In 1970, Gail was assigned to take new customer applications, change beneficiaries, and otherwise handle the clerical needs of her insurance agency’s new sales manager and his team.
They saw each other every Tuesday and Friday — the days Mr. Weber, as Gail was required to call him, was in the office. She appreciated his competence, the respect he gave her and the rest of the staff, and his seemingly endless supply of hilarious jokes.
Mr. Weber — who like all managers called the clerical ladies by their first names — was glad to work with Gail; she was talented and kind and did not put up with anyone’s B.S., ever.
Throughout that decade and into the next, they enjoyed working together but neither learned much about the other’s nonwork life. In the early ’80s, Mr. Weber’s life changed dramatically — he and Mrs. Weber split up. It was difficult, but amicable. As his heart began to heal, he found himself looking forward to Tuesdays and Fridays and a chance to work in person with Gail.
The conundrum: How could he let Gail know he was interested without pressuring her or coming off as a creep?
One Tuesday in 1982, Gail, Mr. Weber, and a bunch of their coworkers gathered for lunch in the office lounge. As usual, everyone was letting off steam, talking loudly, and teasing one another and laughing. And then, most unusually, Mr. Weber looked right at Gail and made a remark about being romantically available.
Gail was confused and, she had to admit, flattered; Mr. Weber was handsome and had dreamy salt and pepper hair. But wasn’t he married? Was this somehow a joke that she didn’t get? Only one way to find out.
Later that day, Gail walked into his office with a work question and her real question: Did he mean what he had said?
Mr. Weber — Carl — said he meant every word. He and his ex were legally separated.
The next time they had lunch, it was just the two of them, proceeding with caution. Gail, too, was legally separated after more than a dozen years of marriage. Each wanted to be certain the other was truly ready for a relationship before risking awkwardness at work. For a few months, they remained friends who wanted to be more than friends. Then came their first real date — at the now-closed Inn Flight restaurant in Warrington. Before long, they were serious.
It has been lovely to laugh so much and look across the table at Carl’s handsome face, Gail said, but the best thing about him has always been his kindness. Gail forms strong bonds with her four-footed family members — rescued cats and Irish setters. Not long before the couple started dating, Gail’s first Irish setter, named Rebel after the Irish Rebellion, had died. Attending the Irish Setter Club of America’s national competition might help her move through her grief, she told Carl. Even though he never had a deep connection with an animal, he took time off of work to take her to Rhode Island. “Because it was important to me, it was important to him,” she said.
In Gail’s grief over Rebel, Carl saw even more evidence of her big heart. He loved being in it. She made him feel understood and loved and proud and lucky. “She is so sexy,” he said. “I always was looked over — even when I was 16 and 17,” he said. Men were always checking out Gail, but Gail wanted only him.
In 1995, Carl asked Gail, who grew up in Rhawnhurst, to move into his Mayfair home. Luckily, the three-story stone house that had been owned by his grandparents and parents before him had plenty of room for her, her second setter rescue, and three cats.
Carl was surprised to find himself falling in love with the animals, too. The relationships he had with them, and with the dogs and cats who followed, including current feline residents Leo, Athena, and Brandie, have been one of the best things Gail has brought into his life, Carl said. “The years I spent without animals are one of my biggest mistakes.”
One night at home in 2002, Carl, who is now 77, said he really wanted to get married, and Gail, now 75, said, “OK!”
On Valentine’s Day 2003, Gail walked down the aisle at St. Stephen’s United Church of Christ in a ruby red dress, much like the one she wanted to wear when she married the first time. Her mother, who paid for that wedding, said a red dress just couldn’t be done. Gail also carried the red roses and gardenias she was denied in 1969 — faux ones she assembled herself since gardenias weren’t in season. Everything from the groom to the dress to the Irish setter cake topper she made felt like righting past wrongs. “Knowing what I know now, I would tell every couple getting married, save your money, pay for it yourself, and do everything you want.”
At the Inn Flight restaurant where they had their first date, the couple hosted 16 guests, including Carl’s three grown children, the oldest of his now three grandchildren, and his best friend, Patrick — his best man both times he married. The bride and their guests were the only parts of the wedding that mattered to Carl.
Patrick died a few years ago — it was one of the hardest things Carl’s ever endured, and enduring it only felt possible with Gail’s support.
The couple still live in their 1929 Cottman Avenue rowhouse. Why would they leave Mayfair, the place where neighbors insisted on driving Gail to the hospital throughout 2015, when Carl had a triple bypass, aneurysm repair surgeries, and several other procedures?
These days, in deference to the risk of COVID-19, the couple only rarely leave their yard.
Together, they work on their garden. Participating in a city tree-tending course years ago yielded free cherry and hazelnut trees for their now leafy front yard, to which the squirrels they feed added a mulberry, an oak, and some hollies. They spend time with the cats and do crossword puzzles.
They also give each other time apart — which Gail says is key to long-term happiness. She offers a little more advice for couples starting out: “Sometimes, somebody might need space. They just might want to sit under a tree and read a book or something — do not take that personally. It’s really important, in fact, that you are aware that your partner has needs that might be separate from yours.”
Gail takes a daily walk alone — Daisy, who was Irish setter #6, passed in April. She also writes alone. She retired from the insurance business years ago, but now writes articles and a regular column for Irish Setter Magazine. “I can’t have anybody in the room or the radio on or anything. If somebody talks to me, I might start typing what they are saying. Carl understands.”
Carl, who retired as a car salesman, takes his alone time in two places: his workshop, where he’s often repairing or repainting one of his wife’s Irish setter figurines, and the ever-growing light show in the yard.
Spotlights change colors with the holidays and seasons, and he has lined the fence, the walkway, the windows, two arbors, and every other amenable surface with bright and colorful rope lights — the only kind the squirrels can’t gnaw through. This time of year, the leaves of their many trees mean the couple can’t see Cottman Avenue from their patio, but anyone passing by can still see his lights, Carl says.
“People on the space station can probably see the lights,” adds Gail.
In June and July, the couple took a few cautious steps toward normalcy. Carl’s daughters came by for a masked and socially distant Father’s Day visit in the yard. Carl ventured to the Home Depot for a new rope of remote-control, color- and pattern-changing lights. Gail and Carl each had their first hair appointments since March.
“My hair was three different colors,” said Gail.