Parents Talk Back

Parents Talk Back: Wedding bells for 83-year-old first-time bride

June 30, 2014 

Phil Davies, 88, shuffled a few steps behind his new bride down the long hallway, leaning his right side on a metal cane to ease pressure off his bad ankle.

That's what he gets for robbing the cradle.

Gloria, 83, walked into his apartment and started looking through a few papers.

"I'm still waiting for the name change documents," she said and threw her hands up. "It's maddening." She still has most of her things in her own unit while the couple waits for a larger one to become available. She settled into the couch and glanced at the sparkly 1-carat rock on her finger, a gold band with smaller diamonds on either side.

"Even if the marriage doesn't last, I'm keeping the diamond," she said, laughing. Phil, 88, finally sits next to her. The newlyweds kept touching each other - a pat on the knee, a caress on the hands.

They had moved into the Breeze Park retirement community in St. Charles, Mo., within a few months of each other in 2011. He had been widowed a few years prior, after 58 years of marriage. She had had a longtime companion; they had never married nor lived together, and he had died more than 20 years earlier.

In Gloria's first week at the center, the hostess in the dining room seated her at a table with Phil and two other women. Phil, a retired pilot, struck up an easy conversation with her, since she had also traveled in her former career. Then Phil discovered that he and another woman at the table had a mutual friend, and Gloria remembers thinking, "Hmm ... he's talking more to her than me."

Phil interrupted her: "But I only had eyes for you."

Living in a retirement community is a lot like living in a small town or college dorm. The two wanted to meet again, but kept missing each other. Phil spotted her walking in once while he was in his car headed to dinner. He turned around and tried to catch up with her.

"She must have been running," he said, because he lost track of her by the time he made it in. They finally made a plan to meet at the hostess station for dinner, and once they figured out that system, they rarely missed one another. They were the talk of the community.

One night, he asked if he could walk her back to her apartment.

"I'm a big girl. I can walk myself home," she said. (She was worried about the distance from her place to his, given his fused ankle from a plane crash years ago.) After several months, right before Easter weekend, Phil asked if she would like to go out to dinner with him. Neither of them had been on a date in decades.

She wore black slacks and a turtleneck with a turquoise vest. He wore a jacket and tie. When she saw him, she thought: "Wow. He's handsome."

Phil took the long, scenic drive back from the winery. He thinks he got as far as a handshake that evening. Undeterred, he asked her out again. They talked about their families, their work - everything, really.

"Mr. Davies, I think I'm becoming more than a little fond of you," she said one day.

"I think it's further along than that for me," he replied. Still, she was reluctant to make their relationship more serious. She had never been married.

As parents, we hope our children find lasting love and a companion to grow old with, but timing has a mind of its own.

An only child, Gloria's parents had never pressured her to marry simply for the sake of marriage. She had worked at Southwestern Bell for 37 years, took an early retirement and worked as a tour guide for a travel agency for another 19 years.

Phil understood and didn't want to rush Gloria. But last December, he said he would like to buy her a ring.

"We don't have to get married right now," he said. "The time will come, but I just want to stake my claim."

She agreed. Soon after they picked out the ring, the younger employees in the cafeteria and fitness areas wanted to hear about wedding plans. A few took Gloria shopping for a wedding dress. She insisted on sleeves. She wanted to keep it as simple as possible, but the wedding "just grew like Topsy," she said.

A few people asked them why they bothered to get married at their age.

"If God gives us 10 years, 5 years, 2 years, or another hour together, it's a gift," Gloria said.

Phil asked his son, Dan, to be his best man; Dan, thrilled to see his father so happy again, said he was honored. The engaged couple told the pastor to keep the ceremony short and sweet because they weren't sure how long they could stand at the altar.

They asked a minister and his wife to sing their song at the ceremony. When the music started, Phil stared at his bride and started softly singing to her. She sang the words back to him.

"Let me call you 'Sweetheart,' I'm in love with you."

"Let me hear you whisper that you love me too."

"Keep the love-light glowing in your eyes so true."

"Let me call you 'Sweetheart,' I'm in love with you."

There weren't many dry eyes in the packed chapel at Breeze Park that day.

Aisha Sultan is a St. Louis-based journalist who studies parenting in the digital age.

On Twitter: @AishaS.

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