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Darrell & Eileen... ‘Neither of us were looking’

Finding love in the golden years

By Eileen Boone of Wabash, Indiana

Darrell and I had each been very happily married: Darrell for almost 50 years, and me for almost 45 years. We each have three children and between us, now, 13 grandchildren along with three (plus two on the way) great-grandchildren. His family is all in the Wabash, Indiana area. My family is spread out: California, Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maine, and Canada.

Neither of us were looking -- at all! Darrell had been a widower for about three years and I had been a widow for 11 years. We both abhorred the idea of matchmaking, on-line dating, even dating in general, and neither of us had one date with another person until we met each other. This love happened naturally!

In 2015 we were both participants in an overseas mission trip with Joni and Friends, “Wheels for the World” in Jordan. It was Darrell’s first overseas trip serving as a mechanic for wheelchairs and it was my 10th. I had done no trips until I was 69 years old, but then I was “hooked.” Darrell had done no trips but was able to go on his first after his disabled son passed away (for whom both parents were caregivers). He was 68 years old, and I was 73 in 2015. 

At our rehearsal dinner—- a Scandinavian kranskaka wedding cake made by Karen (John) Kirckof of Glenwood and brought back from Minnesota to the Indiana wedding. Contributed photo

Darrell told the story of his son, Peter, who had died in 2014 and about whom he wrote a fabulous book. As a long-time widow, I felt sorry for his wife, who didn’t travel with him because of her work. I “gently” reminded this, dare I say “typical,” man that “he had better bring his wife a gift or two from this far-off country of Jordan because I knew how wonderful it had been for me to get a gift from my husband when he traveled alone. Later, I only remembered telling “some guy” on the team that he needed to buy his wife a gift. He remembered me as “a bossy lady,” who not only told him once, but twice to be sure to buy the wife a present!

I felt perfectly happy before I met him. I traveled extensively seeing family in the US, and internationally with a cousin to China, France, Ukraine, Ireland and Holland. Darrell told me he was perfectly happy here on the farm with his cows, his man-cave barn, and his grandchildren all within four miles of his home. Friends called me “the merry widow” for my travels. I had been a caregiver for a husband who died of early onset Alzheimer’s Disease, so my change in lifestyle was apparent to everyone.

Feelings changed -- and quickly!

We met on Jan. 19, 2020, and were married on Sept. 6, 2020, so this was face-paced dating. Most things were closed due to COVID, so walks in parks and talking were our “dates.” First impressions were unremarkable for both of us, but then he sent me a copy of the book he had written. I devoured it and began to think, “What did I miss in that first meeting with him?” Darrell remembers that he felt sorry for me, as I was an overwhelmed, recent transplant (only two months) to “foreign” Indiana to live closer to my brother. At the same time as we met, my brother and his wife went to Florida and bought a place where they determined they’d spend six month a year with their son and his family, leaving me in Indiana. Darrell thought I might be very depressed and maybe mentally unstable.  My kids on the East Coast also thought this because of my sudden purchase of two places in September 2019 -- a cabin at Pelican Lake near Glenwood, Minn., and a condo in Anderson, Indiana... and then a move from Virginia to Indiana in November that year. I’m sure they thought this woman is nuts or unbalanced. So, how did this fast-paced dating even take place? Well, friends from Darrell’s Indiana church had taken a Joni and Friends wheelchair mission trip to Poland at his suggestion. Upon return, they asked if he had ever taken a trip with “Eileen Nyholm.” Darrell said, yes, that he thought so, in 2015 in Jordan. “Well,” they said, “we met her and she has just moved to Indiana from Virginia.” So, Darrell thought he’d call and welcome that nice (but plump and bossy) woman he remembered to Indiana.  When he called he said a visit would be better than talking on the phone. I fully expected his wife to be accompanying him on this visit. But, no. He showed up as a widower ... and I looked different... I was about 25 pounds lighter than I had been those years ago because of the stress of widowhood and the quick move to Indiana.

To back up a little ... The move was precipitated by the fact of yet another wonderful family reunion with all my Minnesota family in Glenwood. The very impulsive decision on the same trip to buy not only that Pelican Lake cabin, but a condo in Anderson, Indiana would allow me to live close to my only dear sibling and his wife, and then be closer to a cabin, which wrapped up all my childhood and life’s experiences -- Minnesota born and raised (Minneapolis), U of M, and family lake cabins two generations back!

Back to our first date ... So, with that background, our first meeting was not a date! We met with the mutual friends to see their report on the Joni and Friends trip to Poland after I was invited by them to their mutual church, and dinner out to see photos of and hear their report. He (sort of) lost his mind after that lunch and asked me if I’d like to see his farm. Why not? The home was lovely -- as I’ve told him many times, “definitely not a ‘deal breaker,’” but surely of no more thoughts beyond that, except that we did stay and easily talked for hours!

We both had been caregivers. My husband had early onset Alzheimer’s Disease and had lived at home until the last 25 days of his life. Darrell’s son required more that 80 operations and full care due to a diagnoses of Spina Bifida. His wife had numerous physical complications as a result of cancer and a bone marrow transplant in her early 40s. She lived an exceedingly fruitful productive life as a well-loved district school nurse, founder of a local free medical clinic, and caregiver for their son Peter, along with being a farm wife and raising their three sons. The effects of the bone marrow treatments brought life-changing side affects later on for her. Both of our spouses had died in their later 60s.

