By Patricia J. Bruno
What’s your favorite love story? Chances are, it contains elements of fate or destiny. The concept that our one true love has been predetermined makes for the perfect romantic book or movie, yet most love stories begin because we make a simple move in one direction or another.
One January evening many years ago, 16-year-old Fran stood with her girlfriends eying the cute boys sauntering into the St. Anne’s Parish dance hall in Lawrence. Across the room, Tom, also 16, was in a heated argument with his girlfriend, who stormed off to dance with another boy.
“I looked around the room and saw Fran, thinking she was kind of cute. So I walked up and asked her to dance,” recalls Tom.
Sixty-five short years later, Fran and Tom Gradzewicz are still an item. Was it fate or destiny? The couple laugh and shake their heads.
“No, and it wasn’t love at first sight, either. But two weeks after that first dance, we met again by chance at the same dance hall and I asked her out,” says Tom.
“I said yes,” Fran adds, “and we just kept going out. Three years later we got married.”
Neither Fran nor Tom can recall who proposed marriage or exactly when that happened.
“I think we just got to that point,” says Tom. “It just evolved.”
Sometimes the best and longest lasting love stories are the simplest. Fran and Tom’s family includes their three daughters and their spouses, as well as six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. All plan to gather Feb. 7 or thereabouts to celebrate the couple’s 65th wedding anniversary.
“We are letting them all plan it, since some of them live out of state,” says Tom.
When asked about the secret ingredients to a happy relationship, both parties agreed that honesty is, indeed, the best policy.
“If you don’t have honesty in your marriage, then there is nothing,” says Tom.
“And if you do have honesty, everything else falls into place.” Fran smiles, adding, “and if there is a spat, allow the other person time to get over being mad.”
Both also stressed the importance of communication.
“We have had bumps like most people”, says Fran, “but then we calm down and talk about it.”
Six-plus decades may seem like a long time to hang out with the same person, but this couple never seems to run out of things to do together. Methuen residents may know them through their years of work at Methuen Community Studios, along with their daughter Karen Hayden who is executive director. Fran and Tom are also well-known at the Methuen Senior Activity Center, where they produced “Call to Serve,” a monthly cable-TV show on veterans, for many years. They also attend weekly aerobics classes at the center. In addition to working and volunteering together through the years, Fran and Tom have enjoyed hiking through national parks, traveling to Europe and the Caribbean, and attending local museums and concerts, such as the Boston Pops.
“We also golfed together for years, although I no longer do,” says Fran. “But Tom still golfs once a week with his daughter.”
While they enjoy their time together, both feel that it’s also important to allow the other their own personal time, for work or leisure.
Both Fran and Tom agree that the years have flown by. Yet their genuine love and friendship seems not to have dwindled in the least, and it shows in the way their eyes sparkle when they chat about their marriage or when one lays a hand tenderly on the other’s forearm.
While their love story may be a simple one with no grand gestures or dramatic twists of fate, it continues to be a story of true love.
Fran smiles as she sums it up.
“We didn’t do anything special. We just enjoyed being together.”