Happily Ever After
02/01/2010 04:42AM ● Published by Wendy Sipple
Photos by Dante Fontana
The first date is forever connected to the date.
“I met him on April the 1st, 1942,” says Roberta Westbrook. “And I like to say, but he doesn’t like to hear–”
“–anymore…” Mr. Westbrook drops the word into her sentence effortlessly, like a splash of cream into a cup of coffee, “…it’s been one big joke ever since.”
Robert smiles slyly and explains. “Well, when you’ve hear it a thousand times, it gets old.”
They chuckle. Their laughter has the feel of a comfortable old blanket – faded maybe, but still warm and the one you want around you when the rain starts drumming fingernails on the window. Robert is 90, but doesn’t look a day over 80. Roberta? Well, she looks 10 years younger too. They met 67 years ago. She was living with her sister in Dayton, Ohio. He worked with her sister’s husband. For two years, they dated. As Robert puts it, “We just sort of learned each other.”
World War two was raging and six months after their wedding, he went into the Navy. Already in possession of an engineering degree, Robert went west to Treasure Island to attend electronics school. Roberta came with him, but not happily. “I hated California! All I wanted to do was go home,” she says.
After a year, they did…for a while. But Robert disagreed about California. They had three kids and a home, but when Roberta asked Robert to renovate the upstairs, he told her “I don’t think so. We might want to move to California.” Roberta replied, “Who wants to move to California?” That was 1953, and they’ve been here ever since.
They raised four children in the Bay Area. Robert was an engineer for Livermore Laboratories. Roberta was a stay-at-home mom, which she says was “a privilege.” She grew to love California and they became a busy family, camping, backpacking and skiing. “We had more fun than most people I have ever talked to,” Roberta says. Their kids grew up, staying close to Mom and Dad, and to each other. Something that makes Robert noticeably proud: “They not only love each other, they like each other.”
With the kids gone, they found a new hobby: Racing sailboats. Robert glances toward Roberta, who smiles. “Boy, she was competitive. She’d run into the other boats if that’s what it took to win. We didn’t win much. I wouldn’t run into the other boats,” Robert recalls. Again, laughter fills the air. When Roberta couldn’t handle the lines anymore, they sold their boat, bought a motor home and traveled the country. “We wore that thing out!” says Robert.
There had to be tough times, right? “If anyone says they haven’t had problems in their marriage, I don’t believe them,” Roberta says. But, Robert notes, “We both wanted to stay married more than anything else.” He looks at Roberta again. “Am I correct?” She nods. He shrugs. “So you find a way to make it work,” he says. “And here we are,” Roberta gleams.
They live in a small two-bedroom apartment in a Roseville retirement center. They moved in last spring. It’s the first time they haven’t owned a home since 1945. It is comfortable and spotless. They still drive and still socialize. They have a pinochle group and a nickname around the center: “The Party Kids.” They moved because they know they’re “getting up there” and “don’t want to burden our kids,” Roberta says, in almost an aside.
For 67 years, they’ve shared their lives. Yet they still sit next to each other like two birds sharing a small perch. “I can’t even get him to go to breakfast without me,” Roberta notes. “I don’t even like breakfast! But I go.”
So what is it? What’s the secret? “She’s my best friend. She always has been,” Robert says without hesitation. “He leads with his head, I lead with my heart,” says Roberta, smiling again, glancing at him. “So, we’ve made a pretty good team,” she says as she pats his knee.
A back room is stacked with boxes. They’re full of things they’ll soon donate to charity. “Everything we need, we still have,” Roberta says. Like love and laughter, and each other.
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