Darrell and Eileen enjoying some relaxation by the lake at her cabin near Glenwood. Contributed photo

Our first “real date” came on Feb. 2, 2020, when he asked me to accompany him to an agricultural event he was covering for Indiana Prairie Farmer. The subjects were of cattle diseases, judging a cow by the length of its teats and shape of its legs, and difficulties of calf birthing ... all held in a cold, dirty livestock auction ring! Afterwards we went next door to Bullshippers Cafe for lunch. A totally new, but, to me, fascinating experience of culture clash for this 100 percent “city girl.”

A couple months later, he asked if I would be content on a farm in small town America. I told him “I had seen Paree (Paris) and was glad to stay at home.” That turned out to be a lie for both of us ... we still love to travel! Surprisingly, I began to think that I wanted to get remarried. Darrell was flabbergasted to even be thinking of it himself (he told me later), as he was driving home from a “serious talking” time we had together.

Now we have been married for three years and three weeks. We forged ahead with wedding plans, COVID or no COVID. No living together or anything before marriage! All but one of our adult children and spouses, and our siblings, and even most of our grandchildren were able to travel to Indiana for our lovely church wedding. Our honeymoon was to (TAA DAA! -- this is where Minnesota comes in again) the North Shore and my newly purchased small lake cabin on Pelican Lake, Green Valley Resort, Glenwood. The family and other cabin owners even threw a “Shiveree!” Afterwards, we moved my things using his cattle trailer 50 miles north from Anderson, to the home he and his wife had built in Wabash 20 years before to accommodate their wheelchair-bound son. 

As for challenges ... sharing closets and bathrooms was not a problem. There is one for each of us. However, his children insisted we change “their” bedroom  to “ours,” and  so now we  have an extra guest room. “Ours” now once was “Peter’s,” which (until his death in 2014 and thereafter) had been a fully loaded Purdue University room with border trim, shower curtain, black and gold tile, and all his mementos  and trophies and pictures and footballs! Darrell most graciously gave things in the home and bedroom to his family. He was thrilled that his children wanted family furniture that duplicated mine, and that his grandchildren loved Peter so very much that they wanted all and anything that had to do with Peter. Merging about 100 years of married life was actually a good process for both of us. There was a lot of compromise and knowing when to hold or let go!

The challenges involved getting used to each other’s “style.” My husband of almost 45 years was a neat, organized, city-dressed businessman. Darrell (forgive me) is a “cowboy.”  He wears seed caps and tee shirts with words on them (horrors!). He sprays everything with anything chemical that I would fear or detest. He owned a dog.  I’d never had a dog in my life. He drove a tractor, but also (phew!) had a civilized water-ski boat in the barn. I can’t speak for his first wife, but I suspect their life was much more chaotic with rigorous work schedules, caregiving for Peter and presence of many family members in the area. My life as a retired widow was calm and very organized (after all, I’d moved 11 times corporately, and my last three moves with a husband with Alzheimer’s). So downsizing and sorting through clutter was actually “fun” for me.

Humor was our salvation. Plus the most important thing... a common faith and assurance of our mutual salvation in Jesus, and ultimately His sovereignty in bringing us together in such a strange way. 

Maybe at this age, we are able to take life slower and appreciate small things and so many blessings of our “past lives” that made us each the person we are today -- more willing to learn, more patient, more thankful, and more adventurous for new things together. One trip was a wheelchair mission trip we took together to Ghana in 2021 and we have more lined up for this year. We both had large family gatherings at lakes every summer with waterskiing, grandkids and chaos of lake life, food and fun marathons.  This was generational for both of us, so that transition was very easy. However, my Minnesota cabin now presented a dilemma because of distance. We are stretched as to where to be and when. I only had myself to consider when I bought it. So far, compromise works -- some time home and some time there for both of us. And we’re loving fairs in a new way: Pope County, Stevens County, Wabash County and, above all, Indiana and Minnesota State Fairs. Who knew agriculture could be such fun?

We love to do anything together. Darrell is spontaneous... “Let’s buy a Dairy Queen.” Not me.. “Let’s buy a gallon of ice cream and save money.” But I’ve loved to learn spontaneity, like getting in the car and going to watch the sunset over the corn or soybean fields. I now love to watch the open sky of Indiana fields with no homes in view! 

We have been able to go all over Indiana for his agricultural writing assignments, and I love it! I’ve loved learning about farming, grandkids 4-H pigs in our barn, feeder calves, cover crops, invasive species, and good stewardship/conservation aspects of farming. I love watching the rotation of corn (my favorite) and soybeans out in back, or cows in the field. I love the dog! Dodger, the Labradoodle, is absolutely obedient and loves me. I’m the one who gives him baths.

I have no advice for others. I believe if God intends this joy “in the golden years” He will most certainly bring it about without trying too much! I’d say, however, the joys of companionship and sharing of life in these Golden Years has been a breath of fresh air to the time (however adventurous and meaningful the travel was) of being alone and only seeing and watching couples holding hands or walking together in joyful conversation. Any re-adjustments of marriage have been well worth it.

Our mutual interests have allowed us to pick up on life as if we were 30 years old again, and our different and divergent experiences will continue to allow us to embrace life more enthusiastically as we keep learning more things about each other’s people and places. We share dreams for our expanded family of five children and their spouses, 13 grandchildren, and by next March (God willing), five great-grandchildren. We are truly blessed!

Oh, did I mention that I was 76 years old when we married and he, a mere 72. And three years later, we are still going strong!

Special thanks to my dearest cousins in Glenwood, Minn., Bonnie and Gordy Stock,  who handed me their copy of Sr. Perspective at the lake this summer, and said, “Here!! You’d better write your story.”  So I did.

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