published Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Roberts: The key to 50-year marriage?

by Dalton Roberts

Monk was one of the finest guitar players I've ever heard.

Jean was a 100-pound, Yankee spitfire that Monk met and married while stationed at an air base near her hometown of Rangoul, Ill.

You knew two things about Jean: She made up her mind not to be knocked around by men and to whip them when she needed to. She generally succeeded in both.

The secret to their 50-year marriage was that Monk loved to fight, and Jean was happy to meet his needs.

I was performing with Monk and Ed Leamon at Ox Biggs' Chickamore Barn Dance, located where the Harrison Post Office now sits. One night after a gig, we arrived at Monk's residence rather late.

"Get out of that bed and fix us some breakfast, woman," Monk yelled.

"Fix it yourself, you drunk fool," she answered.

Monk went to the bedroom and dragged her to the kitchen, but what a price he paid. She did not cry, scratch or pull hair like most women. She was a stand-up, toe-to-toe fighter.

Monk was probably 50 pounds heavier, but they fought about a half hour over who was going to make breakfast.

There was nothing but blood and coffee served that morning.

At one point, after she had beaten his face until it was a bloody mess, he got a chokehold on her.

"Turn her loose, Monk!" I screamed. "She's turning blue!"

Like a hypnotized man, he continued to choke her. I got a half-nelson under his chin and slung him off. She crawled around on the floor, making little animal noises and gasping for breath, then left the room. About the time we relaxed, she streaked back into the kitchen, knocking Monk against the wall, and they went at it again.

I announced to one and all, "You all go ahead and kill each other. I'm not gonna stay here for the killing. I'm going to the Krystal for breakfast."

The experience inspired a little song which I can only remember a part of: "If you hear me loudly screaming, if you hear me crash and fall, don't worry about it, neighbor, it's nothing but our love call."

The last time I saw them after that morning's fight came when I decided to call them one day. I hadn't heard Monk pick guitar in years, and I hungered for his magnificent sounds. I told him that I'd quit drinking, but still he said, "I'll pick some with you if you'll have a drink with me."

I quickly saw arthritis had walked off with his musical skill. But he and Jean maintained their marriage.

At check-out in the liquor store, Monk was holding two jugs of George Dickel and one can of beer. He saw the question on my face and, although his wife was miles away, he whispered in my ear: "That's for Jean. She can't handle liquor. It makes her want to fight."

So I guess the champ is determined by who doesn't want to fight her.

Contact Dalton Roberts at

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