KINSTON, N.C. — James Bryant knows what love at first sight is.
At the tender age of 16, he saw a young girl modeling the dress she made in home economics class.
“You know what I’m going to do?” he asked a friend as they watched the modeling show at school. “I’m going to marry her someday.”
And he did. James married the love of his life at age 19 on May 5, 1943 in South Carolina, and Lucille was 18.
The two celebrated their 70th anniversary Saturday with more than 100 people attending at Immanuel Baptist Church.
The two don’t remember much about dating, but they do remember a little about their first date. They were sitting in a car at the school where they had attended an event together.
“That was the first time I ever kissed her,” James said, “and that was what made it significant.”
Lucille, though, hadn’t given James much thought until they started dating. She said it was probably his personality that eventually drew her to him.
“Well, he was a happy person,” she said. “... We dated about three years before we got married.”
It wasn’t an easy start for the Fountain natives. World War II was raging and James received a letter drafting him into the military. He chose the Navy and was sent to Bainbridge, Md., for boot camp the September after the couple tied the knot.
The Navy sent James to Oran, Algeria, on the Mediterranean Sea in North Africa.
He started as a seaman and was trained as a switchboard operator. Later, he was given jobs to do at a 500-bed Navy hospital made from 110 Quonset huts outside Oran.
A chief petty officer asked James to help clean the hospital’s bakery and, later, he ended up working there. He baked nearly 150 loaves of bread a day, and numerous desserts.
“I was just lucky,” he said, “being what you call a day late, so I didn’t have to fight.”
He did get to travel. He went to the Isle of Capri and by ship to Italy to pick up 5,500 Brazilian troops and bring them back to Rio de Janeiro after the war. He spent three weeks touring in Brazil.
“It was wonderful there,” he said. “It’s fascinating country.”
James said the vineyard-dotted landscape was similar to Western North Carolina.
Back in Oran, James had plenty to keep him busy. The temperature was around 120 degrees, and the baking only contributed to the heat. But the baked goods were a welcomed relief.
“On Sunday, we fed such good food,” he said, “the Army would come in to eat with us.”
When he wasn’t baking, he’d spend time at the beach on the Mediterranean or take a lunch and go hunting.
He and Lucille would exchange letters — it took about two weeks to get a letter and sometimes several would show up at one time.
He kept her picture in his seabag, and she kept his in her wallet.
Lucille also kept herself busy. She moved to Raleigh and attended beauty school. Upon completing the course, she took a job in Farmville at a beauty shop.
During the war, gas was rationed so she couldn’t go as far as the beach. She lived in a boarding house with a group of girls and they would go to the movies when they weren’t working.
After the war ended in 1945, James went to Norfolk, Va., that September, and Lucille went there to meet him.
“I saw him crossing the area,” she said, “and I took a running start.”
James said, “When I saw her, man — that lit up my world.”
They stayed with friends and relatives until he had to return to Norfolk in November. After he was discharged, James and Lucille moved to Raleigh where he went to business school and she worked as a cosmetologist until she became pregnant.
They moved to Fountain where James ran the service station owned by his father, James Oscar Bryant Sr., a Fountain police chief from 1927-1950.
James worked at various jobs, ending up as an insurance salesman. He was promoted to sales manager and sent in 1953 to Home Security and Life in Kinston, where he worked 20 years.
He became a field trainer at the home office, then managed the Gastonia office. In 1975, he came back to Kinston where he was the agency manager until 1989, when he retired. Lucille worked at DuPont for 17 years. The couple has three children.
“We did right much traveling when he first retired,” Lucille said. “... Now, we’ve gotten to the point where our legs won’t let us do much traveling anymore.”
They traveled around the country and Alaska and Hawaii, as well as Europe, Mexico and the Holy Land.
“We’ve had an excellent life,” James said. “We’ve been blessed.”
The two of them are rarely apart.
“Most of what we do,” Lucille said, “we do together.”
James took care of the children and did some housekeeping and cooking while Lucille worked at DuPont. Lucille said today he’s not good about doing the cooking, but he does wash the dishes.
They don’t do much arguing. Lucille said she makes her point and that’s that.
“We always make up before we go to bed,” James said, adding he loves her now as much as he did when he married her 70 years ago … maybe more.