It started in the nursing home cafeteria.
Charlotte Abounader, 73, said “hi” to Robert Gagnon, 90, while he was eating breakfast. She greeted him again the next morning. The day after that, though, she didn’t come to breakfast.
Gagnon missed her. So when she was back the following morning, he held her hand while they ate.
“I couldn’t kiss her until I made her my girlfriend,” Gagnon recalled, turning toward Abounader. “Remember I couldn’t wait to give you a kiss? Remember?”
She soon let him know that she liked him, too. While Gagnon was playing the organ for the residents, Abounader told him: “I’ve got a crush on you.”
Thursday afternoon, at Delaware Nursing and Rehabilitation, the Queen City natives’ relationship took the next step: They were married. It is Abounader’s first marriage.
“I said to her one day, open up your heart and let me walk in,” said Gagnon, who met Abounader on Valentine’s Day and started courting her in March. “She did.”
“I told him, ‘I have a little spot in my heart just for you,’ ” Abounader added.
Gagnon said now that spot is a big one. This was his second marriage, and his second wedding at the nursing home. He was married July 22, 2005 – he remembers the day vividly – but his wife died a few years later.
As of Thursday, he has a new lifelong partner.
“One I’m gonna keep, too,” Gagnon said.
Gagnon sported a sharp navy pinstripe suit balanced by a radiant red bow tie. Abounader wore a ravishing tan wedding gown.
Moments before she was pushed in a wheelchair just outside the nursing home on a picture perfect June afternoon – about 70 residents, employees and family members attended – Elvis Presley’s cover of The Platters’ “Only You” blasted.
“When you hold my hand I understand, the magic that you do,” Elvis sang.
Randy Gerlach, the facility administrator and Gagnon’s best man, only remembers there being two weddings at the nursing home since he started there in 1995. Gagnon was the groom both times.
“All of a sudden they kindled this relationship, and it seemed as though it was something that met each of their needs,” Gerlach said.
Lynae Jones, the facility’s director of social services, remembers “when the flame lit” and said the staff “just knew that this would be something special.”
“He’s popular with everyone but in particular with the ladies, with the female population,” Jones said. “He’s a charmer. He’s soft-spoken, and he just loves to be around people, loves to talk with people, loves to socialize.”
Gagnon, who has been at the nursing home for almost 10 years, entertains his fellow residents with his musical prowess on the organ. Every Monday, the home has a “sing-along-with-Bob” event.
“He’s just one of those individuals that makes everybody happy all the time because he’s always got something good to say, always positive,” Gerlach said.
The most special part of the day, Abounader said, was being able to finally join someone in marriage, and someone she cares for. “It’s rare to meet somebody at this age,” she said.
Gagnon proposed in the same cafeteria where Abounader first said “hi,” where they first held hands, where the flame lit.
“Well, Charlotte, I took a special liking to her,” Gagnon said. “She’s so gentle and has got such a big heart. She’s so kind. And she’s free with her kisses.”
When Abounader was wheeled out during the ceremony, Gagnon took her hand and kissed it. She grabbed his face and returned the affection.
Kimberly Salt, who officiated, spoke of what a pleasure it was “to see love in bloom” and to “participate in the union of two people so delightfully suited for one another.”
The new Mrs. Gagnon smiled in her wheelchair. Gagnon cried as he repeated the vows after Salt.