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George Pumpkin King & Vi Perry
72 years of wedded bliss and counting
George Manteca Pumpkin King and Violet Perry cozy up at home in Manteca. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

When George and Violet Perry celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary, their five children knew exactly what special song they were going to dedicate to their parents to mark that momentous day.

The words of the Gaither song, “We Have This Moment Today,” that was sung during the well attended celebration inside the St. Anthony’s Church gym spoke of special memories and highlights in the married life of Manteca’s Pumpkin King and his beautiful bride, Violet.

“Tender words, gentle touch, and a good cup of coffee/ And someone that loves me and wants me to stay/ …Happy songs from the laughter of children at play/ …Hold my hand as we run through the sweet fragrant meadows/ …we have this moment to hold in our hands. (Lyrics by Gloria Gaither, music by William J. Gaither)

The Perrys have been holding on tightly to the sentiments of that song throughout their 72 years of wedded bliss. They remain as close and as happy in each other’s company in their golden years. George, the family patriarch who took the seed of his father Delfino’s small farming operation, is an alert 95-year-old who continues to enjoy playing cards with his children at their home in northeast Manteca. His amiable wife Vi, who always has a kind and friendly smile to every person she meets, is an effervescent and equally alert 91-year-old.

Like many couples of Portuguese ancestry, George and Vi met at a Portuguese dance held at the old Roberts Union Hall at Roberts Island in the Delta. Violet’s sister played Cupid. At the time, Violet and her family were living in Salida.

“I was 18 when I met him. He was 23 when we got married,” said Vi with her trademark quiet but bright smile.

“I liked his looks,” she said, recalling her immediate impression of the young farmer from Manteca.

Showing her latent dry sense of humor, she added with an almost imperceptive laugh, she said she liked her future husband because “he had a lot of money.”

A self-conscious but appreciative and indulging smile from her husband followed her quip.

“I’ve been married for 72 years to the same woman!” quietly exclaimed the longtime Mantecan who catapulted Perry & Sons’ pumpkin and other valley crops to national and international attention as he threw a fond smile toward his wife sitting next to him at the home of their oldest son and his wife, Art and Diane.

They were married on November 30, 1941 at the old St. Anthony’s Church on East Yosemite Avenue.

George laughed as he recalled the tradition of throwing rice at the newlyweds after the church ceremony. One thing stands out in his mind about that otherwise happy moment in his life. A grain of rice got stuck in one of his ear which gave him some problems later on. He surmises that kind of risk was one of the reasons they stopped that wedding tradition.

They started their honeymoon in Modesto. They then drove to San Diego where they took the opportunity to visit George’s cousin who was in the military and was staying at the army base there. One thing that George still remembers very well from that stopover was having dinner at a posh hotel where “the drink cost more than the food.” The incredulity of it was still evident in the way he recounted the experience with a shake of his head.

One testament to the kind of family in which they were raised is the way George and Violet Perry reacted to the question about the secret to the longevity of their marriage. They were initially at a loss for words, as though wondering why that question was even necessary.

“We never had a problem,” was George’s preamble to the answer that was slow in coming.

Finally, he said, “Be honest with one another all the time.”

Gently pressed for a few words, Vi smiled and said in her quiet voice, “He’s always good to me. We always go out together. We play cards together. Every night. I make him play with me.”

More often than not, though, their children especially Art and Diane Perry who just live next door, are there to share an afternoon or evening of several card games.

George summed things up in one short sentence: “I had quite a life.”