A man asked my sister on a date. At least, she thought it was a date.
“You can’t tell?” I asked.
She laughed. “I’m a little out of practice.”
True enough. Because our parents died young, Anne had spent her adult life taking care of her little sisters, including Betty, who was developmentally disabled. At a time when she could have been shopping for date-night stilettos, my sister made our clothes, wiped our tears, got us through college, picked out my perfect husband, and took exquisite care of Betty for over 40 years while teaching at the local high school, where she was beloved. Former students have been known to leap from moving cars to thank her for changing their lives.
And then, at age 68, she said yes to a date with Joe Sirois, the white-haired, doe-eyed director of Hope Association, a day program for special-needs adults, where Betty was a client. Before that, he’d run the local nursing home with a compassion acquired over 28 years as a Navy corpsman.
The town of Rumford adored them both.
The date plan was simple enough: after dispatching their duties at the Friends of the Rumford Public Library book sale, they’d take a picnic hike to Angel Falls, just north of town. They didn’t set off until 4 p.m., but it was June, after all, and a lethargic turtle can reach the falls from the trailhead in 30 minutes. They’d be back well before sunset.
The world goes all woozy, though, when you’re falling in love. Fifty minutes in, as Angel Falls failed to appear, the smitten hikers discovered they shared, among a thrilling number of other things, a cockeyed sense of direction. Was that lightning-split oak the same one from 40 minutes ago? Add encroaching darkness, falling temperatures, rain clouds, and no phones, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a date. Even the picnic was a bust — Joe forgot the corkscrew.
As full dark descended, along with a chilly drizzle, Anne and Joe curled up on a mossy rock. Through the night, they withstood rafts of insects, held each other for warmth, and talked. And talked and talked and talked. Reportedly, there was no canoodling, just a mutual soul-baring that lasted till first light, when the correct path opened up, as if cleared by forest elves. Wet and dirty and peppered with bites, they trotted back to Joe’s jeep, singing.
Forgive me. This story is sweet enough to rot your teeth. But sometimes the stars line up and the people who most deserve love actually find it. A year later, in 2010, news of their nuptials spread like fairy dust over the land of Rumford. At the wedding, the fickle universe heard a thunder of whoops as Joe, grateful and besotted, bellowed, “I do!”
Octogenarians now, jointly named Volunteer of the Year by the River Valley Chamber of Commerce, Anne Wood and Joe Sirois are generosity times two. You can find them at the food pantry, the nursing home, the community garden, the library. Or at home, where a photograph of Angel Falls hangs in their happily-ever-after kitchen.