About a month ago, James Jones, 46, dropped over to his grandparents' home a few blocks away in West Philadelphia.

That's when he saw his grandfather, Mitchell Atkins, bend over and kiss his wife, Mattie Atkins.

"I cried," said Jones, who has two grown children of his own. "I didn't let them know, but it brought a tear to my eye. He gave her a kiss on the lips and called her darling."

Now there's nothing remarkable about a man kissing his wife. In most happy marriages, that's an everyday occurrence.

But Mitchell and Mattie's marriage has been happy longer than most - partly because they've lived longer than most.

On Saturday, to celebrate the couple's 80th anniversary, Jones and 70 others in their extended family gathered at the Deliverance Evangelistic Church in North Philadelphia.

Mitchell and Mattie Atkins were married in Jacksonville, Floria on Jan. 14, 1930.

Given some of the facts in their long life of love, it would be tempting to title this tale: "The Boxer and the Cougar," but it would only be partly true.

What's really true is what happened in their livingroom on Thursday as they reiminisced about their marriage.

"She was the prettiest thing in the whole world," said Mr. Atkins, 97, known in his family as Daddy Mitch. "And she's still the loveliest."

Wheelchair bound with crippling arthritis, Mrs. Atkins, 103, is almost completely deaf. She can hear when a daughter shouts right into her ear. So, on Thursday, Ronye Smaller leaned close and repeated her father's words.

A smile spread over Mrs. Atkins' face, moving from eyes to lips. "He's a joy to be around." she said, then joked about her husband's kisses.

"I find no fault in him, except he always comes up by me slobbering on me."

When the couple met in Jacksonville, Florida in 1928, Mitchell Atkins was an amateur boxer and a restaurant chef, probably hovering around the age of 16. But that was his secret, because he took a liking to Mattie Louise Butler, then 22.

"I fell for her right away, the first time I saw her. I liked the way she dressed and her hair. She was active. She was energetic," he said.

So Mitchell Atkins, a godfearing man who counted it as a date to walk Mattie home from church and who regularly woke his six children up at 4 a.m. to pray, out-and-out lied, or maybe to put a finer spin on it, didn't correct anybody's misimpressions, least of all Miss Mattie's.

"I just told her I was 23 and I acted like I was 23," he said.

She found out the truth when his sister let it slip when their first baby was three months old.

"I felt alright about it because he was a perfect gentleman, even at 17. He was already respectful. He treated me like lady," she said.

Every time he saw her, he had a present. Every Friday, the florists' truck pulled up to deliver a dozen rosebuds.

"You have to have a habit of doing things like that," he said.

On their wedding day, they walked to their pastor's house for the marriage, but got lost, arriving two hours late. Then he went to work and she went to her parents' home to wait for him. He came at 2 a.m.

In 1945, they moved to Philadelphia and into the house on Parrish Street where they still live. He earned $38 a week as a warehouse receiving clerk. They raised six children, but anyone who needed a place to stay found room in their three-bedroom home.

He earned the living, but she was a natural with her hands, moving easily between skills as a seamstress and skills as a carpenter. One day, he came home and she had completely redesigned and rebuilt the wall between the living room and dining room.

"I was surprised to see it," he said. "She did a beautiful job on it and still had dinner on the table."

Now their clan includes 19 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren and 12 great-great grandchildren. The youngest at yesterday's gathering was a great grandchild, Madeleine Eleese Atkins Page, born Nov. 15 and named after her great-grandmother.

Like the wedding, Saturday's festivities started later than expected - some mixup over the van. So by the time the two arrived, the family couldn't help but crowd into the lobby of the church's fellowship hall to greet them.

"Daddy, daddy, daddy," they shouted, as Daddy Mitch made his way up the walkway into the church. Then, Mommy Atkins was wheeled in, shivering from the cold, overwhelmed by family and television cameras and the shouting and clapping.

Someone brought a tissue, someone pinned a corsage, someone found some gloves for cold hands, someone tucked in a lap robe, someone else adjusted it, and someone else adjusted it again. Someone presented two dozen roses, someone tucked them under her arm.

"Glory Halleluiah," she said, softly, dressed in ivory suit wearing pearls around her neck and pearl earrings. "Thank you Jesus."

Her children and grandchildren say they have never, ever, heard them even fuss around other, let alone argue.

"I never did get angry with him," she said. "He don't let you get angry. He'll just be grinning all the time. He's just a jolly, jolly man."

The key to marital success, she said, smiling, "is treat your husband like you want him to treat you and make sure you have two rolling pins - keep one on his head and the other to roll out the dough."

Nothing, they both said, is more important than prayer, love and unity. That, and a little kissing on the sofa, when the children aren't around. "She'd sit in my lap, sit right here and kiss and go on," he said.

"Love, love, love each other," she added. "It's beautiful, beautiful to be old and still be in love at our age."

Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.