India’s Taj Mahal is known as the ultimate monument to love, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the remains of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth. It’s been named a UNESCO World Heritage site, cost about $827 million to build in today’s dollars, and welcomes seven to eight million visitors a year.
But a small Mississippi house is giving the iconic piece of architecture a run for its money. Though it might not be able to compete in size or splendor, Charles ‘LaLa’ Evans‘ own monument to his late wife certainly shows that it’s the thought that counts.
The 82-year-old, from Starkville, lost the love of his life, Louise, just a month shy of their sixtieth wedding anniversary. He went on to honor her memory by turning their home into a museum dedicated to her life.
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Romantic: Charles ‘LaLa’ Evans turned his home into a monument to his love with his late wife, Louise
Great loss: The 82-year-old has been married to Louise for 59 years and 11 months when she died in 2011
So sweet: LaLa turned their Mississippi home into a museum, spotlighting memories of their life together
The elderly couple had quite a love story. LaLa, who affectionately called his wife Miss Lou, smiles when he speaks about the six decades they spend together.
‘Louise and I met probably when were in the tenth grade,’ he explained in a video spotlighting their relationship. ‘Back in those days, you were either academically smart or athletically inclined. And we were neither.’
‘I was a shoeshine boy,’ he told Ellen DeGeneres about their meeting. ‘And right across the street, her uncle had a café. And for lunch, I would go to the café and I would kind of put those squeezy eyes on her, you know?
Lifelong love: The couple met in tenth grade and were high school sweethearts before marrying at 18
Building a life: LaLa taught Louise how to dance, and the two went to church together every Sunday
Memories: Over the years, they’d collected lots of pictures and momentos, which LaLa pasted to the wall after Louise’s death
‘And she was kind of bashful, you see. And her uncle would notice this each day, and he’d start teasing her about this and she wouldn’t come out when I came to lunch. She’d stay back there. But when I put that eye on her, you know, that was love at first sight.’
At age 18, the high school sweethearts tied the knot, and lived pretty much happily ever after. Even when Louise would get angry at LaLa, he said he just had to give her those same ‘squeezy eyes’ to make her heart melt.
Together, they shared a home in Mississippi, where he taught her how to dance and they went to church every Sunday. After services, Louise would always ask LaLa to take her picture.
Then, in 2011, Louise fell ill. The last words she said to LaLa before she passed were ‘I love you’, which he says he will always remember.
Home sweet home: He call’s the museum LaLa and Louise’s Place, or LaLa and Louise Land
Beautiful: He also turned the yard into LaLa’s Umbrella Grove, decorating it with colorful beach umbrellas, flowers, and windmills
But LaLa didn’t just keep Louise in his thoughts. Instead, he decided to turn their home into a monument to their love.
So he pulled out all those photos of her he’d taken over the years – as well as their favorite album covers and pictures of celebrities they’d collected – and hung them up on all the walls, papering them from floor to ceiling. He said that he hasn’t even touched the surface of what he has socked away.
He also turned their lawn into what he calls LaLa’s Umbrella Grove. The grass is covered with large, multicolor beach umbrellas, and streamers, mobiles, and flowers decorate the grounds in bright, cheerful colors.
‘On any given day, I look out at any umbrella and see her smiling at me,’ LaLa told Buzzfeed, adding that he gives tours to people who stop by and thinks it’s a ‘treasure’ to get to share it with others. He calls the entire museum LaLa and Louise Land.
Fairy tale: He said the umbrellas remind him of Louise’s smile, and he likes to sit back and remember her
Connection: The band Mutemath cast LaLa and his home in their music video for the song Monuments
Touching tribute: In the song, the band sings about building a monument to love – and in the music video, LaLa is seen dancing around his own monument
‘You just sit here and then it brings back so many memories,’ he said. ‘You can get treary-eyed sometimes, just looking at your past. I had to do all of this in remembrance of her.’
Though he might cry sometimes, he also has a remarkably upbeat attitude, seeming to focus on the happiness that he has for getting to spend nearly 60 years with his wife, rather than the sadness he has that he lost her.
‘People come to me saying they have their problems and want to know how we do it. I tell them, “It’s all about love, that’s the key”,’ he told BuzzFeed. ‘I tell people, “put that lady first!” They’ll be some ups and downs, but work hard at it.’
Check it out: The Umbrella Grove is open to visitors, and LaLa likes to give tours
So cute: LaLa said it was love at first sight, even though his wife was bashful at first
Happy wife, happy life: He also gives relationship advice, telling others to ‘put the lady first’
His romantic story and home have touched so many people that they were brought to the attention of the band Mutemath, just as they were looking for ideas for their new music video for the song Monument.
The tune includes the incredibly appropriate lyrics, ‘Let’s make a monument for our love’, which the band realized was a perfect fit for LaLa’s story.
So they cast the man – and his beautiful home – in their video, panning around his living room and the colorful grounds.
The clip sees LaLa reveling in Louise’s memory, watching old home movies with a smile around his face and dancing around as he thinks of her.
Mutemath will be on tour in the US from February 11 until April 8