The Other Side of I Do
Artist-craftsman John Thew, now 93, still lives in the house he and his wife, Eve, moved to in 1969. His daughter, Annie, moves busily around the house as sun streams through a porch window and birds hop from branch to bird feeder just outside. It is a tranquil house, a house filled with peace.
For Thew, life in the house is a continuation of a love affair that began in Westport CT almost seven decades ago when he took Eve Van de Water to be his bride. “It will be 69 years on June 9th,” he said.
The love of his life died rather suddenly of heart disease on February 3rd but Thew can still feel her presence in his little house. “When I was writing what I would say at her memorial service, I couldn’t find a word I wanted,” he related. “I thought, ‘I’ll go up and ask Eve’ and then I realized that I couldn’t ask her. All of a sudden it just felt like the room was crowded, like it was filled with balloons—not balloons, but filled with joy, like she wanted me to know she loved me and she was okay. I felt so happy.”
John and Eve were friends in high school. “We weren’t dating, but we were friends,” he recalled. “She used to pass me notes in study hall and I would answer her back out loud. You were supposed to get detention for talking, but I always soft-soaped the teachers.”
World War II delayed any budding romance when Thew enlisted in the Navy just after his 18th birthday in March 1945. He was lucky—World War II ended in Europe while he was still in basic training and the Japanese surrendered before he could be deployed. When his service was over, he returned to Westport, where he took up work with his artist/sculptor father and began to court his pretty high school friend, by then a teacher herself.
“In college, she studied languages,” he remembered, “so, of course, they had her teaching math.” At the same time, she was taking care of her widowed father and brother. To accentuate that Thew had taken away his mainstay, his father-in-law would call every night and ask, “How do you make cream sauce?”
“We got along well, though,” he said. “In fact, we took care of him for the last 10 years of his life.”
Thew had his own care-taking duties. He relates that his father was disabled by arthritis in his spine and could not execute his work so he would design and his son would translate the work into metal. “When the Korean War broke out, people were upset, so we made this trivet,” he said, producing a shiny trivet whose surface is composed of the stylized words, “Bless this house, Oh Lord we pray, make it safe by night and day.”
“We sold so many of these, I had enough money to get married,” he related.
They launched themselves on a happy marital journey that centered around their two children, Ann and Robert and shared pleasures such as sailing on Long Island Sound. But, after 18 years, they decided to relocate to Norfolk, in search of a quieter life.
“It seems like another lifetime, it was so long age,” he said. “We had already lived one life before we moved here.”
They located a “fixer-upper” on Ashpotag Road and spent two years making the property habitable. “One time I went to take a shelf off a wall and the whole wall fell off,” Thew said. “Instead of getting mad and saying, ‘What are you doing?’, Eve just smiled and said, ‘Now it really is a room with a view.’ That’s the way she was—always upbeat.”
Indeed, it was her smile that lit up his world and that of others. ‘I have received so many cards and they all mention her smile,” he said. “The night before she died, when I was leaving, she turned and gave me a smile that just radiated love.”
Asked how they managed to make their marriage work for so many years, he credits his wife’s disposition and strength. “She was strong inside, but she didn’t have any hate or anger. Her loving was a reality. When we were younger and getting used to each other, Eve ended every argument by looking at me and saying, ‘But I love you.’ And that was always the end of it for me.”
He also credits the fact that they looked out for each other first. “We didn’t plan it that way, it just happened. But we had both been caregivers before and knew what caring for others means.” Perhaps that says volumes about why daughter, Ann, is a caregiver who has now moved in to care for her own father. “I love it,” she declares.
Finally, he believes families should invite spirituality into their lives. Every morning, he and Eve sat at their kitchen table and recited the Lord’s Prayer at precisely 8AM, the same hour that friends and family also said the prayer. “I think prayer is important,” he said. “It reminds you that God is there and that you had better pay attention.”
For Thew, the 68 years he and his wife had on the other side of “I do” have been a sustaining force. “It has been just beautiful for decades,” he said.