The chorus of a well-known 1960’s song goes, “If you want to know if he loves you so, it’s in his kiss.” After 74 years of marriage, those words are still ringing true for Anna Karrenberg of Colchester.
On New Year’s Eve, 1925, when Anna was 15, she and a girlfriend were walking home when they ran into three neighborhood boys. The two girls exchanged a friendly New Year’s kiss with each of the boys, but there was something special and different about 16-year-old Wally Karrenberg’s kiss. They’ve been kissing ever since. In fact, Anna admitted, “He’s the best kisser I have ever kissed.”
This November 27th, the Karrenbergs will celebrate their 74th wedding anniversary. They were one of several couples honored by Bishop Michael R. Cote during the annual Diocesan Silver and Golden Wedding Anniversary Mass celebrated October 3 at the Cathedral of Saint Patrick.
The secret to the Karrenbergs' enduring love story, beside lots of kissing, is, said Anna, “We laugh a lot. We really have a good time.”
Wally has a different interpretation, “She was a good cook,” he said.
Long before he tasted her cooking, Wally knew that Anna was the girl for him. To get her to notice him, he stole a bag of penny candy from her as she stood outside a local variety store in their Manhattan neighborhood. She didn’t appreciate his flirtatious gesture or losing her candy, so to make it up to her he wrote a letter to apologize. “I figured then, he wasn’t so bad,” she recalled. That letter would spawn a long-lasting friendship and love story spanning eight decades.
There would be more letters while he was serving as a paratrooper during World War II until they stopped, leaving Anna to wonder why. When she got her answer, all she could do was scream. Wally was missing in action for over a month when his family received word he was a prisoner in a German war camp. During those long 10½ months of hard labor toiling in a German railroad yard wondering if he would ever make it home, it was Wally’s faith in God, lots of prayers, and thoughts of Anna that kept his spirits alive.
Back home Anna was miserable. “I was a sad sack,” she said. “I didn’t realize how much I loved him until I heard he was missing in action. It was a terrible time.” The day Anna learned Wally had returned home from the war, she collapsed on the ground from relief. “When I finally saw him, I just stood there looking at him until he came over to give me a kiss. I melted.” The kisses have never stopped.
Two years later, on Thanksgiving Day, 1947, they were married in their local church despite her mother’s protestations that Wally was too short for Anna. It would take three proposals before Anna decided to ignore her mother’s disapproval and say yes, but Wally was persistent. “She was worth waiting for,” he said misty-eyed.
Over the next 74 years, the Karrenbergs would see their share of the usual heartaches and disillusionment that most married couples experience, but through it all, Wally said, they knew, “God was watching over us.” Anna added, “You have to have patience when you’re married. My mom told me when I got married that I had to feed him good and take care of him and I did.”
In August, Anna celebrated her 96th birthday, and Wally turned 97 in March. Their family tree boasts four children, 10 grandchildren, 10 great- and three great great-grandchildren. The couple, who attend Guardian Angels Parish in Colchester, still live in their own home with support from live-in caregivers. While they both have medical conditions that limit their mobility, the love between them is clearly visible. Wally smiles as Anna recalls stories of their courtship and early marriage.
Witnessing their playful banter back and forth is delightful. If Wally had to do it all over, he said he would marry Anna again. “I love her.” he said softly.
“Say it like you mean it,” his wife teased back to him.
“I tell Wally that he may have been a POW (prisoner of war) but now he is a POL – a prisoner of love,” she laughed. “You’ve got to have a sense of humor to stay married these many years. We’re still here and we’re still laughing.”
By Mary-Jo McLaughlin