Gary Mooney & Carmela Patterson-Mooney
Gary tried to focus on the words of God and his priest, but his attention was mightily pulled to the woman two pews ahead.
A St. Pius X parishioner for four decades, he had never seen her before the start of the 2017 Lenten season’s noon Masses at the Broomall church. Since then, each time the congregants exchanged the Sign of Peace, she turned around, waved, mouthed “Peace be with you,” and smiled her beautiful smile at him.
For the better part of those 40 spring days, he held her gaze and smiled back. As the end of Lent and its special Masses approached, Gary told his daughter Suzanne about the lovely lady at church, who — just like him — attended each Mass alone.
His daughter made talking to her sound so simple — why not just say hello? So, after the last Mass before Good Friday, Gary introduced himself, and so did the woman with the smile, Carmela.
She asked if he knew of any church offering midday Masses year round. He answered her question, then seized what might be his only chance to ask one of his own.
“Hey listen, I’m starved,” Gary said. “Can we go to lunch?”
She had noticed this gentleman’s smile. She had enjoyed their interactions at the Passing of Peace. But should she have lunch with him?
She couldn’t think of a reason why she shouldn’t.
“That would be lovely,” she said finally, to Gary’s relief.
They settled into a booth at Mrs. Marty’s Deli and were amazed how easy it was to share their stories with each other.
Carmela, who is now 79, grew up in West Philadelphia. At 20, she married Barry. They had a wonderful marriage and five children, which led to 13 grandchildren and seven great-grandkids. Carmela graduated nursing school at 47. She was a coronary critical care nurse at Crozer-Chester Medical Center until retiring in the late ’90s. Barry passed away from complications of diabetes in summer 2012. Carmela mourned, then built a good but different life. She has an army of friends. She volunteered with the Legion of Mary, providing Bible study and fellowship to men incarcerated at a local prison. She writes poetry.
Gary, who is now 82, grew up in West Philadelphia and Upper Darby. At 22, he married Joan. They had a wonderful marriage and two children, which led to six grandchildren. Gary worked in pharmaceutical sales and marketing for Bristol Myers Squibb until he retired in 1994. Joan lived with brain cancer for 12 years but died from the side effects of her treatment in fall 2014. Gary had sold their house and planned to move to her care home so they could be together. After she passed, he moved instead to the Springton Lake Village 55+ community in Media. He mourned. He added new friends to old. He enjoyed golf and a busy social schedule.
Gary and Carmela’s first date lasted two and a half hours.
“You could tell there was a chemistry,” Gary said.
“I guess I wanted more, because the next time he asked me out, I said yes right away,” said Carmela.
Date Two began with Italian at Fresco’s, but they laughed so hard and had so much fun that Gary suggested they extend the evening at the Devon Horse Show. Cotton candy acquired, they boarded the Ferris wheel.
“That’s where I kissed her,” said Gary.
“Right at the top!” said Carmela.
Not long after, they were in love.
“She is everything a fine person should be — personable, intelligent, and she speaks her mind in a constructive way,” said Gary.
“Gary is gregarious. He is a gentleman. He has a great sense of humor and he’s a great conversationalist,” said Carmela. “Plus, I liked how he dressed — I thought he was cool.”
Whether they were at the slots, out for a cocktail, on the beach, or taking in a show, they always got the same question: “So, how long have you two been married?”
“A hundred and four years!” Gary always said.
By 2018, they were tired of spending any time apart, and Carmela moved from her home in Drexel Hill to Gary’s place. The arrangement made so much sense, and everyone around them approved, but it didn’t feel quite right to Gary.
In March of 2019, a big bruise appeared on his arm. It didn’t hurt, but the nurse who loves him insisted he get it checked out. They were holding hands in the waiting room when another nurse walked in and was charmed by the sight.
“How long have you been married?” she asked.
“A hundred and four years!” Gary said.
The couple giggled. The nurse left. Gary turned to Carmela:
“What would you say if I asked you to marry me?”
“Are you asking me to marry you?” she replied.
“Yes,” said Gary. “Will you marry me?
“Yes,” said Carmela.
Gary smiled and put his hand on his heart.
On Valentine’s Day 2020, 60 guests attended the couple’s Catholic wedding at the Chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Morton — held there so that Gary’s friend Msgr. John Savinski could officiate. Gary’s brother Lee was his best man and Carmela’s daughter Kim her matron of honor.
At the reception, held at Harrah’s, the couple danced to the Platters’ “Only You,” then everyone piled onto the floor for a mix of rock from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s and a conga line around the room.
Shortly after their wedding, COVID-19 came. Gary and Carmela are determined to stay safe. They miss the Art Museum, the theater, the trips down the Shore, church, golf, volunteering, and the joyous, constant stream of family and friends.
“But we are blessed,” said Gary.
“Your attitude determines your altitude,” added Carmela.
They are glad they can still drive to Philly for takeout or to see the boats pass by Penn’s Landing.
They love sipping coffee and watching nature from their back deck and do so almost daily.
Above all, they are grateful for more time to listen to each other’s stories.