ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Like many other couples around the country, Rebecca Arellano Montez and her husband Jesse can’t celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary Sept. 2 the way they would like.
Their efforts to avoid contracting COVID-19 make it impossible for them to receive a special blessing at a Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Paul, or to host a meal in a big hall with lots of family and friends, music and dancing.
“We plan nothing, absolutely nothing,” Montez said. “We’re just lucky to be here.”
But they want their friends to know about their milestone anniversary and to know that without the pandemic, many people would be part of their special day. They also bring 70 years of perspective to their lost opportunity to celebrate and to the challenges everyone is facing in these trying times.
The couple was married in 1950. Rebecca Montez is 86, her husband, Jesse, is 89.
Their family and friends don’t enter their home right now. If one of their children, nine grandchildren or 11 great-grandchildren swing by with some food or other goods to share, they leave it on a picnic table in the backyard, protected from the weather by a large patio umbrella.
Rebecca Montez leaves the house once a week to shop for groceries.
She talks on the phone every day with each of her five sisters, but they used to get together all the time. Her activities with friends at the parish have temporarily ended, including assisting with the annual enchilada Lenten dinners and cleaning linens and candlesticks as necessary to prepare the altar for Masses.
“This is a bad thing,” she said of COVID-19. “There is no getting around it … We’re working at getting over this. And we will. It’s just going to take time.”
Through 70 years of marriage and 86 years of a very full life, Montez said she has learned an important lesson.
“You take one crisis at time,” she said. “If you have a crisis and you get over it, you have another crisis. And you take them as they come,” she told the Catholic Spirit, archdiocesan newspaper of St. Paul.
Being pulled away from family and friends during their marriage was not easy, Rebecca Montez said of the time from 1979 to 1983 that she and her husband left St. Paul to live in Washington state. They had to say goodbye to their parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Paul, where they were very active, and which her husband’s parents and grandparents helped found in 1931.
But they had each other, Montez said.
“Our religion was very strong,” she said. “My husband and I are very close. Very close. I’ve known him my whole life,” she added, pointing out that he lived across the street from her when she was growing up and his grandparents lived on the street behind her.
When the couple moved to Washington, they bought mopeds and drove into the mountains and along the ocean. “We’d sit and drink pop, the scenery was beautiful,” she said.
They had a mobile home and traveled the state and to other parts of the country.
Back in St. Paul, they were among 25 couples who danced as a folk troupe and performed in city parks and civic centers. She sang the national anthem at events, in Spanish.
“We had a very good social life,” Montez said. “When you do things together, it’s quality.”
Ruff is news editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.