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Eileen and Robert at the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market.

Story of late-blooming love leads to group hug

"Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love." — Hamilton Wright Mabie

Ever wonder about this thing called love? I do. Pretty much all the time. So when fate led me smack into the middle of a sweet tale of late-life romance, my heart began to flutter like a butterfly on crack.

I arrived at the Growers Market in Medford around noon Thursday in search of fresh-baked goodies and some column inspiration. My nose immediately started twitching when I spied Cathy Pennington, my friend and favorite cookie purveyor. Girlfriend was lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree.

"Tell the story! You've gotta tell it!" Cathy urged a middle-aged woman as she pointed to an adjacent silver-haired couple looking more than a bit embarrassed.

My peepers scanned the scene at the Pennington Farms booth. I nodded encouragingly at the smiling woman and she hooked me with a single line.

"My dad ran away from home at age 87," said Peggy.

Both eyebrows arched. To my hairline.

"Do tell. Please," I said, scrabbling for a pen and my notebook.

Peggy recounts that her father, Robert, fled his home in Fargo, N.D., to move to Medford and marry Eileen, the lovely lady at his side and toward whom he was gazing with such sweet affection.

The couple had just purchased a pear pie as Robert was celebrating his 95th birthday this day, Cathy added.

"How sweet is that?" she asked.

Sweet enough that I felt an immediate need for a group hug. But I contained myself. For a few more minutes.

As the couple's daughters tell the tale, Robert and Eileen were each happily married for about half a century to loving spouses who passed away. Eileen's daughter Bev said the beloved couples were lifelong friends. There are high school photos of Robert and Bev's father, Mel. There are tales that Mel was the one who introduced Robert to Peggy's mother. Having remained so close throughout the decades, it was natural that Eileen might visit Robert in Fargo. And even that Robert might reciprocate with a visit to Medford.

"They had so much shared history," said Peggy.

Everyone knew Robert was more than a little twitterpated over Eileen. But what happened next startled the pair's offspring. Robert called his children back in Fargo with big news, she said.

"He said, 'Sell the house! I'm not coming back! I've asked Eileen to marry me and she said Yes!' " Peggy related.

Both Robert and Eileen were in their late 80s at this time. Still, their daughters said they were glad their bereaved parents had found a new love.

"To be this age, and to be able to share so many stories, so many memories," Peggy said.

And it was official. Robert and Eileen were in love.

"This was bigger than both of them," she said.

Seven years ago in January the couple tied the knot at the Applegate Lodge. Eileen was firm in her resolve to tread the marital straight and narrow.

"Mom said, 'I'm not living in sin,' " Bev said.

Another sister, not at the market that afternoon, short-sheeted the couple's bed that night, the ladies said.

As we guffawed like naughty children, Robert and Eileen stood patiently two booths down, holding each other's hands, and wondering what was holding up the market parade.

"They're wondering what we're yakking about," Bev said, chortling.

Now was the time for the group hug. I simply couldn't contain myself one more second.

True love is something you wish for everyone. Especially if you've been lucky enough to find it yourself. For you know the joy it brings to your life.

If you've lost it, you might wonder whether lightning can ever strike twice. I know I do.

When Cathy's daughters ask if there can be only one true love in anyone's life, she has an irrefutable answer.

"I tell them about this story," Cathy said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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