Three North Bay women on getting married for the first time after 50
When Deb Thea's friend Alice died suddenly of cancer, her heart went out to the husband she left behind.
Defying her friend's wishes for no services, Thea took it upon herself to organize a memorial, knowing the people who loved Alice, including her husband of 36 years Tom Ford, needed ritual in order to grieve.
“Afterwards,” Thea said, “I would keep an eye on him.” She'd swing by his workshop in San Anselmo with antiques she needed fixed or wrap up a sandwich and drop it off. Her mission was only to offer a little comfort and kindness.
But there was something about the mischievous Thea's sense of humor, compassion and joie de vivre that caught Ford's attention and ultimately his heart. Those small acts of kindness turned into a friendship and then a full grown love affair. One thing led to another and two years later, the onetime truck driver and jack-of-all trades was standing in a friend's garden in Napa proposing marriage.
For Thea, who lives in Fairfax and owns Yankee Girl Antiques in Petaluma, it was a long-delayed moment of truth. She had never been down the aisle or even come close to getting hitched. But the lifetime bachelorette said with Ford, she had no qualms about swapping independence for security. At the seasoned age of 70, without hesitation, she said “yes.”
The bride wore polka dots. So did many of the 80 or so guests at their informal nuptials last May at the Churchill Manor in Napa. One of the perks of old age, she said with a chuckle, is you get to do what you want without worrying about what other people think.
“We didn't have to please parents or kids,” she said. “We have no kids. We could just have fun.”
She still can't believe she actually did it.
“I'm in the car and I'm going, ‘I'm married!' I had a hard time even saying the word ‘husband.' I'm calling him my boyfriend,” Thea said.
“Seventy years of not being married, And not even one year of being married? How did that happen? It's like I fell asleep and woke up married.”
In the mid 1980s Newsweek came out with a declaration - roundly debated and later discredited - that a single, college-educated woman of 40 was more likely to die in a terrorist attack than get married.
But not all of those unmarried Baby Boomer and Gen X women were lamenting their lot. They were too busy having a life to actively search for a life mate.
“I just wasn't that interested in getting married,” said Thea, who had several long-term relationships, none of which stirred a nesting instinct.
She is among a group who boldly clung to their independence through decades of life exploration, careers and even single parenthood and who are, only now, in their 50s, 60s and even 70s, feeling the call to commitment. The clock never ran out on true love.
Marin County writer Anne Lamott, who has chronicled life through a string of best sellers including “Operating Instructions” about her first year as a the single mother, announced last April she'd finally tied the knot for the first time to “the love of my life,” three weeks after receiving her Medicare card. For her outdoor nuptials at Deer Park Villa near her Fairfax home, the 65-year-old bride wore a tea-length white lace dress she bought on eBay, her signature dreadlocks pulled back with flowers.
Lamott told The New York Times that introversion had kept her from the altar. Yet in recent years she had begun to feel a good marriage was the one thing missing in her life. So she joined OurTime, an online dating site for people over 50, and met her soulful match in Neal Allen, a former vice president for marketing who had retired to a wooded house in Lagunitas to write. Lamott's son Sam, 29, served as “man of honor.”
A soulmate at 70
Thea said for most of her life she dismissed the notion of a soulmate as “baloney.
“I didn't buy into it. I had never seen anyone who was remotely like me,” she said.
She was gobsmacked however, by the similarities she shared with Ford, five years her junior. Ford was good at spotting quality antiques, knew how to repair them - his late wife was an antique dealer like Thea - and had a truck capable of transporting Thea's finds.
“I'm already trained,” he quipped after they attended an estate sale together and he scouted like a pro while she watched in amazement.
“I have a 1985 Toyota truck with a rack. He has a 1986 Mazda truck with a rack. He hates Lima beans. I hate Lima beans,” Thea said. “There were so many things in common it was really easy. It's like he was made for me. It's very weird.”
Thea, who grew up on Long Island, studied art history at The University of Vermont, protested the Vietnam War and as a young idealist, joined VISTA, the government anti-poverty volunteer program, working in the inner city of Columbus, Ohio. After making her way to California, she took a social service job in the mayor's office in San Francisco during a turbulent time that included the shooting of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Disillusioned - “I felt like I was just putting a finger in the dike” - she retreated to the world of antiques.