Wiping a tear from my eye, the curtains slowly closed.
‘Goodbye, son,’ I whispered. ‘Rest in peace.’
My eldest boy, Robert, had just passed away. I’d been heartbroken since my daughter-in-law Lisa, 45, called to say he’d had a seizure after suffering a long illness. He was just 45. But as I glanced across the church, another emotion began to stir through the haze of grief. A smartly-dressed young man had caught my eye.
'He’s very handsome,' I thought as I took him in.
But what was I thinking –this was my son’s funeral! And I was probably old enough to be his grandmother. But as I went to leave the church, I heard a smooth voice behind me.
‘I’m so sorry for your loss.’ When I turned around, I realised it was him!
‘I’m Gary, by the way,’ he added. ‘Lisa’s nephew.’
‘Oh, hi,’ I said, flustered. ‘That’s very kind of you.’
I made my way outside as other mourners passed on their condolences, but it was Gary’s words that stayed with me. In fact, I couldn’t stop thinking about him.
I’d been so lonely since being widowed three years earlier. So when I spoke to Lisa a few weeks later, I couldn’t resist bringing him up.
‘How’s that nephew of yours?’ I asked. ‘He seemed really nice.’
‘You mean 17-year-old Gary?’ she laughed.
What? I reeled. I had no idea he was only a teenager!
I’d been married for 43 years, and all my children were grown up – I even had a grandson who was older!
I had no idea he was only a teenager. I even had a grandson who was older!
‘Oh Almeda,’ started Lisa. She could obviously tell I’d been rather taken by him.
But I wasn’t expecting what she said next. I thought she was going to call me a cradle-snatcher.
‘He really likes you!’ she said. ‘He told me after he broke up with his girlfriend,’ continued Lisa.
My heart started racing. I was stunned to learn his ex was 77 years old! He obviously likes older ladies, I thought.
‘I should get you two together!’ Lisa suggested.
Not long after that, she rang back.
‘Right, it’s all arranged,’ she said, explaining we were both invited to her daughter Evelyn’s ninth birthday.
As far as first dates go, a kid’s party might not have been the most romantic, but it didn’t matter. It meant I’d get to see Gary.
Suddenly, I was more like a nervous schoolgirl than a grandmother. I hadn’t been on a first date in over 50 years! I wanted to look a million dollars, so I got my hair done and slipped into my favourite black top.
But all my doubts melted away when I clapped my eyes on Gary. He was just as I remembered – that smile, those good looks.
‘When Lisa said you liked me, I thought she was joking,’ I teased him.
‘Well, if you give me a chance,’ he said, ‘I’ll prove how much I like you.’
As he reached out and held my hand, I felt a spark. But with a 54-year age gap, I still had one big question to ask him.
‘Look, I’m 71 and you’re 17. Am I too old for you?’
Gary just squeezed my hand tighter and smiled.
‘Of course you’re not,’ he replied. ‘Age is just a number.’
That night, while Gary and I sat outside under the moonlight, I felt another spark – our first kiss! From then on, we were completely inseparable. My next worry was how our families would react. But thankfully, most people were happy for us!
‘I think you two make a lovely couple,’ Gary’s mum Tammy, 48, said.
As for his gran, Carolyn, we were both 71 and got on like a house on fire. A few days later, I got a nervous call from Gary.
‘I know it’s only been two weeks, but will you be my wife?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ I replied, without having to think for a second.
‘How about next week?’ he suggested.
I guess I didn’t have any time to waste!
American laws meant it was possible for us to get married straight away. So six days later, we stood in front of a preacher and a handful of relatives in the gardens outside Lisa’s house.
As we exchanged vows and Gary slipped the silver band onto my finger, I felt like the happiest bride in the world. Afterwards, we cut the cake and slow-danced. The perfect end to our wonderful day was when we fell in to bed together and made love for the first time. It was amazing – I’ve never had a connection like it.
Gary soon moved into the house I share with my daughter, De Anna, 40, and her kids Aaron, 21, and Indianna, 16. To show his love, Gary’s even had the words ‘Gary and Almeda, always and forever’ tattooed across his chest.
Despite our age difference, we’re just like any other couple. When we’re not having a romantic night in, we’re out dancing, going to restaurants or seeing movies. And I’m certainly not ready for my rocking chair and knitting needles just yet!
You can’t help who you fall in love with. I wasn’t looking for a new man, but I know that Gary is my soulmate.
I’ve learnt that when you truly love somebody, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
Gary, 18, says:
I’ve always been attracted to older women – it’s the maturity and experience they have.
When I met Almeda, her blue eyes and smile captured my heart straight away.
We share the same tastes in country music and food, and both love going for long walks in the outdoors.
Age doesn’t bother us. We never really think about it. She really is my dream woman.
Originally published in that's life! issue 33 - August 18 - 2016