Charlotte Heale needed a ride home from Sunday school. She was 14 or 15—she can’t remember exactly anymore—and a boy named Tom offered to give her a ride.
Her mom was nervous about sending her home with a stranger, but “she said, ‘Well, if he is in Sunday school, than he must be a good man,’” Heale remembers.
A few months later, they married. Seventy years later, Heale proudly shows her engagement and wedding rings, rows of diamonds in silver settings.
“Look here, these are my diamonds,” she said, proudly jutting out her left hand. (To see the photo, click through our photo gallery above.) “I’ve been wearing this for 70 years.”
Heale and other seniors shared their stories with The Fenton-High Ridge Patch at the in Fenton in honor of Valentine’s Day.
A marriage made in heaven
The stories Bon Vivant seniors shared contrast sharply with the over-the-top engagements and “bridezilla” weddings popular on television today.
“That’s a lot of bologna,” said Jim Brady, who lives in Fenton with two of his daughters. Jokingly, he scrunched up his face and said in a high-pitched voice,” “Will you be my bride?”
Brady was married to his wife, whom he called “Saint Mary,” for 51 years before she died of uterine cancer.
“We just thought we were right for each other,” he said. “I didn’t get down on my knees. I don’t know if I really asked her. And if I asked, she might have said no!”
Brady calls their meeting an accident.
“This is funny. It’s strange how the good Lord works,” he said to start his 51-year-old story. Brady returned from serving in the military only to find he’d been fired from his job. Bitter, he found a new job, where he began working alongside the woman who would become his wife and mother of his five children.
“It was a marriage made in heaven,” he said. “She was a good lady. I’m sure she is up there,” he said, referring to heaven. Brady said when he dies, he hopes to be reunited with her, “if I make it up there.”
“It’s a fifty-fifty chance!” he said, laughingly.
A tearful goodbye
Colleen Bonine describes her love story as “unique,” and she’s not wrong. She met her husband John on a blind date while he was engaged to another woman.
“He just looked like a hoosier,” she said. “He’d just gotten a hair cut. He had skinny ears.”
On their first date, they drove in his car with another couple to see a movie at the drive-in. The other girl, unsatisfied with her own date, flirted incessantly with Bonine’s.
“She even pulled getting in the backseat and trying to get him there with her,” she said. “We finally took off and left them and went out on our own.”
And after that, things just “clicked,” she said. They met in May, and the next March, they got married.
“We told my parents we were getting married that week, and we did,” she said. No theatrical engagement, no wedding planners. Her parents threw them a small reception after the church ceremony, and that was that.
“I’m from the era where you got married,” she said. “You got married. You stay together. That’s your position in life, to get married and have kids. That was what I wanted.”
They were two days from their 48th wedding anniversary when John died of cancer a few months ago.
“He took it as long as he could,” she said, not bothering to wipe away the few tears that fall slowly down her cheek. “He finally gave up and just had to give in to it.
He decided he was willing to give up because he didn’t want to make it hard for us.”
Bonine doesn’t hesitate to answer when asked if she loved her husband.
“Oh yes,” she said, smiling slightly. “It really takes something to be tied down to one person for that long and to feel like it was a blessing for you and your family. And that’s how I feel—that he was a blessing to us.”
Advice for young lovebirds
If you’re pondering popping the question this Valentine’s Day, Heale, Brady and Bonine’s stories offer practical advice.
“You have to be sure it is the person you want to spend your life with,” Bonine said. “And sometimes, that’s just by watching the way they live, watching how they treat people, watching how they treat their fellow workers, if you don’t have a family yet. That’ll give you an indication to how they’ll do every day, and that’s important.”
Heale emits a joyful and peaceful energy when she talks about her husband, Tom. Like a fisherman swapping stories, spreads her arms wide, explaining that her love is “this big,” as though challenging others to one up her.
And Brady, more likely to crack a joke than to give serious advice, offered this wish:
“I hope someday you have as good a marriage as me,” he said. “You’ll be very happy.”