I found true love at 87: a mem­oir

When I moved to a re­tire­ment home in my 80s, I found true love

Toronto Life - - Front Page - by linda sparks Linda Sparks is a re­tired Bap­tist min­is­ter. Email sub­mis­sions to mem­oir@toron­to­life.com

My first wed­ding was a gor­geous af­fair. It was 1953, and my child­hood sweet­heart, Vic­tor, had fi­nally pro­posed af­ter more than a decade of courtship. We mar­ried in a large Bap­tist church, and I wore an ivory silk dress with lace em­broi­dery, and a pill­box hat. At 32, I thought I was an old bride.

For 42 years, our life was full. We bought a lit­tle bungalow in Etobicoke, with a small herb garden and a pond out back, and raised two boys, Christo­pher and Ti­mothy. Vic worked as an ac­coun­tant, and when the kids were older, I was or­dained as a Bap­tist min­is­ter and took a job as a hos­pi­tal chap­lain. In 1995, at age 76, Vic died af­ter a long and painful bout of em­phy­sema. The loss was dev­as­tat­ing, but I was grate­ful we’d had so many decades to­gether. Af­ter Vic’s death, I lived by my­self for 10 years. As I en­tered my 80s, the lone­li­ness started to get to me. I craved friend­ship and ex­cite­ment and noise. A cousin of mine lived at the Gre­nadier, a re­tire­ment home near High Park, and I de­cided to join her. I had my own suite with a bath­room and kitch­enette. It took some time to get used to be­ing around people all the time, but I came to love the movie nights and ice cream so­cials. The place was like summer camp for grown-ups.

One night in June 2008, about three years af­ter I moved to the Gre­nadier, I was eat­ing with a few other ladies when a man sat down next to me. I thought to my­self, “Oooh, what do we have here?” He wore a flannel shirt and khaki zip-up vest, as if he were go­ing on a fish­ing trip in­stead of sit­ting down to din­ner. His large eyes were the clear­est blue, but I could tell by the way he stared into the mid­dle dis­tance that he was blind. We quickly fell into easy con­ver­sa­tion.

His name was Ken, and he was 84, three years younger than me. I found him fas­ci­nat­ing. While I’d been raised in the bustling city, he grew up in a farm­ing vil­lage of 100 people in Man­i­toba. He joined the Cana­dian Air Force dur­ing World War II, where he was sta­tioned in the U.K. Later, he be­came a pro­fes­sor of me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing in Regina. We laughed when we re­al­ized that we’d been liv­ing par­al­lel lives: we were both de­vout Bap­tists, we were both mar­ried in 1953, and we both had two sons who were the ex­act same age. At the end of the night, he told us it had been a plea­sure to dine with such a charm­ing group of women—though one of us, he said with a wink in my di­rec­tion, had been more charm­ing than the rest.

Ken and I are avid book lovers, but he’d been un­able to read since an op­tic nerve in­fec­tion had taken his sight a few months ear­lier. By chance, we dis­cov­ered we were both in­ter­ested in the work of Nor­man Doidge, a U of T pro­fes­sor who stud­ies neu­ro­plas­tic­ity. The next night at din­ner, I brought down my copy of Doidge’s The Brain That Changes It­self. Af­ter the meal, I turned to Ken and coyly asked, “Do you want to hear a chap­ter?” We sat by a win­dow in the lounge and read to­gether. Soon it be­came our nightly rit­ual. We’d plow through books about sci­ence, pol­i­tics, eco­nom­ics. Af­ter a month or so, Ken in­vited me to con­tinue our read­ing ses­sions in his suite. He’s an old-fash­ioned gen­tle­man—he left the door open be­cause he didn’t want to put me in a com­pro­mis­ing po­si­tion.

We be­came in­sep­a­ra­ble. We took strolls in the garden where I tended flow­ers. He came to the Bi­ble dis­cus­sion groups I led. At ev­ery so­cial event, he’d have two mugs of cof­fee—one for me, one for him. While I had made plenty of friends at the re­tire­ment home, Ken was the first per­son I’d felt close to since Vic died. We laughed and chal­lenged each other. We also sat in com­fort­able si­lence, just en­joy­ing each other’s pres­ence. Many people never find that once in their lives, let alone twice. One evening, he walked me to the door. I put my hand on his face and stroked his cheek. I felt but­ter­flies that hadn’t been there in 60 years. Fi­nally, he leaned down and kissed me.

We soon started think­ing about mar­riage. There’s no point wast­ing time when you’re as old as we are. One day, I blurted out, “You know, you’re go­ing to have to ask me prop­erly.” And he did—he even bought me a ring. When we told our kids we were get­ting hitched, they were shocked, but when they got used to the idea, they were de­lighted for us.

We were en­gaged in Novem­ber, and by the fol­low­ing May, we were mar­ried. The staff at the Gre­nadier set up an aisle in the lounge, with light pour­ing in from the pic­ture win­dows. My sons walked me down the aisle; Ken’s kids es­corted him. As we met at the al­tar, he gave me six white roses and six red—one for ev­ery month we’d known each other. It was the first wed­ding ever held at the Gre­nadier. All 150 res­i­dents came to watch the cer­e­mony.

Af­ter the wed­ding, we were giddy new­ly­weds: we hon­ey­mooned in Ot­tawa, and toured Par­lia­ment Hill and the Rideau Canal. When we re­turned, Ken moved in with me and turned his old suite into an of­fice. We’ve been mar­ried for eight years now; I’m 96 and he’s 93. I love hav­ing some­one who’ll talk to me, who’ll hold my hand, who’ll cud­dle up with me at night. People tell us how lucky we are to have found com­pan­ion­ship. “Well, that too,” Ken al­ways says with a sly smile.

I felt but­ter­flies that hadn’t been there in 60 years. Fi­nally, he leaned down and kissed me

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