GOING to the paddock and we’re gonna get married …
As their friends from the country music club band played the popular tune, with one slight word change, Irene Blair walked down a grassy aisle in Awakeri last Saturday, otherwise known as a paddock, to meet the new love of her life, Alex Riddiford.
Against a flowery archway, the couple said their vows and, not long afterwards, it was time to introduce Mr and Mrs Blair-Riddiford to the 200 or so guests, family, friends and neighbours, who’d gathered to witness the nuptials.
This could have been any summer garden wedding except the groom here was 92 and his bride was 72, proving to everyone present that it’s really never too late to fall in love again.
For both, this was a second marriage. Alex lost his wife of 60 years, Lorna, almost a year ago and David, Irene’s husband of 53 years, died around two years ago, leaving both of them in need of companionship.
With family connections, a longstanding friendship and similar interests it made complete sense to them both to get married and the decision has been supported by their families and friends. As one of Alex’s children pointed out to him, it’s not often that a son or daughter can go to their father’s wedding.
Of her new husband, Irene says, “he’s a honey; a real darling,” adding laughingly “no-one else is getting him now”.
“We’ve had some fun,” she says, “and haven’t had a cross word yet.”
One of the things they like to do together is attend the Whakatane Country Music club with Alex filming events and Irene knitting or helping with afternoon tea in the kitchen.
When asked how they met, Irene launches into a detailed explanation: “Our families have known each other since his mother and my late husband’s mother went to primary school together and he used to take my late husband to Tuai at Lake Waikaremoana.”
She ends by summing up the connection with a more simple: “We’ve just known each other for goodness knows how long.
Alex was born in Nuhaka, in the northern Hawke’s Bay, and grew up around Waikaremoana, attending school at Tuai “in the days when the buses had doors all down the sides and bench seats.”
His father worked metalling the roads, then in a sawmill, and after the Great Depression the family went farming. It was in the late 1950s that Alex, a mechanic and later a fitter at the Tasman mill, came to the Eastern Bay and settled in Whakatane.
Irene hails from Invercargill originally but moved with her family to Kaingaroa in 1951, aged 6.
Her dad was in the forestry and Kaingaroa was a busy forestry village in those days, she says. On leaving school she worked in the post office and at the woodsmen’s hostel as a cook, cooking for the men doing their forestry training. She married David, a mechanic, in 1962 – in
Whakatane because she didn’t like the minister in Kaingaroa – and they moved to Pukekohe before settling in Whakatane in 1965.
Both Alex and Irene are looking forward to this new chapter in their lives, planning to fill each day with fun and laughter just as they did their wedding.
They were adamant before the event that while the wedding ceremony would be serious – and include no requirement for Irene, or Alex, to “obey” – the rest would be pure fun with water fights, games, a limbo even – reminiscent of a day at the beach or a picnic in the park.
“That’s what we want, a real fun day,” Alex says. “There’s going to be a lot of people there so we’re going to have a good day that they can enjoy.”