By Rebecca Rose
Harker Heights Herald
"You ought to try driving a Harley 300 miles the day after you get married. I did it in shorts. In July."
Rita Hudson, 79, is exceptionally proud of that accomplishment.
Sitting in a wheelchair in the Harker Heights home she shares with Rex, her husband of 62 years, Rita proudly displayed a book of photographs, filled with photos chronicling the couple's long history together.
Faded black-and-white photos of the couple's early days together are intermixed with digital scans of the pair holding newborn great-grand babies. Every gathering is marked with a group photo; the ever-growing family filling each page with more and more smiling faces crowding around Rita and Rex.
This Easter, the Hudson family will gather once more, to celebrate the bonds of a family that has made Killeen and Harker Heights their home for almost six decades. But the Hudsons won't have to worry about who to spend Easter Sunday with.
They have four children, 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren to choose from.
"Every holiday we're invited to somebody's house," said Rita. "We just wait to decide, I guess. We wait to see which one has the best food."
The joke is typical of the strong sense of humor evident in the couple's friendly banter with each other. They remain as affectionate as the young teenagers they were when they first fell in love.
Rita still routinely finishes his sentences, and Rex still gently teases her about her not being a native Texan.
Rita said the reason for their longevity and love was simple.
"I just think he's awesome. That's all."
Their story began in 1944, in Celeste.
Rex, now 80, was the son of Depression-era farmers who owned a small plot of land on the outskirts of town. The family worked to provide for themselves, struggling during a time when many had nothing. He recalled a time when legendary World War II hero Audie Murphy lived on his family's property.
"He was just a kid. He lived with his mother out there. A lot of farms had houses where people who worked seasonal jobs would stay. Sometimes it was not much more than a chicken coup."
Rex's mother died when he was only 6. He doesn't recall exactly how or why, but soon afterward, the family lost their farm. They moved into town shortly thereafter, and a few years later, he met a beautiful young girl from Arkansas.
Meeting in Celeste
Rita said they first met when she was 13, and hit it off right away.
"He started noticing me because I was real cute back then." Rita said, recalling the couple's early days in their small hometown.
They dated steadily until Rex graduated from high school. The couple was separated when Rex landed a football scholarship in Houston, and moved there to live with his brother. But it didn't take him long to realize that he couldn't live without Rita.
One hot summer night, he climbed on his 1936 Harley Davidson motorcycle and drove back to Celeste.
The couple married on July 9, 1949, in a small ceremony. The next day, the newlyweds drove back to Houston on the same motorcycle.
Move to Killeen
Soon afterward, they came to Killeen for a visit and never left.
They didn't have a choice.
The couple was visiting Rita's sister, who was married to a man stationed at what was then Camp Hood. Rita said her sister was terrified of what would happen to them in a "big city" like Houston and refused to let them leave.
"She said it was too dangerous to go back," recalled Rita.
All they had were the clothes on their back.
"We just stayed," said Rita.
That was almost 60 years ago.
Soon after, the couple traded the motorcycle for a 1941 Ford. They welcomed their first son, Ricky, in 1952. They bought their first home in Killeen for $5,000, paying less for their monthly mortgage than today's average cell phone bill.
Rex worked a series of jobs to support the family, including stints at Ricketts Bakery, the Killeen Drive-In movie theater and the Temple Daily Telegram. Eventually he found a job at the post office, where he stayed until he retired in 1990.
In 1959, Rita took a job at the phone company, making 97 cents an hour as a telephone operator.
She shared the thrill of anticipating phone calls from one caller in particular, a young Army private named Elvis Presley.
"He was renting a house on Oakhill. We all knew which jack his calls would come in on," she said. "When that jack would light up, the girls would all scramble to grab for it."
The Hudson family continued to grow, and lay down roots in the area. In the years that followed, they would become parents to Janice, Denise and Randy.
The Hudsons have watched Killeen and Harker Heights grow from a small farm trade community to a sprawling suburb, while businesses around them changed owners, changed names or simply shut their doors.
"A lot has changed since then. It wasn't like now," she said. "We all knew each other. Everybody knew what everybody's business was."
Rita kept her job until 1980, when the first signs of her illness began to surface. Her condition gradually worsened over the years.
"It got really bad about 10 years ago. I couldn't stand in line at the grocery store."
She was later diagnosed with an orthostatic tremor, a neurological disorder, with symptoms similar to Parkinson's.
"They have medication for it. If I took it, I'd sleep all the time, and I don't want to sleep. So I just deal with the tremors."
She is now almost fully confined to a wheelchair. She said that doesn't keep her from keeping busy in their home.
"I still do a whole lot," Rita said, slapping Rex on the knee. She said her husband, who keeps busy tending his vast backyard garden, doesn't let her stay idle.
"He'll say, 'Better get up and do something.'"
"We haven't always had it easy," Rita said, with a smile.
The Hudsons said patience and an understanding of commitment are the keys to a happy marriage.
"I don't think people know how to make that commitment anymore. They're missing out," Rex said. "We have had hard times too. I don't recall anytime we thought of going separate ways. I just can't imagine it any other way."
"We don't fight a lot. We never have. That's one thing our kids can say, that we never fought."
"We disagree," interjected Rita. "I disagree with about everything he does."
They now live in a home in Harker Heights purchased for them by their children.
Their children and grandchildren have put down roots in the Killeen area as well.
A vast group of Hudsons can be found from Lampasas to Temple, all with strong community ties.
They have a grandson who is deputy sheriff in Lampasas. Their son Randy is a station manager for KISD. One of their nephews owns Dynamic Designs.
Black-and-white photos are now replaced by video greetings and e-cards shared through Facebook, where Rex maintains an active profile. He said he uses it to keep in touch with his large family, getting updates about schools, jobs and new great-grandchildren on the way.
Rita said she would love to someday be able to take another motorcycle ride with her husband, as doubtful as the likelihood is.
She said they plan to renew their vows for the couple's 65th wedding anniversary, but doesn't plan anything big for their anniversaries.
"It's best when you keep things simple sometimes."
When asked what she likes best about being married, she paused for a long time.
"Him," she said. "Just him."
"Well," said Rex, with a chuckle. "You sure took your time to say that."
Contact Rebecca Rose at email@example.com or (254) 501-7548.