"One look at him and that was that," says Yvonne Ridgway, 88, about her husband of 66 years, Douglas. She offers up a picture of a debonair young gentleman holding a pipe. "He was always handsome." She reaches to grab her husband's hand.
The Ridgways' life together began while waiting for a bus, though it was miles away from the Sunset District home they've shared since 1952 (and bought for $12,500, by the way). Both had been raised in Tientsin (now called Tianjin), a port city in the far north of then pre-communist China. Yvonne, whose French family lived in what was called the foreign "concessions," was one of eight children; her father was in finance. Douglas' British father went to China after World War I to be a dentist. Both talk about their childhoods with great fondness.
Yvonne was headed for the French Country Club when she bumped into Douglas in 1941. Only 19, she was smitten by Douglas' charm, and timed her trip the next day in hopes of running into him again. Sure enough, he arrived. "From then on," she says, "we were always together."
But outside their bubble of love was a tumultuous world. Japanese forces had invaded China in the late 1930s. In 1941, most of the foreign forces had been expelled and by 1943 foreigners were being detained in work camps. The couple wanted to marry so they wouldn't be split up if they were sent away, but Yvonne's father wouldn't give his permission. "He thought it wrong to marry in wartime," she says.
So they went to the Catholic church and made a secret plan. Douglas took Yvonne's religion; she took his nationality. On the day they were to marry, Yvonne's father arrived at the church, "raising hell," Yvonne says. Still, they went ahead with the ceremony, though it was a month before her father finally spoke to them.
"I think my mom went on a hunger strike," says Yvonne, "until my father gave in."
In 1943, Douglas was sent to a camp, and Yvonne was sent there a year later. Both say their treatment at the hands of Japanese soldiers was kind.
"We were fortunate," says Douglas. When the war was over, Allied planes parachuted supplies into their camp. Yvonne was then expecting the first of their four boys, which, according to Chinese tradition, they still refer to by birth number: "No. 1 son."
By 1949, when the Communists took control, the couple prepared to immigrate. They arrived in San Francisco in 1950 with two sons, a few pieces of Chinese furniture and little else. As their family grew, Douglas worked selling printing presses, work he continued in for 28 years; Yvonne worked at Macy's for 24 years. They've traveled widely, but never back to China.
"We can't go back," says Douglas. "We were there in the good times."
Philosophy behind their long marriage?
Douglas: "Never go to bed mad."
Yvonne: "When you are in a prison camp, you learn to live with nothing, and if something breaks, you fix it."