talk about it."

They moved to Houston in 1949, and several years later took up residence in the Pleasantville neighborhood, where they still live. They raised four daughters and now have five grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild.

Vernon worked at Weingarten Grocery and later ran a remodeling business. Lela worked as an EKG technician after her children were grown.

Celebrating their 64th wedding anniversary on Wednesday, they will gather family at their home for their celebration.

"We both came from large families, and our parents all had long marriages," Lela said. "I give credit to God and my faith that he allowed us to be the family we are."

Vernon and Lela both retired years ago, and Vernon insists that he spends his retirement still staring at the woman he loves, just like he did at the very beginning.

"By the grace of God, I was blessed with the love of my life," Vernon said. "We truly are happily ever after."

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