By Stew Slater
When Evelyn and Elgin McNall first met, it was the bus that often brought them together.
“Mostly, back in those days, we’d go to the drive-in theatres in Clinton, Goderich or London,” Elgin remembers of the couple’s dating days, back before they were married over 52 years ago at Hyde Park Anglican Church.
But this could only be done on the weekends, since Evelyn lived and worked in London and Elgin lived and worked in Goderich. She would take the bus from the city on Friday, he’d meet her after work with his car, and they’d go to the drive-in or a dance hall. Then he’d drive her back to London on Sunday.
The couple celebrated their 50th anniversary two years ago in Hawaii, with their adult children Bruce, Dan and Nancy joining them. They’ve lived in St. Marys since 1966, with Elgin first coming to town to help with his brother Doug’s industrial electrical company. He soon decided to start his own cleaning service, which is still in operation.
But the faces of Evelyn and Elgin McNall are probably best known to many St. Marys and area residents as seen through the rear-view mirror of a Murphy Bus Lines bus. Because Elgin drove for the company for 43 years before retiring last year; and Evelyn continues to drive a daily route after 39 years on the road.
With the annual celebration of love approaching on Thursday, they were asked if they can remember any particular Valentine’s Day when they were both on the road. No particular memories relating to their own long marriage jumped to mind. But Evelyn fondly recalls the many Valentine’s treats and cards given to the bus drivers by their passengers (and the passengers’ parents), both young and old.
Plus, Valentine’s Day often offers a glimpse into the budding romances of young men and women.
“With the older students, sometimes the girls will get on at night holding flowers or chocolates, and kind of look embarrassed,” Evelyn adds. “And I’ll just look at them and say, ‘oh, for me?!’ And they’ll smile and say, ‘No. For me’.”
Of course, Feb. 14 falls in what can sometimes be the snowiest time of the year. So it goes without saying that some Valentine’s Day memories revolve around getting the bus through snow squalls, freezing rain or ice to get children safely home. When asked if that sometimes led to concerns about the well-being of their spouse on another road, somewhere not too far away, both Ev and Elgin nodded knowingly.
“It was the year before I started driving, in the early 1970s, that the kids got snowed in at South Perth school, and they had to deliver food to them by snowmobile,” Evelyn says of what probably is the worst example of winter weather school bus woes in this area’s history.
“But we don’t have the same kind of winters now,” she adds.
In the summertime, when buses aren’t running, the McNalls are regulars at car shows around the district. So they obviously have their hearts set on being in the driver’s seat. And after 52 years of marriage, they also obviously have their hearts set on each other.