Oh, to be young (OK, 90), and in love...

Harriet Novak and Ernie Bartell are a couple crazy kids in love.Never mind that Harriet will turn 90 in November and Ernie is already there. They got it bad for each other, these two.

Harriet Novak and Ernie Bartell are a couple crazy kids in love.

Never mind that Harriet will turn 90 in November and Ernie is already there. They got it bad for each other, these two.

They met at Harmony Living Centers, an assisted-living facility in Franklin where they both reside. They became friends, and then more than just friends, and then a hand-holding, googly-eye-making, inseparable couple.

Ernie wanted even more. He was nervous, but at his age too much hesitation isn’t recommended.

“I went up to her,” Ernie said, “and I said, ‘Harriet, would you please be my wife?’”

Harriet remembers that Ernie mumbled something, and she asked him to repeat it. So he proposed again. With tears in her eyes, she accepted.

That was in June. This felt sudden to Ernie’s family because his wife of 65 years, Audrey, had died in April. In reality, though, her Alzheimer’s disease had taken her from him years earlier.

Ernie cared for Audrey at home as long as he could. He would sleep in a chair near the front door to make sure she wouldn’t leave the house at night. Eventually, she went into a nursing home, and he moved in at Harmony not far away. They visited one another, but it was painful for Ernie to realise that even his face became unfamiliar to his wife.

He missed Audrey terribly and their life together raising three children and meeting every challenge that came along. But his family noticed his mood and even his health improved in the company of this woman Harriet.

They would come to learn that Harriet’s husband, John, died in 2001. The two met as high school sweethearts in South Milwaukee, were married 53 years and raised two sons. Harriet is witty like Audrey, and it was clear she made Ernie happy.

“Make no mistake,” Ernie’s grandson, Mark Milan, told me, “he will always love Audrey. But it was clear that Harriet now was his reason to get up in the morning.”

Harriet’s son, Guy, said phone calls from his mother dropped off noticeably. She was too busy with Ernie. Guy’s wife, Carol, can’t get over the gleam in Harriet’s eyes these days. “He is just bringing out a whole other side of her,” she said.

Harriet and Ernie both say they never expected to fall in love again. They weren’t even looking. Harriet traces it to the moment when Ernie, a musical person and saxophone player all his life, sang a sweet and solo happy birthday to her.

Their kids talked them out of eloping to Las Vegas. But on Saturday, in the presence of their immediate families, they will commit themselves to each other in a religious service. Ernie’s great-grandchildren, Chad and Morgan Milan, will be ringbearers. A party will follow, and then a three-night honeymoon at the Pfister Hotel.

Their rooms at Harmony are right across the hall, so his room will become their living room, and her room their bedroom. It has a nice queen-size bed.

“I find myself sleeping in the middle of it. I don’t know if there’s room for Ernie,” Harriet joked.

These summer days, you can find the couple in their wheelchairs tending to the flowers and vegetable garden at their living centre. One of the aides there always greets them with, “Hi, lovers.”

“We’re happy to be together,” Harriet said. “We’re hoping it will be as many years as possible.”

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