A couple of months ago I was on the phone to my Nan trying to arrange when would be a good time for us to meet up for a bit of tea and fill her in on a few family matters. At the end of the conversation she told me that one of her best friends Dorothy would be getting married in a few weeks. Dorothy is 82 years old and for as long as I can remember has always been around, either at my Nan’s house when I stayed over at weekends as a child with all the other grandkids, or at family gatherings and parties. Not that I was paying much attention consciously but growing up I have no recollection of Dorothy being with a partner. She would always be in the living room when I visited, sat with Nan and Aunty Kay in the living quarters of the care home my Nan ran and lived in, drinking tea, nattering or watching Corrie, but I never once saw her with a partner. In my childhood brain she was just Dorothy, Nan and Auntie Kay’s friend from church.
For the past few years Dorothy has been living in an over 55s housing complex in her own flat. Not Anchor housing, but pretty much the same set up, so you get the idea. Last year, in a completely unexpected and serendipitous turn of events Dorothy met Geoffrey, an 84 year old man who lives in the same housing complex, and within a year the two of them fell completely and utterly head over heels in love.
My Nan described taking the two of them out in the car and likened it to taking out two teenagers, that Geoffrey would stroke her hand in the back of the car and lean in to softly tell Dorothy “I love you.” “I know,” Dorothy would reply, “I love you too,” and they would kiss. My Nan did confess to having feelings similar to car sickness at this point, but said that she’d never seen Dorothy so happy.
Dorothy was born in 1937, Geoffrey two years earlier in 1935. Both have been married previously and have children. Dorothy has a daughter; Geoffrey has two sons and both have married previously and lost their partners. They met on an organised coach trip to Scarborough last year. They’d never spoken before and had been sat separately on the coach when two people who were together got on but ended up sat separately. Geoffrey noticed this and offered up his seat so the pair could sit together for the journey and ended up sat next to Dorothy. The two of them talked all the way to Scarborough and enjoyed the day together, walking and talking. After the trip they didn’t make any formal arrangements to meet. They went their separate ways, back to their separate flats.
A short while after that the two of them bumped into each other again. As my Nan tells it, Geoffrey, lovestruck and smitten after the Scarborough trip would walk around just hoping to catch a glimpse of Dorothy walking by. Eventually he did and they began to see more and more of each other. They’d go out on day trips or shopping in town and talking over coffee and eventually ended up spending every spare waking minute with each other, until the two of them eventually decided to move into a two-bedroom place together in the same complex and live together as partners. Separate bedrooms of course. Eventually, Geoffrey proposed to Dorothy, and of course Dorothy said yes.
When my Nan told me this tale I immediately asked if they had a photographer for the wedding. It was such a good opportunity for a photo story and because of the family connection it would be something I’d be more than happy to do for free. She passed on my offer to Dorothy and Geoffrey and I was delighted when she got back to me to say they’d love me to do it as they didn’t have a photographer.
On the morning of the wedding when I arrived at Bingley United Reform Church, I really didn’t know what to expect from the wedding of an 82 and 84 year old couple. The ceremony was a very serene, traditional Christian wedding attended by a crowd of around 50 or so friends, family and loved ones. Geoffrey stood at the front of the church, nervous as any young groom to be, waiting for his future wife to walk down the aisle and worrying about being able to say the word impediment as he stood talking to his son, who also happened to be the best man. When Dorothy arrived, she was walked down the aisle by her daughter and when Geoffrey turned around to see his bride I can’t remember when I last saw such pride on a man’s face.
Dorothy was nervous but lit up when she saw him and when she reached him at the altar, he took her hand and didn’t let it go for the whole ceremony. They sang their chosen hymns and their children read their readings and when they exchanged vows it was with such solemn, old fashioned sincerity it was impossible to observe without smiling from ear to ear.
After the ceremony they greeted their guests outside the church before moving on to the reception that was being held in the communal area of the complex where they live. The staff had arranged the entire area to resemble a traditional wedding reception, complete with head table facing the guests and wedding cake at the back of the room.
The kitchen area was full of reception drinks, glasses of wine and fizz, orange juice, bottles of Saltaire Blonde and cans of Becks in the fridge. There was a buffet at the back with the usual suspects; sausage rolls, various sandwiches, Indian snacks, springs rolls, crisps and dips. I had a place at one of the tables for the meal so I was happy about the buffet and Saltaire Blonde.
When Geoffrey’s son and best man gave his speech, he quite rightly said that it’s not every day you get to be the best man on your 84 year old Dad’s wedding day, although he assured the crowd that there wouldn’t be any more children, just holidays and travel, which got a big laugh.
Geoffrey’s speech was heartfelt and warm. In fact, all day Geoffrey displayed an old-fashioned chivalry and open public affection that I'm not used to seeing in men from that generation, and most definitely not from the generation after. Rather than seeming quaint or outdated, like certain old-fashioned gestures and behaviours from bygone eras, it appeared sincere and unselfconscious.
After the cutting of the cake and the first dance I didn’t stay much longer, but I did speak to Dorothy and Geoffrey before I left to congratulate them and say thank you for letting me share the day with them.
When I approached to congratulate them and tell them how beautiful the ceremony was, he pulled Dorothy close and said with absolute earnestness in his perfect Yorkshire accent “I wouldn’t swap her for twenty sausage sandwiches.” It was like a line from an Alan Bennett play. Judging by the way he looks at her he must really love a sausage sandwich.
I’ve always been slightly cynical on the subject of remarriage, and from what I saw growing up wondered why anyone would ever enter into it a second time. When I was younger, I often believed that people remarried out of loneliness, for companionship, convenience or friendship, but what I saw in Dorothy and Geoffrey on their wedding day was undoubtedly love, and it was touching to see two people of their age filled with such gratitude at being given another chance.
On a personal note, should my own wife Laura pass away and I become a widower, she has made it abundantly clear that I am to remain alone and in mourning for the rest of my days, a lonesome husk of a man wondering the streets and going slowly mad without her, and she has threatened me with a severe haunting should I ever move on and remarry after she’s gone. I'm absolutely fine with this set up and hopefully that dreadful day is a long way off yet, but however far away it is I intend to savour every passing year. Life is, after all, very short indeed.
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