photography by Laura Alexandra

Editor’s note: Is there anything better than a great love story? On a day that’s largely constructed around testing our gift-giving skills and planning the perfect date night, we’re thrilled to take a step back from all that and present a story that brings us back to the root of it all. A story that when I first caught wind of it (by way of this Instagram post), it sent chills up my spine. You don’t have to love Valentine’s Day or be a believer in destiny to appreciate this one. Because while it certainly is an uncanny, telenovela-like tale (and as such, demands the reader’s full attention), it also reminds us of one simple lesson: that love can be found in the most unlikely of places, at the most unexpected time.

Here to tell today’s story is my friend Beth, fellow Austinite, owner of this precious shop, and mother to — I’m just gonna say it — the cutest toddler ever. My heart melted upon hearing the history of her East Coast family, and so I begged her to share it with you all. Without further ado…

From Beth: In the fall of 1975, my mom, Marcia and dad, Fred had been seriously dating for about six months. It was Parents Weekend at their college, so naturally they planned a dinner to introduce their families. They could have never guessed what would follow.

My mom’s dad, Tom, was visiting from Boston, and dad’s mom, Joane, was in from New York. In addition to having children who were dating and attending the same college, they had something else in common — they were both widowed. My grandfather Tom was raising 7 children after losing his wife to childbirth complications a few years before, and my grandmother Joane was raising 4 children after losing her husband to cancer. Suffice to say, they both had their hands full as single parents, and upon meeting someone else facing the same challenges, they hit it off right away. Dinner went well, and when they arrived back to their hotel, they realized that they had coincidentally booked adjoining rooms. My mom’s dad and my dad’s mom stayed up talking into the wee hours of the night, then finally said goodnight, promising to have breakfast together in the morning.

pictured: A charm bracelet that belonged to Beth’s grandmother and features charms from her youth. 

Not even a week had passed when my dad’s mom invited my mom’s dad to visit her in New York, offering up her seasonal hockey tickets as incentive. My parents heard about the invitation — what would be the first of many — and were less than pleased. While they hoped that their parents’ quickly blossoming relationship would fizzle out, it flourished still. It wasn’t long before my dad’s hockey teammates got wind of the news and began to unleash onto him merciless teasing. Suddenly, my parents’ relationship became extremely complicated.

The events that followed happened quickly, accelerating the intertwining of my family tree. In January of 1976, my grandfather invited my grandmother to meet his 6 other children. By February, my grandmother suggested they get married, in effect proposing to my grandfather. In May of 1976, my mom’s dad and my dad’s mom married each other, then spent a blissful week-long honeymoon in Bermuda before they returned and combined families at my grandfather’s Boston home. Suddenly, eleven children (at that time aged 23, 22, 21, 20, 19, 18, 17, 15, 15, 13, and 6) including my mom and dad were newly related as stepbrothers and stepsisters. It’s no secret in the family that those first few years were rocky for everyone, but my parents’ relationship grew stronger during that time.

pictured: Marcia (Beth’s mother) speaking to Joane, her mother-in-law and stepmother at the family’s first joint Christmas.

pictured: Beth’s parents’ and grandparents’ wedding invitations side-by-side. The invitations are almost identical — super simple and classic — which is fitting since their weddings were so close together.

pictured: A family portrait from Beth’s parents’ wedding. Beth’s grandparents Joane and Thomas are standing directly to the right of her father, Fred. Beth’s parent’s siblings fill in the rest of the photo. 

That New Year’s Eve, my dad proposed to my mom. By then they had been dating for 18 months, and had been step siblings for roughly 6 months. They wed the following October, resulting in what are still some of my favorite photos of both my parents and my grandparents. My mom and dad had my older sister in 1983, then my twin sister and I followed shortly after in 1984. Out of 15 grandchildren, the three of us are the only combination of our grandparents’ children.

pictured: Family photos of Beth, her sisters, and their parents, Marcia and Fred. The bottom photo shows the family on vacation, very shortly before Fred died.

pictured: Beth’s grandma wrote her this note before her wedding to Ryan.

