CHESHIRE, Conn. (AP) — Georgette and Walter Cheetham have lived a full life together, married for 62 years.
On a recent Sunday the two said ‘‘I do’’ for a second time, sharing their special moment with guests and staff at Highlands Health Care, where Georgette has been a resident since 2008.
Walter, 84, sported a black tuxedo, black bow tie and a boutonniere of three miniature white roses. He was as nervous as any groom, joking about the bride not showing up or turning him down at the altar.
As he went down the aisle, his shoulders slightly slumped, staffers reminded him to ‘‘walk slower.’’ He took his place in front of the makeshift altar, a Christmas tree decorated in red and gold. The bride, 85, wore a long blue-gray satin dress and cradled a bouquet of white roses and carnations on her lap as receptionist Lora Bynum pushed her wheelchair. She smiled through rose-colored lipstick.
‘‘Hi, sweetheart. You look beautiful,’’ he said before giving her a pre-ceremony kiss.
He read the vows he had written from a half-sheet of paper he pulled from his jacket pocket. Tears welled up in his eyes and those of nearly everyone in the room as he ‘‘gave thanks to God for our togetherness.’’
‘‘I promise to love and to cherish you all the days of our lives,’’ he said.
Their story began decades before, when the two were barely out of their teens, at a dance in their native Lowell, Mass. She worked as a secretary at a car dealership. He was a sophomore at Boston University and worked in a wool mill at night. On his way from school Walter stopped to get meat and vegetables at the market so he could cook dinner for his father and two brothers before his shift at the mill.
He was poor, he said, and the first in his family to go to college. All his money went toward his education and he could not afford to date or go to the prom. Georgette was the first girl he took on a real date.
A girl of few words who insisted on paying her own way on their first date, Georgette understood his priorities. Last week, Walter recalled the time during his junior year when he went to the university bursar’s office to ask if he could pay his bill in installments and was told that it was already paid — by Georgette.
They married Aug. 27, 1950, in an elaborate Catholic wedding in Georgette’s church in Lowell’s French Canadian neighborhood. He wore a black tux, she wore a white silk gown with a train and long veil.
The couple lived in North Carolina and Michigan as Walter served in the Marine Corps Reserve. Eventually the couple settled in Connecticut, where Walter taught special education at Southern Connecticut State University for more than three decades. Georgette worked for years in the business office at Meriden-Wallingford Hospital. They lived first in Meriden, then moved to Cheshire.
Louise Swerling, their only child, has followed in her father’s footsteps, also teaching special education at Southern.
Nearly a decade after their wedding, Walter could finally afford an engagement ring for Georgette. Swerling remembers her father giving her the ring, a round diamond of perfect clarity on a yellow gold setting.
She said her parents are opposites: She is a ‘‘really shy person’’ and he is ‘‘extremely outgoing.’’
‘‘Opposites attract,’’ she said.
Throughout their marriage, he did the cooking and she, a fastidious housekeeper, took care of the home. The two enjoyed going on trips, mostly locally, and going out to eat.
When Georgette moved into Highlands in 2008, Walter took her out to lunch in different area restaurants, every day. As Georgette’s health has declined, especially over the last two months, Walter makes the five-minute trip from their Cheshire home to Highlands twice a day. Often he takes his wife one floor down from her room, to the same cafeteria where the two renewed their vows, so he can watch her eat.
Walter was grateful for the ceremony, which was held on his 84th birthday. He made sure to thank everyone. ‘‘It was beautiful,’’ he kept repeating.
Information from: Republican-American, http://www.rep-am.com