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All over the world, couples celebrate Valentine's Day on February 14. The Lëtzebuerger Journal talked to six senior citizens to find out what makes a love last forever. The secret recipe seems simple: Authenticity.
* in Luxembourgish (with French subtitles)
A love that keeps warm forever
“When I see all the suffering in the world on TV, I think, 'What luck you had in life’. Because even though I’m alone now and the love of my life is gone, I still carry her in my heart.” April 16 will mark seven years since Julie Bieda’s husband passed away. Seven years in which she always thinks of her Jos, sings love songs to him while walking her dog Jana and reminiscing about her beloved while talking to their three children. “It really is true, such love still keeps you warm even when the person is no longer there, ” says the 88-year-old.
The couple from Dudelange were married for 63-and-a-half years. Julie met her husband long before 1950, when she was a child. “I was ten years old when I saw him for the first time. I liked him back then, I already had my eye on him, ” the pensioner recalls with a smile, adding, “I’m still head over heels for him” The sparkle in her eyes at the tales of her husband is still there, because for Jos and Julie it was just mean to be.
A life full of happiness
At 18, Julie married Jos, who was four years her senior, and their first daughter followed exactly nine months and six days later. “That was important at the time, because if you were in different circumstances so quickly, the neighbours always looked at your stomach and certainly marked the day in the calendar, ” Julie reveals with a laugh. For 21 years, Julie’s father lived in the same house as his daughter – not an easy situation for two people who actually wanted to enjoy some privacy in their love nest. “The two of us were always attached to each other. Even when we were older, we could never sit next to each other without touching each other, either by the arm or the hands, no matter where we were.” With a lot of togetherness, the family nevertheless managed to overcome any hurdles: Jos sometimes worked two shifts in his job as electrician to pay off the house debt while Julie took care of the children.
“I’m still head over heels for him.”
Julie Bieda (88)
“When you love each other so much, you can do anything, ” Julie says with determination. The only thing the 88-year-old regrets today, when she stands in front of Jos’ grave in the cemetery, is the fact that she herself always found it difficult to return his open declarations of love. Julie doesn’t know a real secret for love, except: “Einfach esou frou mateneen ze sinn. [Just loving each other.] And we had many common interests.” Whether it was hiking at the club, skiing in Austria or gardening together, Julie and Jos were able to share many things and loved to support each other. But above all, they partied, and really partied. “On Thursday evenings we always went out together. My husband was in a club and I was in another and towards the end of the evening we would meet in a pub and have another 'patt’ together. Afterwards we went home, drank a 'Schlofdrëpp’, turned on some music and danced together, ” the 88-year-old recalls.
Even in their dream house, which the couple bought after more than 40 years of “Mariage”, there was always life in the place: “We’ve invited friends and celebrated when we only had a cellar!” Even today, the pensioner toasts her husband with a glass of wine or a bottle of beer in the evening and sings him a love song on a walk, just as he used to do when he came down the stairs for the late shift. “But I also argue with him sometimes, ” Julie reveals. She says her husband is still alive in her conversations with her children, and she thanks him every day for the life she was able to lead with her Jos: “Sometimes I meet people who are never satisfied or happy. There’s such a nice word for it in German: a wasted life. And I had exactly the opposite.”
In love in the “Uelzechtstrooss”
A little mischievously, Maria Grober-Paciotti looks over at her daughter during the interview. “Olga, hëllef mir!” she says with a laugh. Since January, the 100-year-old has been living with her daughter in Mersch; before that, she called Esch her home for many years. It is also in the 'Minet’ metropolis where Maria’s love story began 86 years ago. “I had a job with people there at the time and used to do their shopping for them, ” Maria recalls. Her husband was also a frequent visitor to the southern city, so when he caught sight of the young lady in the rue de l’Alzette, he was quickly smitten. “He never left Uelzechtstrooss again, ” says Maria with a smile on her face.
However, it took a while before the couple officially tied the knot. In 1938 Maria and Jean-Pierre announced their marriage. “I was 18 at the time and my husband 23,” says the 100-year-old. After two years, they had two children, who still give Maria a lot of joy today, even though her partner is no longer around. “I have plenty of replacements, after all, ” Maria says with a smile, adding, “I can’t waste my time without seeing my children as much as possible.”
“If there was something to say, we said it, he as well as I.”
Maria Grober (100)
A daughter and a son, as well as four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren – that’s how Maria sums it up after 100 years. Their marriage lasted until Jean-Pierre’s death in 1993 and was graced by equality. “We were at eye level, one like the other. Et ass gutt gaangen an et huet dermoossen harmonéiert [”Everything just clicked and we harmonised perfectly"], " says Maria. The Italian-born Maria learned early on from the Grobers’ example how to run a household and family well: “There were six of them and they all had a very good relationship with each other. Their good relationship really affected the one I had with my husband in a positive way.”
Fighting to keep the love alive
Maria also lived with her husband’s family during the war: on May 10, 1940, the Luxembourgers were evacuated to France. “We spent three or four months there and were pretty much among the first to come back home, ” Maria recalls. But after more than 60 years of marriage, it is also the little quarrels that have stayed in the pensioner’s mind. “We also argued sometimes, if we had to. It may not have been very often, but if there was something to say, we said it, he just as well as me.” She says it is sometimes this kind of communication that makes a love last as long as theirs.
