Although both were in a relationship with other people and had never laid eyes on each other before that week, the two teenagers refused to be two ships passing in the night and chose a lifelong voyage together as World War II raged on.
“We had never seen each other before in our life,” said Black, who was raised in Etowah but was working in Baltimore when he met Ann in 1943. “My brother was up there with me and he wanted to come to Etowah. I had a better car than he did so I took off work for a week and we took off back home.”
According to Black, the two brothers met two girls in the once-famous Roy Rule Restaurant in Etowah and invited them out. With the world at war no one knew for sure what tomorrow would bring.
But war was the last thing on the minds of 18-year-old Clarence and 19-year-old Ann on that romantic evening. The two hit it off famously as they laughed and talked and stared into each other’s eyes.
According to Black, the starry-eyed couple was only having fun and teasing with each other until one coquettish expression took a serious U-Turn.
“I was just kidding. I didn’t think she’d say yes,” Black admits. “I had a girlfriend in Baltimore and she had a boyfriend in Etowah. I asked her, ‘Would you like to get married?’ and she said, ‘Yes, I do!’”
From that Tuesday night until Saturday morning, neither teenager changed their minds. The desire to belong to each other was so constant and so overwhelming that it left no room for doubt or need to consult with anyone. They just knew.
They crossed the state line together, found a justice of the peace, made vows to each other and were pronounced husband and wife. It was done.
“Her people didn’t know my people. We’d never seen each other before. But she said yes, she wanted to go. So we went to Dalton, Ga., and got married. It was love at first sight — just one of those things. She was a beautiful woman with long hair.”
The newlyweds lived in Baltimore, where they enjoyed a fresh start to their whirlwind romance with all the revelations that come from marrying a stranger. Black admits, “We had a good time but that was awfully fast.”
Although he stops short of saying his wife had an indefinable magnetism that could render some men weak in her presence, Black did recall a certain car dealer in Detroit who made him an offer he had to refuse.
“When my wife and I drove to Detroit to buy a new car the man said, ‘Let me tell you — I’ll give you any car on this lot for that woman! Just leave her with me. Get any car you want!’” Black said, imitating the man.
“I said, ‘Well, I can’t do that. He was kidding. But she was a nice-looking woman — built good. She’s still a nice-looking woman!”
The surprising thing about the teenage couple was how perfectly suited they seemed for one another. So much so that everyone embraced them without the frowns and snide remarks one might expect when two sensible people eloped five days from the moment they first met.
“My mother took up with my wife,” said Black, whose father died when he was 6 months old. “She’d tell my wife stuff she wouldn’t even tell her daughters. She and Ann got along real good. Her people took right up with me too! I still talk to them every few days or I’ll go and see them.”
When it came time to explain things to his former girlfriend who worked with him at Martin’s Aircraft in Baltimore, Black said, “I just told her it was one of those things that just happened.”
After he surprised his coworkers by marrying a total stranger within one week, Black said a female coworker took a cab one night and the taxi driver asked if he could pick up another passenger. She agreed. The couple started talking, fell in love and married that same night.
“They were even faster than us!” he said, laughing.
But marrying Ann was no mistake, according to Black. It turned out to be true love and better than he ever imagined. The playful couple drew closer and closer, traveling long, winding roads together when visiting family. They also toured the Grand Canyon and other places over several decades.
“There were no interstates back in 1943. You just had to go them old curvy roads up in Kentucky going back to Baltimore,” he said. “We stayed in Baltimore for a couple of years. My sister and her husband was up there with us. Then we moved to Detroit where her sister lived. I worked for General Motors and Chrysler.”
In 1946, Black joined the U.S. Army but never had to serve overseas. It was in 1958 when the couple moved to Cleveland. After working the railroads, Black worked for Bendix in Cleveland for more than 20 years.
The couple had two children, both girls, five grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren. Now that they have entered their twilight years with fading memories and diminished health, love moves at a much slower pace and from a different place in their lives.
After she suffered a series of unfortunate accidents, Black visits his wife regularly as a resident at Bradley Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Cleveland, having injured herself initially at home.
“She first fell getting out of the shower and broke her shoulder,” Black recalled. “She had to sleep in a recliner for six weeks. I slept on the couch those six weeks because she wanted me to be near her.
“Then she fell again and broke her hip and had to go to the nursing home. Then when she was about ready to come home she fell out of the bed and broke her leg in two places. All that happened in one year.”
Every agonizing break was also a break of his heart as Black saw his wife’s chances of returning home also shattered to pieces.
“I love her. I wished she could come home today. I’d give anything if she could come back home. But she won’t ever be able to,” Black said as his voice broke. “I see her just about every day. I still take her to the beauty shop to get her hair done. She’s holding on good.”
When asked how he and his wife made their whirlwind marriage succeed going on 70 years, Black focused on their spiritual stability and time spent together as secrets of their success.
“I think what helped us a lot is that we always went to church together and believed in the Lord. We’ve always been Christians,” he said. “We attend Waterville Baptist Church. We went on trips together and we always enjoyed each other’s company. Everywhere she went I went.
“And we always made decisions together,” he added. “She and I both were the boss in our house. It was always give and take.”
Even now, Black, who is 86, continues to give of himself to the woman he fell head-over-heels in love with. What they are able to take away from such a relationship, however, is impossible to measure — like the love that suddenly captured them, enraptured them and united their lives in a sudden burst of romance that is becoming a tale for the ages.