Florence Harvey picked up her phone and slowly began dialing the number scrawled on the paper in her hand. It was the day after Valentine’s Day 2020 and the 81-year-old Caledon, Ontario, widow was feeling a bit lonely. Otherwise, she probably never would have gotten up the nerve to call Fred Paul.
It had been nearly 70 years since Florence had spoken to her high school sweetheart. In all those years, reconnecting with him had never even crossed her mind. But a few days earlier, when she had visited her brother at his retirement home, Florence discovered Fred’s older brother also lived there. She went over to say hello, and as they chatted, she learned that Fred had become a widower. The heartbreak of losing a spouse was something Florence knew all too well — after 57 happy years of marriage, her husband had passed away from cancer in 2017.
She remembered how hard that first year was and knew Valentine’s Day had to have been especially difficult for Fred. His brother had given her Fred’s number, so Florence told herself, I’ll just say hi and offer condolences. But as the call connected and she heard Fred’s voice, a flood of memories began playing in her thoughts like a cherished old movie.
The Glow of First Love
Though Florence and Fred went to the same grade school, it wasn’t until they were teens in the 1950s that sparks had begun to fly. Living in Wandsworth, a small town in Newfoundland and Labrador province in Canada, there were no theaters or restaurants, so the two would take long walks together, steal kisses, and talk about everything under the sun. At night, with no telephones, Florence and Fred, who lived across the lake from each other, would flick their bedroom lights off and on to signal Good night! I love you!
But after two years of dating, Fred, who was three years older than Florence, graduated and moved to Toronto to go to work with his older brother. With the distance, the two grew apart. Both went on to marry and have families, and their young love became a faded memory. But, just like for Florence, when Fred heard her voice, the years melted away.
Love Comes Full Circle
The two talked with ease about losing a spouse, about their families and finding happy lives, and about old memories of the places and people they knew growing up. At the end of their chat, Fred asked for Florence’s number and their calls continued, three to four times a week for hours on end, which got them through the loneliness of pandemic lockdown. With each call, both felt stirrings in their hearts. After five months, neither could deny there was still something special between them.
Desperate to see him in person, last July 5, Florence traveled to Toronto to surprise Fred on his 84th birthday. She has a son who lives near Fred so, not wanting to just show up unannounced, she stopped there and called Fred. When he learned she was in town, Fred rushed outside and wrote WELCOME FLORENCE in chalk across his driveway.
As soon as she arrived, Fred greeted her with a hug and kiss on the cheek. As they held hands, they were both struck by an overwhelming surge of love. Just three days later, Fred asked, “Will you marry me?” and Florence responded, “Yes — and soon!”
On August 8, 2020, a small group of friends and family gathered to witness the couple exchange their vows at Norval United Church in Georgetown, Ontario. Florence gazed into her groom’s eyes and said, “Fred, you were the first man to walk me home and you will be the last man to walk me home.” In turn, Fred played his accordion and sang his vows to his beaming bride in the Ricky Skaggs song entitled, “I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could.” The minister, who has overseen more than 500 weddings, noted theirs was the most moving service he’d ever conducted. There were tears in the eyes of everyone gathered.
“Our story is proof that it’s never too late for love,” Fred says with a smile. “We both believe God had a hand in our getting together again. I guess miracles do happen.” Florence nods in agreement. “Having someone to love at any age is wonderful and makes all the difference,” she beams. “I feel very blessed to have found it again with Fred…my first love.”
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.