Carole Flynn and Brad Anderson
April 20, 2018, in Christmas Valley, Ore.
Carole did not want a smartphone, but her children got her one. "Mom, look, you can play Scrabble anytime!" her daughter, Erin, said to sweeten the deal. "It's called Words with Friends."
It was a stressful time: The owner of the home in Riverside, N.J., that Carole rented had died, and Carole had to move. She was on a waiting list for a senior citizens' apartment complex, living with a friend in the meantime. Words with Friends was a welcome distraction. "One day, I was scrolling through the list of players and I saw a picture of a man who looked like Grizzly Adams," she said.
His name is Brad. For a year, Carole, who is now 77, and Brad, who is now 68, played the word game almost daily without additional communication. Then in late 2016, Brad didn't play for a few days, and Carole was worried. "Are you okay?" was the first message she sent him. "I'm feeling down because my cat died," he wrote back. More words without letter scores followed.
Brad told her that Moxie's death had compounded his existing grief. His wife, Nancy, had died six months earlier. He had also lost his teenage daughter, Shelley, many years before. Carole told him she was once married, but had been divorced for four decades. Besides Erin, she has two sons, Sean and Timothy, and five grandchildren. Before retiring, Carole, a native of Kensington, had worked for 20 years as a nanny, and previously owned an insurance brokerage and a luncheonette.
Brad, a former logging truck driver who lived most of his life in Oregon's Willamette Valley, had also been on the waiting list for senior housing. He was dissuaded by a great house on four acres next to a farm and was about to move in. "Send me pictures of your new place," Carole said. He did, with a request: "Send me a picture of you."
Carole sent him a funny and rather risque photo from a greeting card instead. He called her immediately. "She was funny and caring, and we were kind of in the same boat," he said.
Soon, they were talking for two to three hours every day — friends, with a little flirtation. "Why don't you come out here and visit?" Brad suggested. "I've got a nice house, and you would have your own bedroom and bathroom."
Carole thought that was a fantastic idea. Her children most vehemently disagreed. Despite their objections and dire warnings, she booked tickets for a few months down the road. "I just made up my mind that I'm going to go out there and find out what this was, because it might be something good for me," she said.
On April 20, 2017, Brad picked her up at the Redmond airport. He showed her his house and acres, the antelope and coyote that visit, and, farther afield, Crater Lake, Hole-in-the-Ground, and Hell's Canyon Dam – which his father, a crane operator, helped build. She met kitty Sheba and Brad's friends.
"We were having fun — more fun than I had had in a long, long time," Carole said. "I had somebody to go places with and do things with. Somebody who genuinely seemed to care for me."
Brad felt the same, and there was still so much of the West he wanted Carole to see. At his suggestion, she pushed her return flight to July, and then to December – with a return ticket to Oregon after New Year's 2018.
They made more travel plans. They adopted kittens Puss and Boots. They fell in love.
"It was the cookies," Brad said. "Chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, peanut butter." Then he laughed. OK, it wasn't the cookies. But it was the caring that the cookies, and the lunches she packs before he heads to work on his landlord/neighbor/preacher's hayfield, demonstrate.
"He's got a very gruff exterior, but he is a very warm and tender person," Carole said. "He puts his arms around me and holds me, and I feel secure. He's always laughing."
When your landlord, boss, and preacher are the same guy, you spend a lot of time together. Jeremy had been asking Brad about his future with Carole.
"I got the impression that he wasn't real comfortable with us living together, and I thought, 'I love her. Why not be married?' " Brad said.
A few weeks after Carole returned from the East Coast, Brad mentioned Jeremy's gently pointed questions. "If you like, we could get married," he said.
"Yeah!" Carole said, and she gave him a big hug and kiss.
Because Carole thinks her man looks like Grizzly Adams, and the couple's parcel of sage brush sits near the foot of Grizzly Mountain, she named the property Grizzly Grove. One day while Brad was cutting hay next door, she painted that name in red on a big rock beneath some trees. That's the spot where they married.
Neighbor/landlord/preacher Jeremy officiated the ceremony, which began at 2 p.m. — exactly one year after Carole's first plane to Oregon landed. Carole wore the same little blue dress she'd bought for that trip – blue is Brad's favorite color. He bought a new pair of pants. Jeremy read some scripture, told the couple's story, and praised God for putting them together and blessing them with a relationship at this stage of their lives.
Their 35 guests were seated at tables set up inside the garage and ate ziti with meatballs, tossed salad, and cake made by their friend Kathi, who runs one of Brad and Carole's favorite hang-outs, the Waterin' Hole. She wouldn't accept a dime.
Carole made a big batch of the chocolate chip cookies that make Brad swoon.
After dark, everyone moved back outside for drinks around a bonfire.
The couple faced each other and held hands during the ceremony. "He kept rubbing his thumbs over the back of my hand, and it was a closeness, a tenderness that I will never forget," Carole said. All she could think about was how great a choice she had made. "There's so much more to learn from each other and to experience together," Carole added. "We've really only just begun."
"The most amazing part of the day is when everybody left," Brad said. "We were finally together, at last, by ourselves, as husband and wife."
A host of bargains: Like the catering, the flowers were a wedding present (from Brad's sister Charlene and niece Tammi, a floral designer) as was the bride's headpiece (handmade by friend Terri). Carole already owned her dress. The groom's new pants cost $13.
The splurge: A weeklong honeymoon in Yellowstone and Jackson Hole, Wyo., later this spring.
The couple still plays Words with Friends daily. "He sits at his computer, and I get on my smartphone," Carole said. "We try not to look at each other's boards and cheat."
Officiant: Pastor Jeremy Warkentin, Fork Rock Community Church, Fork Rock, Oregon
Venue: The couple's home in Christmas Valley, Oregon
Photography and videography: Friends of the couple, notably Terri Purchase
Flowers: Arranged by Tammi Ferrando, niece of the groom.
Bride's attire: Previously purchased from the sale rack at the Moorestown Mall.