Orwell couple marks 75 years together
ORWELL — It all began with a casual wave shared by two teenagers on a sunny day back in 1944 in picturesque Shoreham.
A moment of tenderness and innocence that was permitted to blossom far away from the din and carnage of the World War II battlefields in Europe and Asia.
Dick Buxton and Thelma Brisson never thought back then their chance encounter would lead to a rock-solid marriage that’s lasted 75 years — and counting.
It’s been such a fun ride that the Buxtons, now both 93, will return to the altar at St. Paul’s Church in Orwell later this month to have their marriage blessed. And they can count many blessings, including four children, numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, a local store that still bears the family name, and the admiration of an entire community.
The couple first crossed paths when they were both 16. Dick and his family had just moved from Massachusetts to Shoreham, to take over Belmont Orchards. Dick and Thelma lived one house apart in those days while she was attending Shoreham High School.
“I had to walk by his house to go to school, and sometimes he was on the porch waiting for me,” Thelma recalled with a playful smile.
And to hear Thelma tell it, she had a lot of competition for her eventual husband. She and other young women fancied his red hair. Fortunately, love grows a lot deeper than the follicles; Dick’s red hair is now just one of the many fond memories he’s collected at Thelma’s side.
“He was a gentleman, a good man,” she said of her soul mate’s more important and enduring attributes.
After making a solid connection, the pair started courting. They took in plenty of movies at the old Campus Theater (now the Marquis) in downtown Middlebury. They were regulars at barn dances in Salisbury, Bridport, Whiting and Sudbury, among other locations. Dick — a car guy — was happy to drive. His first ride was a ’32 Chevy coupe with a rumble seat and crank-down window.
He got a lot of practice behind the wheel, most of it in support of the family orchard and the Shoreham Apple Co-op. At 18 he was driving a tractor-trailer truck full of apples to New York three or four times a week. Dick became Shoreham’s first school bus driver before he could legally drink a beer, and would go on to hold that same job in Orwell well into his adult years.
Verily, both husband and wife were born with a strong work ethic that helped sustain them after tying the knot at 18 years old back on July 20, 1946.
One of Thelma’s first jobs was pollinating apple trees, going from blossom to blossom.
“The bees weren’t fast enough,” quipped her son Steve, who sat in on the Independent’s interview of his folks.
Dick’s first job as a husband was at the old Polymers plastics company in Middlebury, which he did for 13 years. Then it was five years at the old Hough Crossing milk plant, before he and Thelma in 1967 made a real estate swap that would set a new course for generations of their family. They traded their Orwell home to the Bertrand family for the local general store at 499 Main St. that still bears the Buxton name. Grandson Andy and his wife Mary now own and run it.
Thelma’s retail career had actually been years in the making. She’d run her own pretend store in the corncrib of the Brisson family farm, ringing up sales to her sister and other friends and family.
But this time it wasn’t child’s play; it was hard work.
Store hours were 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week. They only closed on Christmas. It started out as a husband-and-wife operation, and the couple added workers as time went by. With many Buxtons and Brissons in the area, the employee pool was deep. Their four children — Richard, Deborah, Steve and Kim — took turns helping out. Buxton’s Store provided a paycheck for many townspeople, including a lot of high school kids. Dick and Thelma ran it for 40 years.
Buxton’s became more than a store during Dick and Thelma’s ownership; it evolved into a community hub and lifeline.
For years, the store hosted Orwell’s fire department/first response dispatching phone.
In the early days, Buxton’s Store carried oxygen tanks, and Dick would ride in the Fair Haven ambulance — tanks in tow — to Orwell emergency calls.
Since the family lived in the store building, folks knew they could depend on the Buxtons in an emergency.
Most couples spend a majority of their waking hours apart, by virtue of their separate jobs. But given they’ve spent most of their adult lives working side-by-side, Dick and Thelma can honestly say they’ve spent 75 full years together, in the truest sense of the word.
They always looked forward to being together, even if it was after having spent 12-hour days waiting on customers at their store. They traveled throughout the state for 35 years attending weekly western-style square dances. That became their main source of excitement and entertainment.
They say a couple must learn to bend like a willow in order to develop a marriage as strong as an oak. Dick and Thelma have definitely passed that test, and it’s helped that they share common interests and priorities.
Neither smokes, nor drinks. Both regularly attend the church of their choice — Thelma is Catholic, while Dick is Protestant.
“We’ve always held on to our beliefs; to each his own,” Thelma said.
“I don’t ever remember us having an argument,” Dick said.
“I’m easy to get along with,” Thelma chimed in with a smile.
Thelma’s health won’t allow her to be as active as she’d like, but Dick isn’t slowing down.
He’s served on the Masons Independence Lodge No. 10 in Orwell since 1951. He served on the Orwell Fore Department for 22 years, five as chief.
Many folks who reach 90 are content to still be drawing breath. Dick took up a new hobby when he hit that milestone three years ago: Caning chairs. He loves weaving new life into discarded antique chairs, and has re-caned dozens of them.
“The grandchildren all have caned chairs,” quipped Steve, a local meat cutter who has no qualms about enlisting his dad to deliver an order on any given day.
So what is the secret to a long, successful marriage? Dick offered his opinion:
“Give and take,” he said, adding, “We haven’t missed too many nights kissing each other before we go to bed.”