The Big Life

When he was 80, my Cousin George proposed to Roberta.

Cousin George, who is really my great cousin, had done many things in his eight decades. But marriage wasn’t one of them.

He spent childhood summers on the beach of southern Maine. Fought in World War II. Taught English at Middlebury, Boston College, Vanderbilt. Loved poetry and pistachio ice cream. Gave guests to his Vermont house parting gifts of tunafish sandwiches and beautiful old books with checks slipped into them.

In retirement, Cousin George went to exercise classes at the Bugsbee Senior Center in White River Junction. They did arm circles and bicep curls, some squats.

And one day, in walked Roberta. She was a firecracker: curly hair; great, wide eyes; color in her clothes and on her nails.

Roberta noticed Cousin George. He had the most wonderful smile, she would later say. Was thoughtful, generous. Liked to talk about poetry.

I’d like to memorize a poem, she told him. He gave her Robert Frost’s, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”

They started getting ice cream after exercise class – vanilla for her, pistachio for him. He learned her husband had died, that she’d also spent childhood summers on the beach of southern Maine.

And Cousin George admired Roberta: she was witty and understanding. There was no lack of words with her, he would later say. He wanted to get better acquainted.

He invited her out to dinner one warm August night. It was a lovely evening. Afterward, he sent her a note: That warm August night was my 80th birthday, he wrote. Thank you for sharing it with me. Roberta kept every note he sent her.

He took her fishing. Rowed her out on Lake Mitchell to catch trout. When she felt a tug on her fishing pole, he stood up to help her reel it in. ‘Sit down!’ Roberta cried. Cousin George was rocking the boat.

And one morning in March, seven months after his 80th birthday, Cousin George went to Roberta’s house. He liked fishing and eating ice cream and talking with her. He liked sharing his birthday with her. Now, he wanted to share his life with her.

He got down on one knee. He asked an innocuous question first – perhaps how she liked the weather or the book she was reading – to warm up. Then he asked the big question.

And Roberta looked at Cousin George, who had that wonderful smile, who taught her, “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” and she said yes. Absolutely.

The wedding was a small one. Just the exercise instructor from the Senior Center and a few family members.

But their life together is a big one.

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