A Love Story

Right after John asked me to be his girlfriend, he wrote this column for the newspaper. It is still one of my favorites. (You might want to grab a tissue for this one).

A Love Story

My Mom and Dad were married for a very long time.

And it can happen – when a man has been married for a long time – that he becomes a bit low-key in the ways he shows his wife how special she is to him. After enough years of marriage we guys can misplace our flare for the dramatic, and we can underwhelm when just the opposite is called for.

Upon the approach of my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary I think that might have been where Dad was headed. Not that that would have been an unforgivable thing, just the opposite really. Mom would have been happy with whatever he did – but then she’s like that. She was happy to be married to the man she loved – if he remembered an important date, well, that was icing on the cake. 

But left to his own devices, Dad’s celebration of their 40th anniversary probably would have included a trip to a restaurant they’d already been to, followed by the presentation of a gift that, while thoughtful, would likely not have been extravagant.

But my sister Colleen had other ideas.

In our family Colleen is the social maven and crusader for all things right and just. She was not going to let the planning of her parent’s wedding anniversary remain in Dad’s hands for long. By the time Colleen’s phone had cooled back down she’d arranged the perfect catered meal for the surprise party, attendance of 50 or 60 of our parents’ dearest friends, and the Bishop from the Sacramento Diocese to personally come and renew the wedding vows.

But those were not the most important calls Colleen made.

The most important call was the one she made to Dad – during which she informed him what jewelry store they’d be going to, how incredible the ring was going to be, and to bring a credit card with plenty of room on it.

When the big day came and Mom walked through the door on Dad’s arm, and all of us yelled “Surprise!” Mom’s tears of joy came quickly. When she stood in front of her friends and family, and the Bishop renewed her vows, and the love of her life placed a big, beautiful diamond on her finger, she glowed with a happiness only the luckiest among us have known.

That day was a culmination of sorts, and it was a long way from where they’d started.

Mom and Dad first met at a wedding in England where (stay with me here) she was the maid of honor for her sister, who was marrying my Dad’s brother. Dad was his brother’s best man. The fact that Dad’s brother married Mom’s sister didn’t seem to have much bearing on steering them toward a marriage of their own. Dad was a confirmed bachelor, well into his thirties, and off seeing the world as a sergeant in the Army. Mom was a single career girl, living the life she pleased in London.

John’s Mom on the far left, and Dad on the far right

And so the two went their separate ways – for years.

But all during that time there was an undeniable bond between them. They were attracted to each other and, in Mom’s mind, he was the man for her. His mind was a little less certain – as a man’s mind can be – but there was no avoiding the fact that she lived in his heart the way no other woman did.

They went on in that way until, 10 years after they’d met, Mom received a marriage proposal from another man. The man in question was very handsome and quite wealthy, but she didn’t love him. When Dad’s mother got wind of the proposal she wrote to Dad and told him what was happening.

Dad wasted no time in heading straight for England, where he swept Mom into his arms and brought her to California – and married her in the little army chapel on the Presidio in San Francisco.


From there they went to Germany, where my brother and I were born. From Germany they were transferred to Georgia where my first sister was born. And from Georgia, after Dad left the Army, they drove across country to California where my second sister was born – and where we settled down and grew up.

We all lived there in a big house at the foot of a mountain. We were raised with love by a couple in love. My childhood was idyllic – and my parents were the solid foundation it was built upon.

We lived there for many years and, like a marriage that has lasted decades, we came to take all we had a little bit for granted. I don’t think we kids understood at the time the love story we were watching unfold. To us it seemed normal – even mundane at times – in the way that a peaceful and safe environment can.

As the years went on and we kids left to make our own way in the world Dad started to slow down a bit.

Soon the big house at the foot of the mountain was too much for him to keep up with. With their children grown Mom convinced Dad they should move to a smaller place – and they did.

Their new home
John and his parents

With a smaller house all to themselves, and now both retired, they spent a lot of time together. They traveled often and their favorite places to go were usually near the water.

My youngest sister Kelly took a couple of pictures of Mom and Dad at the beach near Monterey one day that, in their way, sum up the two’s relationship. In the first picture, shot from the side to show their profiles, the old married couple is sharing a laugh. But in the second one the laughter has passed and Dad is looking out over the ocean, as though he sees something. Mom is gazing straight at him – with deep love in her eyes.

Looking out over the water
Sharing a laugh (and a lifetime)
the eyes of love

It was soon after that Dad began showing the signs of Alzheimer’s.

Like good women tend to do Mom put Dad’s needs before her own and made his final years some of his best. When we finally lost him there was nothing that had been left undone or unsaid. It was a sad time for all, but for one in particular.

After Dad’s funeral we sprinkled his ashes at places important to him and Mom – places where Mom can still go to be with him – and to talk to the man she had loved, still loves, so deeply.

In writing about dating and relationships I cover many topics, some better received than others. I talk about the frustrations of trying to meet someone, the disappointments we sometimes face in our search, and the best ways to go about finding that person who is going to fit our life.

But there is one topic that always underlies the rest – and it’s the one that drives us to search the way we do.


By John P Gavin

Reader Comments

  1. Wendy Allott

    What a beautiful story. A love that not only endured time but distance and illness. That must be what we all want.

    We celebrated my mum’s 70th birthday in August and my dad announced, “This is also the 50th anniversary of when I asked your mother out for the first time.” Two weeks later they were engaged.

  2. Kim Cook

    That is awesome Loretta. What a tribute to John’s parents. Alzheimer’s is a terrible condition that affects everyone involved. We have been through it with David’s Mom. His parents were married for more than 50 years. Thank you for sharing John’s words!

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