Walter Chaffey slowly leans over and gently kisses his wife Phyllis on the forehead. His 91 year-old arms cradle her head close to him — it’s clear this is where they both belong.
In their family home in Musgravetown, it’s common for a family member or visitor to drop in and find the two cuddled together on the sofa.
In fact, Walt and Phyllis’ son Wayne and their homeworker Peggy Phillips both say it’s where they are more often than not.
They never want to be apart.
The two will celebrate their 68th wedding anniversary on March 6.
And it’s obvious, after all these years, Walt and Phyllis are still smitten sweethearts.
Over their 70 years together — married for 68 and two years of “courting” as Walt puts it — they had three children, sons Wayne and Claude, and a daughter Brenda who passed away after a battle with cancer.
They’ve had good times and bad, but when a couple spends decades in love they also create a seemingly endless amount of memories and stories.
Walt was 13-years-old when his dad died, meaning he had to leave school to work. He worked at Claude Parsons’ sheet metal shop at one of his early jobs — something for which he’s forever grateful.
He eventually got his high school equivalency and ended his working days as postmaster, retiring after 35 years at that job. He was also a lay minister for the United Church.
Walt’s eyes still light up as he recounts the days of his and Phyllis’ early love.
“We got memories we’ll never forget,” he says.
He even remembers the first time he saw his future wife, as she walked one day with her mother.
“She had long hair, with big plaits. I fell in love with them there.”
Years later in the “courting” days, about 1949 to 1951, Walt would travel by bicycle, boat, or even over the frozen water to go from Musgravetown to Phyllis’ home in Brooklyn.
At the same time, Walt’s buddy Selby Matthews was courting Phyllis’ older sister Olive. Walt and Selby shared one bicycle between them to make the trip. They even travelled in relays, riding for a period and then leaving the bike for the walker, then the rider would ride past the walker and so on.
In winter, they crossed on the ice in the bay. They used a broom handle to test the ice, if it went through, they knew the ice was dangerous. Crossing even in the dark, Walt recalls with a chuckle how he dropped his flashlight and it broke into pieces. He had to feel around for the parts and put them back together to see where he was going.
One memorable night saw them caught in a blizzard coming back across the bay, taking shelter in the cliffs of Shag Island for the night.
But for Walt, it was all worth it for young love.
Constant in her life
Phyllis, too, has her stories of those early years of love. She would tell her mother she was going to church to practice playing the organ. In actuality, she was using the church on the hill as a vantage point to watch for Walt crossing the bay.
Today, Phyllis suffers from dementia. While she has lapses in her memory, the one constant in her life is Walt.
Even with Walt at 91-years-old, and Phyllis 85, they not only spend a great deal of time cuddled on the couch, but also going for long drives.
Walt calls it part of Phyllis’ treatment, as it’s one of their favourite things to do.
And their favourite destination? Bonavista, at the tip of the peninsula. It’s a common sight to see the two in their old truck heading into the town, waving at everyone they meet.
They’ve camped all over the island and seen just about every community but says, “there’s no people on Newfoundland island like the people in Bonavista.”
Walt has endless stories about his love of trains, his children, and trips to the mainland, all told — and experienced — with Phyllis quietly by his side. They wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We’re still together, 68 years married,” said Walt as he looks lovingly at his partner.
“She’s the same now as always, I suppose.”
Love fills up their family home in Musgravetown, a fact that is not lost on Wayne. He says a neighbour recently commented on seeing Walt and Phyllis so close and in love, walking to their truck for another of their long drives.
“He said, ‘Your Dad worships your Mom,’” recalled Wayne. “I’ve grown up knowing that.”
Asked for his advice on what makes for such a happy, idyllic marriage, Walt thought for a second and responded with one word.