Many people tie the knot in Las Vegas, but not all marriages last as long as that of Evelyn Watson. Las Vegas was a smaller town when Dwight and Evelyn made the trip in his ‘49 Chevy, but even then it was a place where “people never seemed to sleep.” Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns. We were 19 the year following our graduation. I was working at the phone company, renting a very small bungalow in Bellflower, and Dwight was working and living at home with his parents in Bellflower. When we decided to marry, my mother objected to us marrying in the church that Dwight attended. We then decided to go to Las Vegas.
Dwight’s mother was disappointed, but she prepared notarized papers of approval for Dwight to marry. Young men needed to be 21 to marry at that time in Las Vegas. Girls did need parental approval after age 18.
The first weekend I wasn’t scheduled to work we drove across the desert alone in Dwight’s ’49 Chevy on a Friday night. It was miserably hot that July. Las Vegas during the fifties was very different than the Las Vegas of the present. On the strip entering Vegas, casinos were miles apart with nothing but desert in between.
One of the first casinos we came to was The Silver Slipper. Continuing down the strip we passed well-known places named The Flamingo, The Sands, The Dunes, The Sahara, The Tropicana, and The Stardust, all now historic hotels and casinos. Each had big-name entertainers listed on their marquees. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Debbie Reynolds were a few.
Fremont Street was the main drag of the town. Cars cruised up and down a crowded street with people hurrying back and forth at light signals to escape the heat and enter brightly lit casinos. Just like today, casinos never closed and people seemed to never sleep.
It was our first time to experience this world, and it was exciting. Rows of slot machines were in use, bells were ringing, and we heard the sound of change dropping as machines paid off. We watched from the sidewalk through open, air-conditioned curtains. Loitering was forbidden in gambling areas for anyone under 21. We were allowed to watch lounge shows in the casinos, and most of them had all-you-can-eat buffets where we could get a meal quite reasonably.
The courthouse was open Saturday morning for us to acquire our marriage license, and Dwight bought a ring with diamond chips at a jeweler’s. We found the only room available at a cheap, rundown motel. After changing our clothes we went to the Chapel of the White Stars to be married without relatives or friends.
I wore a white sheath dress, a new dress I had not worn before. No pictures were taken. Only a weak recording of our vows with our marriage license remains. It was a Vegas style marriage ritual, not really a wedding, but it satisfied Nevada law for a legal marriage. I chose Dwight’s legal name, Watson, over his stepfather’s name, Dunkel, which he had used in school.
The heat was already bearing down on us Sunday morning as we started back to cross the desert without air-conditioning. It reached 114 degrees that day, causing the fuel pump to vapor-lock. It was a long wait for a new one to arrive at the garage we were fortunate to find on that empty desert road. Both of us were due back to work Monday morning.
That was the beginning of a new life together with more challenges and new experiences to come. Our shared life together of 56 years now includes four children and two grandchildren.
Published: Jan. 22, 2015 - Volume 13 - Issue 41