It happened in Kennedy.
The opening notes of a Frank Sinatra standard filled the gymnasium at the Kennedy Seniors Recreation Centre. Dennis Farley stood at the microphone in the front of the room; his wife, Julie Mahler, was beside him.
Dennis had come in several weeks before to make a request. He wanted to sing a song he had written for his wife in honour of their 10th year together during the annual Milestone Tea. The tea, which took place on Wednesday, June 6, was put on for the members of the 90-and-up club at the Kennedy each year.
On that Wednesday, Dennis and Julie took the front of the room, arm in arm. Dennis, his voice strong for a 97-year-old, sang the first lines of the song: “It happened in Kennedy, 10 years ago.”
And that is where Julie and Dennis’ story begins — at a ballroom dancing class in the North Delta seniors centre on April 12, 2008.
Dennis’ wife had died three months earlier, following years of long illness.
“She died and I was all by myself. I didn’t go out dancing anymore,” Dennis remembered, sitting in the White Rock apartment he shares with Julie. His voice betrays his background as an English immigrant, one who followed his sister to Canada when he was in his 50s.
Friends he had known with his wife called: they needed another man in their dancing class at Kennedy. He decided to go.
He was on time, warming up with the gentlemen on one side of the room. Julie, who had been dancing at Kennedy for a year already, was late.
Julie started dancing at Kennedy in 2007, two years after her husband died.
“I was kind of in a low point in my life,” she explained. Her accent points to her Dutch Indonesian heritage, and the many moves she made as the Dutch Indies became independent Indonesia.
Julie’s eldest daughter, Ingrid, told her to get out of the house more, go exercise. “And I hate exercising,” Julie said. “But I like dancing.”
So she went dancing. And on April 12, she was late.
“The door opens, she walks in,” Dennis remembered, thinking about his now 86-year-old wife. “I looked at her and said ‘Wow.’ And that’s how it began. I wooed her and pursued her, like Shakespeare said.”
Julie didn’t notice Dennis then, but she did notice him on April 26, when he asked her to dance at another event.
“He escorted me outside after the dance,” Julie recalled. “I shook his hand and said ‘Well thank you Dennis for a lovely evening.’
“And before I knew it, he stepped forward and he kissed me!” Her voice rose in shock at these last words, but a laugh burbled underneath. “And I thought, ‘What?’”
“When you get to my age, you haven’t got much time,” Dennis added in an aside.
“I thought, ‘What? This strange man kissing me? How dare he?’ I was totally —” She didn’t finish her sentence, and fell to laughing instead.
Laughter, if anything, could be the mark of Dennis and Julie’s relationship. They laugh at their memories. They laugh at each other. Often, Dennis laughs at Julie.
“She groans at me at times, and I take her serious — or I pretend to, but inside I’m chuckling away because she’s so excited,” he said. “I’m so happy. I’ve never been as happy in my life. I wish I had met her 60 years ago.”
“But, then you would have come to the Dutch Indies, and I don’t know if my father would agree,” Julie said, looking over from her chair beside his.
“I would have been a Catholic,” Dennis replied. “If you wanted me to be a Catholic, I would have been a Catholic.”
Their courtship was persistent (on Dennis’ side) and cautious (on Julie’s). They talked on the phone nearly every day when Julie took a four-month trip to Holland. Julie made him meet her Dutch Indonesian family, which spurred the light-hearted and well-received “Kiss Kiss song,” another one of Dennis’ self-composed songs.
In September 2012, the couple were married in the backyard of one of Julie’s three sons. It was a beautiful wedding, they said, just family. It almost didn’t happen.
When Dennis got down on one knee and asked the fateful question, Julie turned him down.
“I wasn’t sure,” she explained. “I mean, I never thought of getting involved with somebody again.”
“Well neither did I until I saw you,” Dennis said.
“No.” She shook her head. “I was married when I was 18 years old. And I was widowed when I was 22 years old … And then later I met my second husband.”
When he passed away in 2005, “I thought ‘I’m not going through that again.’ So I was not going to have any relationships anymore,’” she continued. “But then Dennis happens to be there, and maybe it’s meant to be.”
There’s also practical considerations for a couple like them.
“I thought about it myself, you know,” Dennis said. “I was thinking, if she has to take care of me … I don’t think that’s very good for Julie.
“But I thought I’ll do it, because I was so confident. I told her I could care for her and look after her.”
On June 6, Julie held his arm as they walked up to the front of the room together. She stood by his side as he sang out his love for her, and their fortuitous meeting at Kennedy Seniors Recreation Centre. And when he finished, they walked back to their seats.
Dennis was smiling; Julie was laughing.