Deb Thea didn’t want a conventional wedding. “I was 70 years old. Walking down the hall? Did you wear white? Come on! “She says. She wore a polka dot dress to marry her boyfriend, Tom Ford, who was 65. Her guests had polka dot ties, polka dot shawls and polka dot dresses.
Thea, who runs a antique shop In Petaluma, California, she had always thought she would get married, but she didn’t think it would take that long to find the right person. “She had boyfriends and lived with people,” she says. “But we got to the point where we should move on or stop, and it just didn’t seem like enough to me.”
Also, being single never felt like a burden. “I felt like a whole person,” he says. “I gave time and energy to my friends and they stayed with me my whole life.” Now 73, she has seen her friends “accept my husband into the fold.”
Thea met Ford when he was married to her late friend Alice, but they did not interact. Thea and Alice, another antiques saleswoman, went out and shopped at flea markets together. “Then Alice got cancer … She passed away very quickly.”
Although Alice had not requested any services, the shock of her death was too great for Thea. “I went to a picnic area and cooked 50 pieces of chicken and invited everyone who wanted to come. Tom wanted to help; brought all the drinks. We had white balloons. Everybody said things. It was really good. “
Afterward, Thea kept an eye on Ford. “Just like you would any of my friends,” he says. She stopped by his workshop with snacks and things for him to fix. A friendship grew.
“One day I sent him a text message and he didn’t answer me. And I realized that I really cared. “The feelings, he says, felt good in some ways and uncomfortable in others.” If I was ready to get into another relationship so quickly, I wouldn’t have liked it for that. “
Still, they had a lot in common: they both drove trucks, they were good with carpentry tools, they loved old things, they didn’t like pretense, and there was an ease between them, “like two gears meshing together.” One day, they were walking and Thea slipped her hand into his. “He was like, ‘Oh! Oh! ‘”
Ford and Thea have discussed this moment many times as husband and wife. He says she got over it; she thinks she recognized what they both felt. Either way, a few days later, while Thea was flipping through a breakfast menu, Ford “turned me over and kissed me.” They were married shortly after.
Thea had nurtured her independence for decades and had a strong adventurous streak. At 28 he was working in the mayor’s youth office in San Francisco when the mayor, Harvey Milk, was assassinated. It was a turbulent time in the Bay Area, with children arriving from Jonestown in need of care. Every day felt like sticking a finger in prey. So he went to Vermont, bought a truck, and stocked it with antiques to sell. Her spontaneity, which led to a lifelong career, was “a function of being single. I didn’t have to recruit anyone. I had no one to say ‘no’ ”.
As she points out, she has “married someone who has just retired… I went from being alone all the time to being with someone 24 hours a day,” which means that compromises have been reached. Thea has learned to go to bed at 9:30, Ford’s favorite time, and Ford has to put up with television shows that he doesn’t find amusing. Married life is more and less liberating, but it is warm, fun, easier, with less worry and more hugs. Thea has noticed that her shoulders are no longer hunched over from the stress of everyday life. “I feel light,” she says. “It’s a great photo … to see someone else at the other end of the cabinet.”
Customers at the antique store have told Thea that her marriage gives hope to those who are still searching. But do you wish you had met Ford when you were younger? “I don’t think he would have been such a developed person,” he says. “I think that doing all that by myself and not being assaulted by fear gave me a confidence that is the goal of life. To have that confidence and know that you have lived. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism