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17TH IN A SERIES ON LONG MARRIAGES
Robert “Smokey” Nevins met his future wife at California’s Sacramento State University. Smokey, born blind, needed someone to drive him to a music appreciation class, so he checked the school’s list of assistant readers for, he said, “girls with pretty names.” He decided to call Patricia.
Patty remembers how, the first time she came to pick up Smokey, his father invited her to watch football. “So I instantly passed the test with his parents,” she said. After dating, breaking up, and getting back together, the couple had a 10-day engagement and a 14-person wedding in January 1980. (“We’re both … extremely lazy about wanting to do big production things,” explained Patty.)
Smokey and Patty spent the next decades raising a family and learning to love and care for one another, but health problems, Smokey’s disability, and the uncertainties of life were a constant challenge.
The Nevinses settled down in Sacramento: Patty did clerical work, and Smokey played jazz guitar at coffee lounges. The couple got creative to find things they could enjoy together. Some of their go-to hobbies were braille Scrabble and Monopoly and riding a tandem bicycle. “When you ride bikes separately, it’s hard to connect and talk,” said Patty. “We had a great time riding around and having conversation.”
Relying on His people to sustain us, His Word to sustain us, His Spirit to sustain us.
Soon after they married, Patty pointed out that husbands are responsible to provide for the family. Smokey was surprised: He dreamed of one day becoming a pastor but hadn’t had many job opportunities growing up. With Patty’s encouragement, he started working in telemarketing and eventually became an analyst for the state. His 31-year career allowed Patty to stay home and raise their children—all nine of them.
Their first baby came five years into the marriage, and after that Patty was “changing diapers for 20 years straight.” The Nevinses tried to follow advice they heard in the Christian world to raise their children right: homeschooling, Scripture memorization in the car, nightly family devotions, church activities. But as the children grew up, they realized parenting methods alone couldn’t guarantee spiritual life. Today, the couple says, some of the kids are following Jesus, some are unbelievers, and some they aren’t certain about. They have determined to trust God to save the children.
One of the biggest challenges of their marriage has been health issues. Since age 17, Smokey has suffered from epilepsy. During seizures, Smokey would lose consciousness, sometimes yelling or cursing, and then become sick and disoriented as he recovered. The couple endured treatments and drugs with painful or personality-altering side effects. Both say the prayers and support from their small church have been essential. Patty remembers one day when Smokey had a flurry of seizures and she couldn’t care for him and the kids. A church member took Smokey to his house and read Scripture to him, waiting for the seizures to stop. Smokey has not had a seizure for a year, but the challenge of trusting God with his health continues: Earlier this year, he had open-heart surgery.
Smokey, 62, retired last year and serves as an elder at the couple’s church. He loves doing ministry, though Patty says he still envies young men going to seminary. Patty is the facilities care coordinator at their church and recently retired from a job at a local library. The couple celebrated 40 years of marriage in January. “The success of our life … is because of the Lord being true to His Word,” said Patty. “Relying on His people to sustain us, His Word to sustain us, His Spirit to sustain us.”
Smokey’s health problems now prevent him from balancing on the tandem bike. But the Nevinses have gotten creative about that problem too: For his 60th birthday, Patty bought a two-person tricycle for them to ride side by side.
—This story has been corrected to note that Patty Nevins has retired from the library.