Marriage on the rocks, with waivers

August 13, 2006|by Lyn Widmyer

My husband and I have been married 25 years. We celebrated the occasion with three other anniversary couples at Yokum's Vacationland in Pendleton County, West Virginia.

Shirley and Carl Yokum have managed their vacation empire since 1938, the year they were married. I think they purchased most of the furniture in our cabin on their honeymoon. My husband and I spent the night in each other's arms because we kept rolling to the center of the U-shaped mattress.

We did not travel to Yokum's Vacationland for ambience, however. We went to ascend nearby Seneca Rocks.

The newly published West Virginia encyclopedia describes Seneca Rocks as "a formation of sheer towering whitish rocks resembling the bony back of a giant dinosaur." The 900-foot-high mountain gets its name from the Seneca Indians, who once fished and hunted in the area. According to legend, a Seneca princess named Snow Bird selected her husband with the help of the rocks. The beautiful daughter of the tribal chief, Snow Bird had lots of suitors. Rather than choose among them, Snow Bird declared she would marry the brave who could climb with her to the top of Seneca Rocks.


Seven suitors accepted the challenge but only one could keep up with Snow Bird. Even he needed her helping hand at the summit.

Our anniversary group duplicated Princess Snow Bird's trek to the top of Seneca Rocks only we did it on horseback, following an old logging road, wearing helmets and carrying bottled water. Unlike the braves scrambling after Princess Snow Bird, we had to sign a waiver promising not to sue for any injuries occurring on the climb. As it turned out, the most strenuous part of the trip was getting on and off the horses.

That evening, we sat outside our cabin enjoying a campfire and sipping champagne from chipped coffee mugs. We toasted ourselves on our respective anniversaries; all total, we four couples represented over 107 years of marriage.

As we swapped stories about married life, I thought of Princess Snow Bird and her approach to finding a husband. She was too young to know that scaling a rock face is not a required element for a successful marriage. Being fit enough to climb 900 feet straight up is hardly important when there are dishes to be washed, kids to be cared for, meals to be prepared, sick family members to nurse and dinners to prepare.

The princess needed a more appropriate marital challenge. She should have tested the braves by taking them to the river and asking them to wash a few baskets of laundry. Extra points would be awarded to those who hung the clothes to dry and then stored them neatly in the teepee. Of course, if that were the challenge, Princess Snowbird probably would have died a spinster.

When it comes to romance and marriage, the true legendary figures of Seneca Rocks are Shirley and Carl Yokum. Married for 68 years and still traveling the world together, they have defied the odds in a state that ranks seventh in the nation in terms of the divorce rate.

I'm guessing Carl knows how to do a load of wash.

Lyn Widmyer is a Charles Town, W.Va., resident who writes for The Herald-Mail. Her e-mail address is

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