For the housewife, however, the wild life only began in the later years of her life, because for a long time the couple lacked the money for a lot of hoopla. “Life was still beautiful. You can also be happy if you live a little modestly, ” says Maria. However, the pensioner only reveals the true secret behind their happiness in love at the very end of the conversation: “You also have to give in sometimes and if something goes wrong, then you just have to straighten it out again.”
Growing old together
“Anny, show them the photo of you. The one where you are so beautiful.” Reaching into the back of the cupboard, Anny Marie Erpelding grabs the picture that her husband still likes to present, even after all this time. On 20 October, it will be 52 years that the couple has been married. “We met in 1966, that’s how long we’ve been together, and we got married in 1969,” Jean Leon explains. The story of the two begins somewhat unusually: Anny was actually the wife of a colleague. “And as it happens, at some point it was reversed and I was her husband, ” says the ex-firefighter mischievously.
For the 79-year-old, it was the great love from the very beginning, and even today his wife is his one and all. “She helps me a lot, I can’t even pour myself a glass of water anymore. She does that for me, ” says Jean Leon. The couple has been living in the CIPA residence “Op der Waassertrap” in Sassenheim for four years, and Jean Leon is now in a wheelchair for health reasons. “Since there are two of us, however, we have no problem passing time.”
Jean Leon and Anny look back fondly on the times when there was still action at home. “When we first lived together, we had to borrow furniture from left and right. An armchair from here, another piece from there, all second hand. That was in the old Sprëtzenhaus in Esch.” Back then, briquettes and cooking machines were still used to heat the rooms where music teachers and students also practised their craft.
“I may have made one or two mistakes along the way, but that’s why I’m happy it worked out the way it did and that we made it this far."
Jean Leon Erpelding (79)
“I was always on the road and often came home late. Sometimes I had a 'Patt’ with friends and then invited them to our house for dinner. But then it was already an hour later than agreed and my wife still cooked for everyone. My friends then said to me: 'Mäi léiwe Jong, et geet dir gutt. Bei mär wier et näischt méi ginn!'[' Buddy, you’re well off, back at my place, we’d have gone hungry ']” Jean Leon proudly tells of his wife’s cooking skills, whose door was always open to everyone. She herself worked in different businesses: first as a cleaner in a bakery, then at the daily newspaper and later as a clerk at the post office sorting letters.
Not forgetting the wedding day
The fact that her husband was not always on time hardly bothers the 86-year-old today. “That’s no big deal. I’m glad I have him, he’s a good guy, ” Anny says as she gently strokes Jean Leon’s hair. When it was time for the couple to move into the flat above the police office on Canal Street after a few years, numerous guests found their way into the Erpeldings’ home here as well. “When Cassius Clay, that is Muhammad Ali, boxed, the policemen would say, 'Jang, at 4 p.m. we’ll come up to watch the match!' Then we had a drink together and if someone had a hole in their shirt or a button needed to be sewn on, Anny always did it, ” says Jean Leon.
The 79-year-old doesn’t know why his wife didn’t send him away long ago, only that he is incredibly grateful to her for everything she does for him. “I’ve already told her many things, so I’m glad that it’s gone so well and that I’ve managed it all the way to here.”
Each to his own, but always together
Two EU countries: Italy and Luxembourg, that’s a good mix. That’s how Jeanny and Rene Wagener describe themselves. In May it will be 68 years that the couple has been married. What has remained after all this time: Their sense of humour. When Rene reveals that by the second tango it was already over for him, Jeanny promptly counters: “Ah no, sorry, that didn’t happen so fast – you danced with my sister first!” The couple tells their stories with a lot of laughter, because Rene and Jeanny have already experienced a lot.
At 24, the Escher married the Differdinger with Italian roots, who was five years younger, but at that time it was mainly because Rene’s life was marked by fate. His mother died in an accident when he was seven, his brother was killed in Russia when he was 19, and shortly afterwards his father also passed away. “At 24, I was practically all alone in life, ” says Rene. He found a home with Jeanny, who not only cooked his soup every day, but also gave him a daughter after only nine months.
„Wéi soen se: All Dëppe fënnt säin Deckel a mir hunn eise fonnt.“
["As they say: A lid for every pot."]
Jeanny Wagener (87)
Despite the traditional division of roles – Rene worked as a house painter while Jeanny took care of the household and the child – the couple shared numerous experiences outside their own four walls. „Mir hunn all Fuesbal geklappt am ganze Land“ Rene reveals. And when a female “fuesbok” invited the charming Escher to dance, Jeanny knew how to mark her territory.
Every day a new start
That Jeanny and Rene are a well-rehearsed team is shown today above all by the banter that the 91-year-old and the 87-year-old exchange with each other in their third-floor flat “Op der Hoart”. “As you can see, even today we move closer together. There’s still a bit of love there, ” says Rene, and Jeanny replies: “The way he says it, someone who does not know him just might believe it!” If there is ever a major discussion between the two, the Wageners have a golden rule: “When we go to bed and say good night, everything is forgotten the next day.”
With the necessary freedom, the marriage has always worked well, even after more than 60 years. “The nicest thing about us is that we are still together, ” says Rene. They both the importance of sometimes taking a step back, but neither of them would want to live without the other. “I am used to you and you are used to me. Wéi soen se: All Dëppe fënnt säin Deckel a mir hunn eise fonnt.” ["As they say: A lid for every pot"]