ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — They were barely teenagers when they met, performers in a mock trial on opposite sides of an imaginary courtroom, and all he could think about, all he could hope for, was the moment at the end when he got to shake her hand.
She was 13. He was 15.
Julie Dreyfus and Dan Judd’s first date happened after that on a Fourth of July in Albuquerque when he bought her an ice cream cone.
They never dated anybody else after that.
“We were a special couple,” he says.
Over the years, Julie, 92, and Dan, 94, have met thousands of couples, special and otherwise, who came to the jewelry store that bears their name to purchase engagement and wedding bands and other gifts of the heart. Judd Jewelers, one of the first independent jewelry stores in Albuquerque, had been synonymous with sparkling symbols of enduring love since Dan’s father, Max Judd, opened its doors in 1933 until the store closed in 1992.
Julie wore a few of those rings, upgrading now and then from the first one she wore – a unique band of pink, white and yellow gold with four small diamonds designed by her future father-in-law – when she wed Dan at age 17.
As we sit outside the assisted-living home they share in the Northeast Heights, I notice she no longer wears her ring. Arthritis, she tells me.
The rings may be gone, but that love still endures.
“We’ve had our ups and downs,” she says. “As it turns out, it was a happy marriage.”
This Tuesday, the Judds will have been married for 75 years. Friends and relatives are throwing them a big anniversary soiree Sunday.
That, the Judds say, is quite a difference from that September day in 1942 when they sneaked off to Bernalillo to say their vows before a barely lucid justice of the peace.
“We had to wait at a drugstore eating ice cream while they sobered him up,” Julie says. “But we had to go to Bernalillo because we didn’t want anybody to know.”
Her mother, she says, did not approve.
“She thought I was too young to be married,” she says.
But they knew.
It was just a mutual agreement, she says. A foregone conclusion, he says.
“It was, shall we get married? Why, yes, let’s do that,” she says.
And so they did.
Besides, life back then had a way of maturing you quickly.
By the time the United States was embroiled in World War II, Dan was barely out of his teens and already a commissioned officer in the Navy and a graduate of the University of New Mexico and Annapolis. He served two years overseas, predominantly in Pearl Harbor, and worked on sonars and submarines.
Julie, meanwhile, worked on making a family, giving birth to Sherry, the first of the couple’s three children.
The couple reunited in Albuquerque at war’s end in 1945. He went back to work at the jewelry store. She opened the Stork Shop, then the only maternity clothing store in New Mexico. She later closed the shop and joined her husband at Judd Jewelers, then at Fourth and Central Downtown.
In 1965, Judd Jewelers moved, becoming one of the first stores to open at the new Coronado Center.
The Judds worked side by side until retiring in 1990, leaving the store in the hands of two of their children, Jacki and Rick Judd, who moved the store to Park Square, where it remained until it closed in 1992.
And so it went, their lives bonded by bands of gold and gems, by family and friends, by traveling and stargazing and, oh, yes, by Dan’s penchant for riding motorcycles, much to Julie’s dismay.
“Those were rocky times,” Jacki says. “Mom thought they were too dangerous. For a while, I thought they might divorce over them.”
Julie laughs that off.
“I never gave Dan an ultimatum,” she says. “I knew better.”
I ask them both to tell me the secret to an enduring marriage, and their answers are nearly the same: respect, love, communication. And a little time apart to pursue divergent interests.
“He had his motorcycles,” Julie says, a tinge of dismay still in her voice. “I had my friends.”
Last year, there almost wasn’t an anniversary to celebrate. Dan fell gravely ill of pneumonia and was in hospice care. But Jacki and her boyfriend turned his hospital room into a four-star restaurant for an evening, donning waiter outfits and rolling in a table replete with linen, a red rose and a sumptuous takeout meal from Pelican’s served at Dan’s bedside.
Julie held his hand.
These days, both Judds get around in wheelchairs, which make it hard to reach over for a kiss, Dan complains. Both are hard of hearing, their communication more understood than mouthed.
They still hold hands, just like Dan had hoped for all those years ago.
As it turns out, it was the perfect hand to hold.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.