Valentine’s Day

After 48 years, motorcycle enthusiasts still enjoying ride of their lives.

Jerry may be a dancing dud, but RoseMarie discovered that her man was a driving dandy – graceful, gentle controlled and smooth in his dips and turns while piloting his motorcycle.

BY LAURIE LUCAS / STAFF WRITER

Perhaps the best compliment ever paid Jerry and RoseMarie Smith was on an 8-day motorcycle trip through Spain in 2007.

Their Andalusian tour director said: “You guys ride like one rider, like you’re dancing.”

That remark could serve as a metaphor of the Riverside couple’s 55-year marriage. In biker lingo, the Smiths, clad in full padded armor, ride seamlessly together as “2-up,” with RoseMarie, 75, leaning into Jerry, 77, but not clinging to him.

Today, thousands of miles, hundreds of adventures and 48 years after buying their first motorcycle, the Smiths are still riding high on their current heartthrob, cycle number seven, a Honda ST 1300. They have no plans of slowing down.

The fact of their 2-up ridership also captures the soul of the couple’s relationship. They remain committed, equal partners, but strikingly different individuals, staying together despite some bumpy roads and rough patches.

Both grew up poor in broken homes wearing hand-me-downs: RoseMarie in New Orleans, Jerry in Beach City, Ohio. Married after a brief courtship, they raised two sons while shuttling among five states because of Jerry’s 24-year Air Force career.

While Jerry’s studies stretched over 16 years to earn a college degree, RoseMarie still made sure they ate as family, often at 8 p.m. after his night classes. Even after Jerry retired in 1982 as a lieutenant colonel, the Smiths weathered challenges. They toughed it out during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in Biloxi, Miss., where miraculously, a 26-foot tide of water halted a block from their house.

Sons Matthew, 54, who works in insurance in Ashboro, N.C. and Micah, 51, a freelance photographer in Los Angeles, said that their parents completely support but complement one another.

RoseMarie is the North to Jerry’s South, her midnight to his noon, her song to his talk. Arlene Canaan, 67, a dear friend in New Orleans, said Jerry is the reserved, harder-to-get-to-know half while RoseMarie with her fizzing personality, is his extroverted counterpart who never meets a stranger. “In their case, opposites did attract,” Canaan said.

Five years ago the Smiths settled in the Altavita Village retirement community, formerly Air Force Village West in Riverside, to be close to Micah. It proved to be a propitious move for both families. For a-year-and-a-half, RoseMarie rode the Metrolink to L.A. several days a week to help care for his two young children while Micah’s wife, Katie Smith, now in remission, was treated for brain cancer.

“Jerry has never held me back, but encouraged me in everything I wanted to do,” said RoseMarie during an interview at home. “I trust him. I like him. He’s a real cool guy.”

With Jerry’s blessings, she reinvented herself throughout their marriage as a travel agent, tour guide, caregiver, oil painter and jewelry maker. As volunteers, they helped build a church in Chile and house bring supplies to Katrina victims.

And although they may look like they’re dancing while riding, Jerry admits that he’s got two hopeless left feet. “RoseMarie set out to teach me,” Jerry said. “I made an attempt and I stomped on her foot. And I said, ‘You’ll never dance with me.’ And she said, ‘You’re right’.”

He’s still a fighter, trying to keep up with his whirling dervish wife at line dancing and Zumba classes.

RoseMarie, she of the nimble footwork, learned her first moves at 6, dancing with her single mom’s dates at honky-tonk clubs in New Orleans. “I came up to their belts,” she remembers.

She danced off with Jerry, proposing to him five months after they met on a blind date in April 1960. She was 19, a fun-loving 5-foot beauty pageant finalist working for at an airlines ticket counter in the Big Easy. He was 21, a serious, quiet, 6-foot second lieutenant with white-gold curls and cornflower blue eyes, stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi.

“In the sunshine, his hair looked like golden threads,” Rosemarie said. “She was gorgeous,” Jerry said.

She liked him, but enjoyed hanging out with her friends in the French Quarter, too. After she wrote Jerry a letter allowing him to see other women, he fired back with an ultimatum: “It’s me or nobody else.” RoseMarie retorted: “Well, if it’s no one else, we might as well get married.”

On Jerry’s next day off, they got hitched in a full military saber ceremony on Sept. 3, 1960 in the chapel at Keesler. They honeymooned over the long weekend in Mobile, Ala., catching a live wrestling match and boating to nearby Dauphin Island.

While Jerry worked a a ground electronics officer, RoseMarie stayed home with Matthew and then Micah.

“They wanted Matt and me to have the childhoods and upbringings they never had,” Micah said.

The Smiths’ first motorcycle joined the family in 1968, partly for nostalgic reasons, partly for diversionary ones. “I had a stressful job,” Jerry recalls.

At the time, Jerry, a commander of a military radar site in Empire Mich., found the solution beckoning from an old photo he loved. He was a baby perched on his parents’ motorcycle before they divorced, before his mom died when he was 10, before he lived with his grandmother.

RoseMarie needed no prompting to hop on behind her hubby for that first ride after he splurged, spending $800 on a BSA 500.

“My mom is fearless,” said Micah.

Jerry may be a dancing dud, but RoseMarie discovered that her man was a driving dandy – graceful, gentle controlled and smooth in his dips and turns while piloting the motorcycle. “What I love so much is that it’s relaxing for me,” said RoseMarie. “As a painter, I can enjoy the beauty of seeing things, the ochre mixed with viridian.”

These days they’ll roar off to Tahoe, Carlsbad or Pala for quick getaways and impromptu lunches. They plan to scout out Santa Barbara soon before RoseMarie arranges a three-day group Altavita bus tour there in April.

And of course, it wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day without a spin. After a brunch Sunday at the Village, they’ll quickly doff their matching red, white and black dress-up clothes and don their riding gear. “Then we’re gonna blow out,” RoseMarie said, laughing.

Contact the writer: llucas@pe.com, 951-368-9559

This is a copy of the article originally posted at http://www.pe.com/articles/jerry-794318-rosemarie-micah.html?page=1