Barry Saunders

Saunders: This love knows no getting old

Doris Pope, 79, left, and her fiance, Frank Bartlett, 92, receive friends and well-wishers Friday afternoon..
Doris Pope, 79, left, and her fiance, Frank Bartlett, 92, receive friends and well-wishers Friday afternoon..

The eye-catching gold lamé top isn’t what told you Doris Pope was the guest of honor among the score of women in the craft room at Independence Village assisted-living center.

Nor was it the silver tiara placed on her head as she took her seat at the head of the table. You didn’t even need to see the pink sash she wore that said “Bride-to-be” to know that Pope was that – the bride-to-be.

What told you was the smile, a smile that never left her face and which easily outshone the glittering top she wore.

Pope, 79, and her betrothed, Frank Bartlett, will marry on Valentine’s Day at Carolina Pines Baptist Church in Raleigh, so the staff and residents at Independence Village threw a bridal shower in their honor.

Pope has been at the center for about a year. She worked at Dorothea Dix for 23 years. Doing what? she was asked.

“You name it, I did it,” she told Roger Gore, the center’s marketing director.

Bartlett, 92, was a teacher and principal in New York and Maine before retiring.

Pope, in a note to Art Rijkse, the center’s executive director, described how a 97-year-old resident who initially refused to let anyone sit with her was responsible for their union.

“After several months she began to talk to me,” Pope wrote, and “we soon had a good relationship.”

She wrote also that there were three gentlemen seated at a table next to them, and how the formerly reclusive resident told her, “I think Frank likes you. Why don’t you sit with him, but this will always be your chair.”

Frank did like her, and “soon made a marriage proposal, which I accepted,” Pope wrote.

Bartlett wrote that Pope’s “friendly and outgoing nature” – which, along with persistence, is what broke down the unsociable woman’s defenses – is also what attracted him to her. He praised her “awareness and helpfulness toward aiding new and more needy” residents of Independence Village of Olde Raleigh. Residents’ ages at the center range from 64 to 102.

Bartlett was the only male resident permitted entry to the bridal shower. Several fellows showed up at the door at different times, hovering about, peering in. I didn’t get the impression that they were checking out the huge red and white cake, either.

The ladies noticed. “The guys are standing around out there,” one said.

“Tell them they’ve got to get married before they can come in,” another said, provoking laughter from her table mates.

One intrepid male resident, sharp in a camel hair sport coat and brown pants, strode in but was gently ushered out by activities director Connie Keller. “This is for the ladies,” Keller told him.

But the man had contributed to the festivities, one lady said.

“That’s nice,” Keller responded. “We’ll send him a piece of cake.”

After the ladies were satisfied that I was actually working and not just a dude trying to score some cake, one of them beckoned me.

“Are you writing about how you can find love at any age?” she inquired.

Y’all don’t need me to tell you that, I said.

“But we need the formula,” she laughed.

Another resident, Anna, later called me over. “Remember,” she said sotto voce, “what happens at Independence Village stays at Independence Village.”

“Don’t let it stay at Independence Village, honey,” another said. “It might mean good luck for the rest of us.”

The wedding between Pope, Apt. 132, and Bartlett, Apt. 247, will be the first Rijkse remembers in his six years as executive director at Independence Village. Another resident, though, told me her mother met a man there while a resident and married him 20 years ago.

Rijkse said “I’ve seen them hook up, but not marry.” Family members sometimes object to twilight marriages, and often older lovers with whom I’ve spoken over the years fear losing their Social Security benefits if they get hitched.

Neither of those is a good reason to interfere with love, if you ask me. Government regulations should be changed to make it easier for old people to do without fear as Bartlett and Pope are doing – and disapproving relatives should mind their own business.

After opening her gifts – the sheer pink and black teddy elicited the loudest cheers and laughter – Pope said, “You’re all very special, and we’re going to enjoy staying here.”

“I second the motion,” Bartlett said, still beaming and blushing over the gift.

Prompted by the guests to say more, he added, “I didn’t know I was looking for something when I came here.”

He paused, composed himself, looked at his bride-to-be. “It wasn’t something: It was someone.”

With his handkerchief, he wiped away a tear.

He wasn’t the only one.