My grandparents are 87 and 84 now and the romance is still strong after 41 years together. Some of the smallest gestures have stuck in my memory over my lifetime — seeing my grandfather always open the car door for my grandmother, my grandmother cooking and grandfather cleaning the dishes, regular hand-holding, and constant verbal reminders of thankfulness and love. They both credit their successful marriage to humility, compromise, and the power of overlooking the small annoyances.

In an odd coincidence, when I met my husband in 2008, it was strangely comforting to know that we both came from widowed families as well; my dad died when I was a baby, and Ryan lost his mom when he was 17. My grandparents understood how this could help forge a strong bond in our relationship. Ryan and I got married and had our first child in 2015 (with another one due in April of this year). It feels special giving my grandparents another generation descended from their two children, and one day, I’ll explain to my children why I only have one set of grandparents, and just how special their story is.

  1. 1
    Lisa | February 14, 2017 at 6:20 am

    Lovely Pictures, I hope you have a great Day! 🙂

    Lisa | Travelblog Joy Della Vita

  2. 2
    Della | February 14, 2017 at 9:43 am

    I love this sweet story — thanks so much for sharing it with all of us. That last photo is wonderful. I can see the love written on their faces. Happy Valentines’s Day!

  3. 3
    Nuria K | February 14, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    This was such an amazing story and made me tear up! That small tender note she wrote was powerful and clearly painted the picture of happiness in her grandmothers married life. I will remember this story and hope one day to write a tender heartfelt note to my grandson or granddaughter on their wedding day.

  4. 4
    Eleanor Farwell | February 14, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    Beth your telling of our family story is especially touching on Valentine’s Day reminds me how in credibly blessed we all our to have each other!!
    Love you!! Your favorite aunt!!??

  5. 5
    Anna Lou Chen | February 14, 2017 at 9:20 pm

    What a sweet and lovely story! Truly the most beautiful one I’ve heard so far. Thank you so much for sharing!

  6. 6
    Jane Hudkins | February 5, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    Amazing story! How did Fred die so young?

  7. 7
    Susan Ferguson | February 6, 2019 at 2:58 am

    How wonderful! I have a similar story to add: my parents had a group of friends with whom they socialized with for many years. There were many deep friendships among the women and a bit of dating between the kids of these couples – we all spent lots of time on Cape Cod. I met Mr. Whelan, who lived up the street at the age of 5 and thought he was just the nicest man ever. Sadly, his wife was very, very ill and no one knew what it was. It turned out to be Huntington’s Disease, the cruelest of all diseases. She had to be institutionalized. Then, my father was chronically ill for the last 22 years of his life. He was a very healthy man but had serious eye problems; his eye was removed and he was free of pain. Five years of good health…he then had a major heart attack followed up by a triple bypass. He lived another 10 years, most of them good, and passed away very peacefully. We had Daddy’s wake and funeral – two days with afternoon and evening visitation and it was packed. As I am the oldest of 5, we had so many, many local friends not to mention family members from all over. But…the first person at Daddy’s wake was none other than Mr. Whelan! I filed that fact away but as soon as we got home that night, my oldest brother and I started teasing our mother “Uh, Mary…seems as though Mr. Whelan was checking out the widow…” Mary did not like that at all…she was a good Catholic woman! Suffice it to say, Mr. Whelan was my stepfather 18 months later. I was thrilled as he was a wonderful stepfather (he walked me down the aisle when I married) and he loved my mother deeply. Tom admitted later that he had had a crush on my mother for many years and we found the photos to prove it! Mr. and Mrs. Whelan had 25 years terrific years together, filled with travel, books and grandchildren, before my mother’s death; he lived to be 94 but still mourning my mother. They are buried together under a pink Kousa dogwood in Mosswood Cemetery on Cape Cod. And she is probably still telling him what to do!

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