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The diamond may be late, but their love is forever

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By David Filipov
Globe Staff / April 1, 2011

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WAYLAND — After 65 years together, Betty and Everett “Pops’’ Potter still hold hands all day. They sing songs together. They rarely leave each other’s side.

“She is my honey bunch,’’ Pops said as the two sat side-by-side in their wheelchairs. “I could just kiss her.’’

A few weeks ago, Pops enrolled in a hospice program at the Wayland Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, where he and his wife live. He is 97, his health is failing, and doctors do not give him much time. And there is one thing he always wishes he had done.

Next week, that wish will come true. In Milford, N.H., where they were wed, Pops and Betty will renew their vows — and then he will present her with a diamond wedding ring.

“I never gave her one,’’ Pops said in the barely audible whisper that has become his voice. “I was saving money.’’

Life Choice Hospice offers patients a final wish. Some ask for beer and pizza. His request was the ring. The center and the hospice purchased a .40-carat solitaire with 14-carat yellow gold mounting for him from Long’s Jewelers. Next week they will bus the Potters to the store in Natick to pick it up, and then to Milford for the ceremony.

Sara Cain, who oversees activities and admissions for the center, said the staff was touched when they learned that the last thing Pops wanted for himself was a diamond ring for his wife.

“He would give up everything in the world for her,’’ said Cain, who has gotten to know the couple well since they began living at the center four years ago. “It’s what I think every woman — and I hope every man — would strive for. A couple like this is rare.’’

Until his health began to deteriorate recently, Pops could get around on his own, even though he has been legally blind for years.

Though time and age have enfeebled his body, he is witty and alert. He likes making wisecracks.

“She’s got a place in heaven for all the hell I gave her,’’ he said to his wife.

“Yes!’’ Betty exclaimed.

“She’s a smart woman,’’ Pops smiled. “We used to dance, and I’d kiss her.’’

Then they both sang, almost under their breath.

“Smile the while you kiss me sad adieu, When the clouds roll by I’ll come to you.’’ Betty, 86, suffers from a form of dementia. If she reads these words, she probably will forget them by tomorrow. In all likelihood, Cain said, she will not recall the ceremony at the church.

But she does remember their past.

Betty worked at her parents’ hen farm in Amherst, N.H. During World War II, when Pops was serving in the South Pacific, she also helped out at his family’s farm, which was nearby. At night, his father would walk Betty home.

Pops played trumpet. He was a bit of a ladies’ man, he recalled with a mischievous grin. He had planned to stay in the service after the war.

“I wasn’t going to get married,’’ Pops said, between sips from a cup of apple juice. Then one day he noticed Betty working at the farm.

“I said, ‘Oh, she’s got nice legs,’ ’’ Pops recalled.

He started walking her home. Pops likes to say that his own parents knew he was going to marry her before he did.

Betty’s parents were not happy that Pops was going to take her away from the farm.

“I can still hear my mother,’’ Betty said. “ ‘Is that Everett coming up today?’ She was worried, I guess.’’

Their wedding pictures show a beaming brunette and a dapper rake with a big smile. They were both nervous at the altar.

“I kept repeating, ‘I do! I do! I do!,’ ’’ Pops said. “They told me ‘you only need to say it once!’ ’’

“I think I was shaking more than Pops was,’’ Betty said.

The Potters cannot talk for long. Every once in a while, Pops starts to nod off. Then Betty will start to sing, and he will join in.

“Wedding bells will ring so merrily Ev’ry tear will be a memory.’’ Pops worked as a chemical operator for a company that made shoe polish and dyes for clothes. Betty was a secretary. They did not have a lot of money, “but we never went into debt,’’ Pops said. “We always paid cash.’’

They raised a son. They have grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“We’ve had a good marriage, believe me,’’ Pops said. “Of course we’re still in love. You know there’s a lot more to love and marriage than just the sex part. You grow to like it.’’

Betty nodded and said: “Yes.’’

Betty does not understand that her beloved is in the hospice, Cain said. Pops, Cain said, is holding on because he wants to be there for her.

“He is as devoted as anybody can be,’’ Cain said.

The room was silent for a moment.

Then Betty whispered.

“Till we meet again.’’

David Filipov can be reached at filipov@globe.com.