Every day is Valentine's for the Barnharts of Bovina
By Cheryl Petersen
Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone for Lillian and Robert Barnhart, but the day was just as special as every other day of the year.
“We don’t get each other presents on holidays,” said Lillian (Lilly) Barnhart, from her home in Bovina. “It feels good just to know we love one another every day.”
This April, the Barnharts will be married 65 years. Robert smiles and recalls the 1940s, “I was at a dance at the Bovina Community Hall and I saw her walk into the hall a family with three girls. I looked at Lilly and thought, ‘that is the girl I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.’”
“I had to fight for her, though,” added Robert.
“Yes, he did,” said Lilly. “Another boy from New Kingston kept asking me to dance.” But, Robert squeezed in and introduced himself to Lilly and they danced a few times. He discovered she worked at Andes Central School.
“After the dance, Valentine’s Day came up,” said Robert. “I wasn’t going to mess that up, so I bought her a box of chocolates. But I didn’t know her home address so I drove to Andes School and left the chocolates at the office, with Lilly’s name on the box.”
“Yes, I received the chocolates,” said Lilly.
April Easter in 1949, Lilly and Robert Barnhart got married.
The Barnhart’s drove a ’41 Chevy to Florida for their honeymoon. “Gas was 15 cents a gallon,” said Robert. “I left with $200 in my pocket and came home with $99 in my pocket. We made it to Key West and said, ‘let’s go home.’”
They returned home to start farming 196 acres and milking 32 Jersey cows. They started a family resulting in six children: Jean, Richard, Debbie, Michael, Carol, and Dale.
“While they were growing up, the children and I would make Valentine cookies or a heart shaped cake for Valentine’s Day,” said Lilly.
Valentine’s Day has a peculiar history and has been coupled with a martyr and bizarre rituals, however the modern Saint Valentine’s Day is a day for love and sweethearts. While the National Retail Federation predicted Valentine’s Day spending would top $17.3 billion this year, yet the true romantics give the gift of love.
“We never had much money, but we always have love,” said Robert. “Anyway, Lilly is good with money. When we travel, she has us get a loaf of bread and meat and we eat at a picnic table rather than eat out at a restaurant.”
Back in the day, the milk produced on the Barnhart farm was put into cans. Robert said “I delivered the cans to the Dairy Lea Creamery in South Kortright. Until that creamery closed, then I drove our milk, plus some of the neighbors’ milk, to the creamery in Delhi.”
“He had a route,” said Lilly Barnhart. “And, if Bob (Robert) was sick, I’d do the work and drive the route.”
“Oh, yes, Lilly can do anything,” said Robert. “Don’t tell her she can’t do something because she will show you she can. Just the other day, she operated the John Deere snow blower to clear snow off the driveway and walkway.”
“Lilly was born Christmas Day and I always say, ‘she is my angel,’” said Robert.
Lilly also cooks and bakes and crochets. “I taught myself how to bake and decorate cakes for special occasion. I’d bake five-tier cakes sometimes,” said Lilly, recalling wedding and anniversary cakes she made over the decades. Lilly also sewed. “Oh sure, I sewed our square dancing outfits,” she said.
Dance with me
The couple found square dancing to be a uniting factor in their love. “We took square dancing classes at Delhi College,” said Lilly. They join a square dancing club and traveled to places such as Ponderosa and Clarks Green and Scotia to dance. “There were about 48 of us in the club,” added Lilly. “Ira Gardner was the caller, and his wife, Marion, taught me to crochet.”
Lilly still crochets and generously gives of her handmade hot pads and washcloths.
“She has made many Afghans,” said Robert. “For all the children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.” The Barnharts have 22 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
When the children were little, they’d make Valentine cards for their school classmates. “We had construction paper for them to make homemade cards,” said Lilly, who enjoyed babysitting her grandchildren.
In the 1970s, the farm was sold and Lilly and Robert moved to their current home location.
“We took a trip to Florida with my parents in the ’70s,” said Lilly. “It was back in the day when gas station attendants checked our oil and an attendant discovered we had no dip stick. We were in the State of Georgia I think, and the attendant told us to drive up the road to a place with a million parts and for 25 cents we bought an oil dip stick.”
Back home and into the ’80s, Robert worked in construction including a job with the Town of Bovina. Lilly worked at the Delaware County Infirmary and then with Cornell Cooperative Extension. They both retired before the turn of the 21st century.
Robert and Lilly still holds hands. They have a wealth of hugs to share. Moreover, they live in a home with a mailbox that has a big red heart on it.