“A Love Supreme” by legendary jazz artist John Coltrane comes to mind when thinking of Lydia and Henry Nelson. It is enduring, mellow, passionate and remains a classic tribute to love.
The year was 1943. Lydia Ann Pritchett of West Philadelphia was visiting her sister-in-law, Jackie, across the street from her aunt on 59th Street when a few young men came calling to see Jackie’s sister, Dorothy. One of them was Nelson Henry Jr., a junior at Lincoln University. After a brief visit, Nelson and his friends, members of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, invited Dorothy and Lydia to a party. Lydia’s sister-in-law tried to convince her not to go, as she was still in high school and fairly naïve. She went anyway because she so loved to dance.
The first stop was a house party where Lydia noticed that they “were all coupled up and the room was dimly lit with a red light.” As the night went on, the group ended up at a party hall in South Philadelphia. “I knew that I was out of place, and had to get out of there. I pulled away from one of the young men who was trying to get me to dance with him and headed toward the door. That’s when I saw Nelson, who I thought would be “safe,” at the back of the large room and asked him to tell me how to take public transportation back to West Philadelphia, since I hadn’t done so before. He tried to pay my fare but I wouldn’t let him. He was so concerned that he followed me all the way home, even though I didn’t want him to. I was shocked when my sister, who was sitting on our steps on Peach Street when we got home, gave him our phone number. When he called the next day, I hung up!”
Little did Lydia know that Nelson, his father, her father, one of her brothers and her uncle all worked at the U.S. Postal Service. “It was just a Christmas season job for me, but our fathers knew each other very well,” Nelson recalled. “My father called her father and said that one of his boys was going to call on one of his daughters, so we eventually began to see each other.”
Nelson later had another job for the Bud plant, where he chauffeured a car that belonged to the Department of Public Works, which required him to drive a limo to Lydia’s neighborhood to wait for a part to be ready to be transported to an airfield. “I would visit with Lydia and her family until the call came for me to pick it up. The neighbors probably were very curious about this young man who drove to visit Lydia in a big limousine.”
A couple of years later, Nelson, who was in the Army at the time, popped the question. He was scheduled to be sent overseas, so everything was a big rush. Lydia didn’t answer right away. When she finally said “yes,” he was late for his return back to base. There was no time for a big ceremony. Lydia’s father had to accompany her to get a marriage license, since she was not quite 21 yet. One of Nelson’s sisters had to hurriedly trek over to the church to witness the ceremony conducted by Father Thomas at St. Barnabas Church in Germantown, where Nelson belonged. Father Thomas had known Nelson since he was a little boy and asked, “Do your parents know you are doing this, sonny?” Since he hadn’t told them, Father Thomas called to share the news and they came to attend the brief ceremony. That was on Feb. 19, 1945.
Sixty-seven years later, Nelson, age 89, and Lydia, 87, are still together. Along the way, they had three children and lived in West Philadelphia. Lydia retired as a secretary for Bartram High School, while Nelson retired as a manager for the Pennsylvania State Employment Service. After living in West Philadelphia for over 50 years, they moved to be close to one son and daughter-in-law, Dean and Karen Henry, and their daughter, Lydia Reeder, in Berwyn. Last August they moved to Spotsylvania to live with their other son and his wife, Drs. Nelson K. Henry and Rosemarie W. Henry. They celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary last February as they do every anniversary, surrounded by family. In addition to their three children, and two daughters-in-law, most of their nine grandchildren attended, as well as their great-grandson and other family members. When you ask them the secret to a long marriage, Nelson says, “One talks and the other listens.” Lydia jokes, “Yeah, I talk and you don’t listen!” Nelson still loves music, preferring jazz artists, like Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Earl Garner, Teddy Wilson and Fats Waller. He still plays his electric keyboard and is an avid sports fan, watching several games on television some days. Lydia loves blues artists, like Billie Holiday, Dakota Staton, Della Reese, Etta James and Nancy Wilson. She also liked to listen to Frank Sinatra and remarked that she always loved to dance, noting that her parents’ house was the one that all of her friends visited to have a good time and dance. Their favorite song was “Sweet Lorraine.” Dean observed, “Mom and Dad are great parents, and can be credited, among other things, with emphasizing how important it is to obtain a good education.”
It is a joy and an inspiration to know that love and commitment can flourish and thrive. For Mr. and Mrs. Henry Nelson, every day is an anniversary. Best wishes to Nelson and Lydia Henry and their entire family. May they continue to enjoy God’s blessings.