By Patricia Lorenz
Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.
~Leroy "Satchel" Paige
Jack and I met at the condo pool in 2003 while I was vacationing in a condo I co-owned with my brother and sister. I lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and visited the land of sun, sand, sea, surf and glorious sunsets in Florida three or four times a year.
At the pool, Jack, age sixty-six and I, fifty-seven, treaded water in the deep end while we talked about our children — my four, his six — about our grandchildren, and about the church we both attended just a few blocks away.
Not long after we met, Jack's wife Jane was diagnosed with liver disease and a year later, the following April, died peacefully in the hospital. I sent Jack a sympathy card with just a few paltry words scrawled at the bottom. How could I, who had been married, divorced, and annulled twice, and had never lived with either husband longer than seven years, even begin to understand the pain of losing a spouse you loved with all your heart for forty-three years? I couldn't come close to comprehending what must have been unbearable sadness.
The next time I visited Florida, a month after Jane's death, I saw Jack sitting alone at the pool in a lounge chair. I walked over to offer my condolences. He hugged me and said, "Thank you so much for your kind words on the card."
I wanted to know more about Jane: her life, her illness, her death. How were their children coping? What about their youngest daughter, pregnant with her second child? How was she doing?
I kept asking questions. Jack kept talking. Before long I understood that he probably needed someone outside the family to talk to and so, with the help of my many questions, Jack talked to me that day at the pool for five straight hours. We did the same for the next three days. He talked. I listened. He cried. I shared my life and background. We had things in common, Jack and I.
On the fourth day, Jack and I were in the deep end of the pool, hanging on to the ledge with our elbows, talking more about the fragility of life and the importance of going on.
Suddenly this man who had opened so much of his heart and soul to me over the past four days asked me if he could ask me a question.
"Of course," I said, curious as to why he needed permission to ask me a question.
"Would you ever be interested in pursuing a relationship with me?"
I couldn't speak. I'd been mostly single for almost two decades, since the day when my second husband Harold moved out. He had married his girlfriend the day of our divorce, then died two years later. I'd raised four children as a single parent. In nineteen years I'd dated two men, one for eight months, one for two-and-a-half years. After that I hadn't had more than one date with any man for the past twelve years. A relationship was the furthest thing from my mind.
The only thing I could think to do at the moment was raise my arms up over my head, inhale as much air as I could into my lungs, and sink slowly to the bottom of the pool. I needed time to think before I could answer that question.
At the bottom of the pool I thought, "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, this poor man. What am I going to say? What does he mean? Why is he asking this? He loved his wife so much and she just died five weeks ago. How could he ask me such a thing? How? Why?" I asked myself over and over.
I surfaced and gasped for breath. I looked at Jack and asked, "What exactly do you have in mind?"
"I have no idea. I just know that I like talking to you. I also know three things. One, I loved my wife very much. Two, she's gone and she's never going to come back to me. And three, Jane would not want me to sit around feeling sorry for myself. She would want me to be happy. I'm a realist, that's all."
"But it's only been five weeks since she died. You can't possibly mean that you want to start dating this soon."
"No, I guess not. Besides, even if we did go out we would have to be very discreet. My children are hurting and they need more time to grieve. I did most of my grieving this past year before Jane died. Months and months when we both knew it didn't look good. She knew how much I loved her and cared for her, but she was also the type to say, 'Get on with your life, Jack.'"
He continued slowly. "I'd just like to see you, that's all."
"Well then why don't we go for a bike ride?" I suggested, thinking that seemed like a safe alternative to dating. "We have four bikes in our condo shed. I'm sure we could find one that would work for you. Let's bike over to the Gulf and go for a swim."
"I haven't been on a bike in years, but it sounds like fun. How about if I make a couple of bologna sandwiches? I have some really good German bologna and rye bread."
"That's fine, I'll make the drinks. I'd like mustard on both slices of bread. No mayonnaise," I prattled.
An hour later Jack and I met again, gathered the bikes, placed our picnic in the bike basket and took off on the two-mile jaunt to the Gulf. When we sat down on the sand on our beach towels, I opened the sandwich. Mustard on both slices. No mayonnaise. I looked at Jack and smiled. Here's a man who actually hears what I say and remembers it, I thought to myself. If you want to know the truth, I started falling in love with him at that very moment.
We were together every day for the rest of my three-week visit to Florida. No two people have talked more than we did during those days. A month later I returned to my favorite place on earth for another three weeks. Knowing that I'd been dreaming of living in Florida fulltime for years, Jack told me about a condo for sale in his building, one that was just fifty-seven steps from his. I looked at it twice. My belief that one should follow your dreams while you're still awake and my disdain for those long, six-month winters in Wisconsin were the catalysts for my making an offer on the condo. My six-bedroom empty-nest house in Wisconsin sold in two weeks.
The next month, Jack came to Wisconsin to help me get rid of most of my furnishings at my second huge rummage sale.
We had our ups and downs over the next few years like all couples do. I even made a long list of reasons why I never wanted to marry again. But partly because we lived fifty-seven steps from each other's condos and walked in and out without knocking as if each of our condos was an extension of one big home, it was hard to be upset for very long.
However, after one misunderstanding while we were on a cruise with various members of his family, Jack decided to end our relationship. I was devastated, but we both began dating other people — he more seriously than I. He brought one woman home to his condo for eight straight months. Each time I saw her it was like a knife in my heart. I was so hurt and angry I wouldn't even speak to Jack even if he and I were the only ones in our daily water aerobics class.
But finally, in June 2011 he came to his senses. In the pool that morning he asked if we could talk. I said he could have fifteen minutes at my condo but he had to leave right after that because my cleaning lady was coming.
He came, we talked, the cleaning lady came and we finished talking at his condo for three more hours. That night he ended his relationship with the other woman. Two weeks later I went to Alaska for a month and we talked or e-mailed nearly every day. Four months after my return Jack got down on one knee and proposed at a restaurant right on the Gulf, one of our favorite places.
We were married in June 2012 in what we lovingly referred to as our "geezer wedding." I was sixty-six years old and Jack was seventy-five. We had no attendants, no ushers, no rehearsal, no rehearsal dinner. Just Jack and me walking down the aisle of our church hand in hand, married by my cousin Jerry, a monsignor in the Catholic Church.
Over 100 of our relatives and friends joined us at the church and then at our condo clubhouse for the most fun wedding reception I've ever attended in my life. We had live music, an open bar and a spread of mid-afternoon finger food enough to feed an army. My kids surprised us with an elaborate flash mob dance they'd worked on the week before to the song "Get Down Tonight." It's even on YouTube!
All in all, our geezer wedding was perfect. And Jack and I know one thing for sure. Age is a matter of mind. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter. And that is how we know for sure that you're never too old for lifelong love.
Editor's note: You can see Patricia and Jack's wedding dance flash mob, called "GP & PJ wedding dance" here.