George Duley couldn’t remember the movie they saw on that first date. He did, however, remember one specific fact: He forgot his wallet that night more than seven decades ago, meaning Connie Currier had to pay for everything. The tickets. The sodas. The popcorn.
“I don’t know what my rating was when that happened,” Duley told me on Thursday. “She was the financial planner. She was good at planning.”
Soon, the young couple would plan a marriage that lasted 71 years. It ended last year, on Jan. 5, when Connie died after fighting Alzheimer’s disease for a few years.
She was 95. George will turn 100 on Oct. 5. He still drives. He still cracks jokes in a dry manner and says he’s the king of puns. Slender, he still drapes one leg over the armrest of his plush living room chair, like a kid watching cartoons after school.
“I’m feeling wonderful,” George told me. “It’s hard for me to accept (his 100th birthday), because I just don’t feel that old. I’m looking forward to another few years. A lot of people have planned things for me for my birthday. I think it will be a family thing.”
George and Connie made a great team, traveling the world, enjoying their cottage on the Maine coast, skiing, camping, raising two daughters. They lived in Manchester, Suncook and Concord.
George said he misses Connie. He balances two diverse feelings, one that tells him he should have appreciated the joy Connie brought him as those moments were happening, with an inner peace that reminds him he has no regrets and had a great partnership with the perfect partner.
They were both stoic New Englanders, not always willing to show their affection for one another in public.
“We lived together for so many years, we knew each other’s intricacies,” George said. “There was so much love. You don’t think of the adventure you’re having until you begin to see it in retrospect.”
So that’s what we did, with one of his two daughters, Susan Duley, sitting on the couch in the living room of the Concord house that this father and daughter now share.
Susan brought out photos and placed them in front of the fireplace and on the mantel above. Photos of George in his crisp white Navy uniform, George standing with his beloved Connie at their wedding, George boldly skiing downhill.
“This will give you a sense of how much family was important to him,” Susan said.
When I asked George if Connie skied well, he answered, simply, “She was adequate.”
I laughed; He didn’t even break a smile, although there was plenty of laughter later on, while we strolled down memory lane.
“She was a good girl,” George said.
He had befriended Connie’s brother in high school, at Sanborn Seminary. The boys, around 16 at the time, would hang out while Connie, three years younger, would come into the room and play the piano. A younger sister annoying her older brother and friend, that sort of thing.
That changed when Navy man George was stationed in Rhode Island, where Connie was working as a dental hygienist. She was a young lady by then, not the little kid who played the piano to get on her brother’s nerves.
George’s old high school friend suggested he call on his sister. George did. Then came that movie anecdote discussed earlier.
“She was nice, intelligent, well-shaped,” George said.
Connie loved to paint, make her own beaded jewelry and lampshades, sew her own clothing for the family and upholster furniture.
And she enjoyed sharing her husband’s life, doing the things he loved to do. That’s why she skied. That’s why she flew in a glider, after George, who had a pilot’s license at the time, had taken her up for a ride. That’s why she hauled wood after the couple purchased their Maine cottage, that’s why she carefully planned out their trips, and that’s why her organizational skills evolved into an art form.
Her husband needed structure to smooth out life. His wife was good at doing just that.
“She was self-sufficient,” Susan said. “A Yankee in a way. She was the strong, steady current, trying to make things happen, and dad was the energy and the driver.”
“She said we had to go here or there,” George noted, “and that would be our trip.”
They paid their dues together, living in a one-room apartment in Manchester before George established himself at IBM. If someone in the building was using the gas stove, the young couple one floor up could not use theirs. A problem with the pressure in the pipes.
And when the two would occasionally argue – an inevitability in such a tiny place, with little money to spare – Connie would go into the bathroom, relax in the tub and read.
Connie, in fact, was used to surviving on a shoestring budget. She grew up poor. Her father worked in a shoe factory, when he could find work. Her brother had cerebral palsy.
“She’d take her brother to the pond in her wagon,” Susan explained. “The kids would see her and make fun of her. She could be feisty, and she’d push them in the pond when they got out of hand.”
She played that role, the quiet strength and stability behind the man with the puns. Susan got emotional once when we moved into Connie’s fight with Alzheimer’s.
But George never cracked, no matter how in-depth the conversation moved into those final years. He preferred to recall the harmony and adventure, the cross-country trip to nearly a dozen national parks, the trip to the 1964 World’s Fair to chaperone Susan and the rest of the Concord High School band, the ski trips to Europe, the 25th-anniversary celebration in Bermuda, the camping trip to Acadia National Park in Maine, the trips to Alaska and Iceland.
That’s what George chose to remember, with his 100th birthday around the corner. No regrets. Just a life well lived, with his best friend.
“I treat Connie’s life and mine together as one life,” George said. “I’m not sad about it. I do miss her, but I’m happy now.”