Amherst, VA

William & Virginia, Amherst, VA - married 1946

I met Bill and Gina Fell while on a fellowship at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA).  A student at the Sweet Briar College photography department told me she knew of a long-married couple outside of Amherst and said she would call them on my behalf.  The next day, I received an invitation from Bill to come and visit them at their home.  The day that I left for New York – a scorching hot Sunday afternoon – I drove out to spend a few hours with the Fells and their aging greyhound, Evette, in their cozy house on 40 acres with views of the Blue Ridge mountains.  They have five children.



Gina:
I feel that’s the key to a good marriage, is a good, solid basis in friendship.  And ours was a long-term one, growing.

RF:
And how has that evolved, over the course of the years?  You say that in a way that sounds like it just continued to grow.

Gina:
Well, I think it does, yes.  And it deepens.  In the sense of, I guess, commitment.  And there’s love, and love is a very difficult thing to describe…  I often, if you do a comparison – I guess we have each said this – we have many friends that we like, and yet I can’t imagine being married to any of those other men.  This is the one that I’m most comfortable with, and I feel the most attuned to, or however you wish to describe that.

Bill:
We grew up in a time when divorce was looked upon as a sin, a failure, as something that you tried to shield your family and friends from.  There were a few around, but mostly people you knew were not divorced.  And they made do with whatever, with… each other, if their relations weren’t good, they still stuck together.  In today’s world, divorce is so common and so accepted, it’s almost the way people live:  “Well, we’ll get married, and if we don’t like it, we’ll get divorced.”  That isn’t the way that we were brought up.

Gina:
You… tough it through, I mean it’s – it’s not all roses, and romance and lovely, there’s lots of tough times, you know.  Give and take.  And I think so many young people today don’t… if it gets a little rough, well, “okay, I’ll go, and I’ll find somebody else that’s… easier.”

RF:
So what are the rewards of toughing it out, and seeing it through?

Bill:
I think, when you reach our age, it’s more of a companionship.  And I would think that a person that didn’t have a companion would be very much alone.  We do things together, we like to do things together… and I think the rewards come in the future, rather than here in the present.

Gina:
But you mentioned choices.  I don’t mean to generalize – but I think, many times, the women become the unsteady part of the young couples, because they have so many choices, and many times it’s hard to make a choice, or they find they’d rather try something else besides a steady marriage, or being just a housewife; that’s been denigrated.  Because we didn’t have all those choices.  The “career woman” wasn’t really big.  Except, you know, during the war, there was Rosie the Riveter; but… she went back home.  (laughs.)  After the war.

Bill:
It isn’t just choices.  I think it’s the society that you are raised in.  It’s more than just choices.  The society that we were raised in, the man grew up and got a job.  The woman grew up and became a housewife.  That was the accepted way…

Gina:
And a mother.

Bill:
…and a mother, yeah.  That was the accepted way, the natural way, the thing that everybody expected to do.  You were conditioned to it right from… very early.  Today, that’s no longer the case.  Little girls are conditioned to think in terms of the freedom of women, the career woman… the television teaches ‘em that, the stories teach ‘em that…

Gina:
You can be anything you wanna be.  (Laughs.)

Bill:
Yeah.  You can be anything you wanna be.  So the conditioning of society determines, I think to a large extent, what you’re gonna do and how you turn out.  And our society is not teaching the woman to go home, to stay in the home and have babies, and the man to go out and work.

RF:
What’s your opinion of that change?

Bill:
I think that’s why we have a… a high divorce rate, because women are torn between, after she’s a housewife for two or three years -- she’s bored, she wants to go out and try using her education; so she decides to get a divorce, or they decide to get a divorce, and she goes off on her own.  I think it’s a social, a society type of problem, rather than a morality problem.

There is a lot of good that comes out of it.  I think women have a lot to contribute to society.  You find women doctors, women professors.  Women scientists, women businesswomen.  They contribute.  But we lose a lot, too.  One of the problems, I think, in education is the fact that the best and the brightest women used to go in and become schoolteachers.  Or they’d become a nurse or they’d become a homebody.  But the school system got the choice women.  Today, those choice women, the brightest and the most competent, are moving into other fields than education, because they can get more money and more prestige.  And therefore, the teachers that are coming into our society are not the best that we used to get.  So the kids that are educated today are not showing up as well as they formerly did, because society has changed.

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