Life rarely turns out how you expect it to. But, as Oleta Butler says, when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade.
That's what she and her husband, George Butler, have done for more than four decades of married life.
"We had a lot of good times together,” she said. "A lot of bad times, but a lot of good times.”
The Butlers never expected to be in their 60s and have three adopted children. But when their grandchildren were in need of a stable home, there was no question as to what they should do.
"It's been a blessing to me because it made me, you know, it made me more happy, I guess,” George said. "They keep you young.”
The couple have cared for each of their grandchildren — Desmond, 21, Destinee, 17, and Nautica, 12 — since the children were very young. The Butlers legally adopted them five years ago.
Like most young couples, the Butlers strove for the American dream. They wanted to buy a home and have children who would grow up to become educated, stable adults. They dreamed of grandchildren whom the couple could visit in summers and at Christmas.
When things didn't turn out quite like they had hoped, Oleta admits that sometimes she wondered where she went wrong. It was her mother, who has since died, who said the words that would make Oleta quit asking, "Why me?”
"She said not to focus ahead, just focus on every day ... to do the best I could, and that the children would be a blessing to me,” Oleta said.
Caring for Desmond, Destinee and Nautica has turned out to be a blessing in her life, Oleta said, but it's not always easy.
Ageism is an unexpected consequence Oleta said the couple faced after taking custody of their grandchildren.
"People discriminate against you when you're older people and you have your grandchildren,” she said. When she takes the kids out, she feels like people are judging her as a parent. "There's a stigma attached to it.”
Assuming a parental role to their grandchildren isn't the only obstacle the couple have confronted in their marriage, nor the biggest one.
"We experienced a lot of the hard things in our lives when we were young married people away from home,” Oleta said. They were childhood sweethearts in their hometown of Hugo. George joined the Army after college, and when he returned after basic training, the couple married.
"We grew up together,” Oleta said. "We didn't have money a lot of times; we didn't have food a lot of times.”
But she could always depend on George, she said.
"He promised me that when things got better, I would never want for anything. When he was promoted and promoted and got to that point in his life, he kept his word.”
Health problems also have challenged the Butlers' strength. George recently endured a kidney transplant after having been on dialysis for five years because of kidney failure.
"It happened so fast. I had just about given up on it,” he said. Since he was older than 60, he didn't expect to be a high priority for a transplant.
"I got a 20-year-old kidney in a 60-something-year-old body,” he said. He was up walking the day after his transplant in September 2008, and he said he feels great today. "I just feel sorry for his (the donor's) family.”
Through it all, the Butlers' strong marriage has been the rock they've held to. George said their marriage is better today than it was when they got married, and it keeps getting better.
The Butlers agree that patience with each other has been the most important thing in their marriage.
"It just takes a lot of patience, I guess, and determination,” George said. "I can't replace her; even if I tried, I couldn't replace her.”
They also agree that having their own interests and ways to relax is important.
George loves to hunt and fish. Oleta used to go fishing with him, but these days, she said she would rather not.
"I'm afraid of snakes at the lake,” she said.
Instead, she looks forward to coming home from work, changing into some comfortable house clothes, dimming the lights in her bedroom and watching television for a while to unwind.
"Give me a Diet Dr Pepper and some peace and quiet,” she said, laughing. "That is my thing. I love it.”
Are you a grandparent raising your grandchildren? Oleta Butler wants you to know resources and services are available for you. The organization she works for, Oasis, provides respite care workers for adults caring for an aging parent, or grandparents older than 55 in a parental role to their grandchildren or another relative. The program is income-based. For more information, call (888) 771-4550.
Sunbeam Family Services also offers support and services to grandparents raising grandchildren as well as adults caring for an aging family member. Sunbeam Senior Services is not income-based and provides support groups, free counseling, free school supplies and a Christmas gift program. For more information, call 528-7721 and ask for Senior Services.
Oleta and George Butler are featured in the "Oklahoma's Most Inspiring Couples” 2010 calendar, sponsored by the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative. The couples featured in the calendar are being profiled in The Oklahoman's Life section each month. For more information about the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative's inspiring couples, go online to www.foreverforreal.com.