Margaret* knew exactly how she wanted her wedding day to go and what she wanted to wear, which was definitely not the traditional white gown. In fact, there was no wedding dress shopping at all. She didn’t go to a bridal store with a group of her closest friends and family. There was no teary-eyed moment where she said yes to the dress. Instead, she bought her wedding attire from a catalog without even trying on the clothes first. She will be wearing a long white skirt with one ruffle at the bottom paired with a sky-blue crochet top and fresh flowers to contrast against her dark hair.
“I didn’t want to get a big white dress,” she says. “Maybe if I were younger, but I’m just too old.”
Margaret currently lives alone and plans for it to stay that way until after the wedding. And that’s in part because the couple takes the whole “no sex before marriage” thing very seriously — in fact, the bride is still a virgin.
The venue for the wedding is the Catholic Church that the bride has been going to regularly for nearly her entire life. While parts of her story may seem like your typical old-fashioned wedding, there is nothing conventional about it. Margaret, the bride is 79, and Henry*, her fiancé, is 85.
“My priest told me that I should write a book,” Margaret says. “He told me that he’s never heard a story like mine.”
Margaret and Henry met a little over 60 years ago. They both were born and raised in small neighboring farm towns along the Ohio River. Margaret was 17 years old and finishing up her senior year of high school when she met Henry, a 23-year-old working in the nearby steel mills.
“My mother didn’t like him because he was too old and wasn’t Catholic,” Margaret says. “But I didn’t really care.”
Margaret and Henry quickly fell in love, and “went together” for the next 4 1/2 years. Even though Margaret was away at college at Kent State University, she would visit Henry — who was still working in the steel mills — on the weekends and holiday breaks.
“You know, he really was and is the love of my life,” she says.
But like many great love stories, their relationship faced an enormous amount of backlash from their families and hometowns. When Margaret was home for Easter her senior year of college, her mother told her that she had to break up with Henry once and for all because the town had “started to talk.” While both were from poor rural families, Margaret’s family thought she was making something out of her life by going to college, and they felt like Henry was holding her back.
With all the pressure, Henry started to doubt their relationship and told Margaret that he could never provide her with the life she deserved because he was “just a poor steel mill worker.” The Saturday before Easter, Margaret, who was 21 at the time, reluctantly broke up with Henry. She didn’t want to do it, but felt as though she had no choice. She could no longer handle the outside scrutiny their relationship faced.
“He told me that he’d never forget me,” she says. Margaret immediately knew that she made a big mistake. She felt so bad about the breakup that she tried to call Henry the next day to apologize and beg him to take her back.
“I remember his sister answered the phone and said Henry never wanted to see me again because I broke his heart,” she says. “But my heart was broken too.” That was the last time Margaret ever tried to contact Henry. She never heard from him again. Even though Margaret was devastated, she returned to Kent State to finish her last year. She graduated with her bachelor’s in teaching and decided to pursue her master’s degree. She taught first grade for the majority of her life and about 30 years later, she retired in her early 60s. When asked why she never married nor had any children, Margaret says she was always very busy, and so she never had the chance to be lonely. Plus, she also took care of her sick mother, who lived with her, for nearly 20 years.
“She was married to teaching,” says her sister-in-law, Sarah*.
And while she dated a few men throughout the years, and had one other serious relationship, none were quite like Henry. “No one compared to him,” Margaret says. “There was something about him that was special.” It seemed as though Margaret and Henry were destined to be star-crossed lovers, until 10 months ago when out of the blue, her housekeeper — unaware of Margaret’s saga — flat-out grilled her about why she never got married.
“I told my housekeeper about Henry and how I was forced to breakup with him, but still love him.” she says. “I’ve had him in a piece of my heart my entire life.”
And with that tidbit of information, her housekeeper did some digging over the next few days and was able to find Henry’s phone number and address, thanks to Google.
“Somehow she was able to find his information on some type of square device,” Margaret says.
The “square device” Margaret is referring to is an iPhone.
Margaret says she never even thought about finding Henry’s contact information because the only phone she owns is still attached to the wall! Aka, no cell phone, no computer, no email.
“I remembered what his sister told me all the years ago about how he never wanted to see me again, so I didn’t want to bother him,” she says.
But though her housekeeper kept encouraging her to reach out to him, Margaret was reluctant at first.
“It took me 2 1/2 weeks to gather my thoughts and finally call him,” she says. “I dialed up his number and was shaking like a leaf.”
What Margaret intended to be a short and sweet brief chat turned into a three-hour long conversation. She learned that while Henry eventually married, he never had any children either and he was recently widowed.
“He told me that he never stopped loving me. He said he never forgot me and that I was always on his mind.” Henry has called Margaret every night since their first phone call 10 months ago.
“It’s like I never left him and he never left me,” she says.
After talking on the phone for a few weeks, they finally met in person. Henry made the hour and a half hour drive to Margaret’s house.
“He knocked on my door and when I opened it, I said ‘Wow you look old,’ and he responded with, ‘Well, you look old too,'” says Margaret.
After a few months of talking on the phone and regular visits, Henry looked at Margaret and said, “Let’s do this.” She responded with, “Let’s do what.” He said, “Get married.”
But Margaret said no. After 60 years apart, she felt they barely knew each other anymore. Henry wasn’t discouraged by Margaret’s answer. If anything, he continued to pursue her with even more fervor. He still called her every night and they had scheduled weekly visits with one another. A few months ago, Henry tried again and asked Margaret if she wanted an engagement ring.
This time, she said yes, but she wanted to know one thing first. She wanted to know why he didn’t come back for her 60 years ago. The answer is perhaps all the proof we need to rationalize grand gestures: “He said he didn’t want to interfere, that he wanted me to have a better life and he couldn’t provide it because he didn’t go to college. I told him that it didn’t matter,” Margaret explained.
Accepting his proposal the second time was easy, but she now had to tell her friends and family about her engagement, the majority of which didn’t even know she and Henry were dating again.
“I remember hearing Margaret talk about Henry all those years ago, but I never met him because I was away in the service during that time,” says Margaret’s older brother, Tom*. “I asked her why she even wants to get married at her age when she can just live with him.”
Though Tom was confused about the engagement at first, he is now supportive of his little sister and just wants her to be happy.
After the wedding, Henry will be moving into Margaret’s house. When asked about their wedding night, Margaret shyly insists they don’t have any “specific plans.” And when pressed on why she’s remained a virgin all of these years, Margaret says because of her religion and the fact that she never married.
“As a Catholic, you are supposed to have sex after marriage, not before,” says Sarah.
Margaret expects many people to not understand her decision to get married at her age, but this time she’s not going to let it stop her.
“I know people are going to talk. It’s weird. I’m 79,” she says. “But if you love each other, all of that stuff doesn’t matter.”
And with that, the wedding planning is well underway. The guest list has been finalized, the invitations are ready to be sent, and the date and venue are reserved. Margaret and Henry realize that they may not have much time together, but as Margaret says, “If I get two years with him, even just one month, I will die a happy woman.”
*Names have been changed
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