In a gorgeous, well-appointed home in a quiet, modest Placerville neighborhood, Marlene Swanson, 79, and Eldon (Swanie) Swanson, 82 live a caring, companionable and compatible life.
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“We were made for each other,” Swanie asserted, his blue eyes luminous with sincerity.
Married for 13 years on March 30, 2011, their union came quite late in life: Marlene was 66, Eldon was 69. There are no grand pictures of their wedding day in 1998.
“Oh it only lasted about 15 minutes,” Marlene said with delightful touch of humor. “We went to a chapel in Lake Tahoe! We were planning to go on April Fool’s Day so we could remember our anniversary more easily, but we went early because there was a snow storm coming in.”
For a couple almost destined to marry on April Fool’s Day, there was no foolishness in their commitment. They had been friends for over 30 years.
When they met, love didn’t occur to them. Marlene was happily married to Don Pokorny, and Swanie had a serious girlfriend.
Don was one of Swanie’s best friends. Evidently introduced by Marlene and Don, Swanee’s girlfriend was Marlene’s friend and next door neighbor.
There are photos of Swanie and Marlene with their respective mates at Marlene’s 50th birthday party in October 1980. Pictures of a trip to Hawaii in 1981 reveal a svelte Marlene appearing young at 50 just as she’s youthful at 79.
Swanie, still a big, handsome Swede/German at 82, was trim and muscular at 53; his birthday is in November. They weren’t together then, but they had fun as separate couples.
“People used to say, jokingly, that Swanie and I should get together … we think so much alike, we’re just so much alike,” Marlene said, “but it was said in jest … I was so faithfully married.”
But then Don passed away. Swanee and his girlfriend had broken up.
After some grieving time had passed on both sides, Swanie appeared at Marlene’s home. Marlene, no doubt, was surprised, at least consciously.
But Swanie, never one for superficiality, knew, deep in his soul. And it made perfect sense.
They talked. They laughed. Their minds dovetailed, and soon they began dating.
Little by little, the sorrow lifted, and Marlene felt blessed to be able to know Swanie on a deeper level. From years of pure friendship, they both knew exactly where the other was coming from. That trust and camaraderie had been established over the years.
Not only is Don a cherished mutual memory, they know he would approve and appreciate their happiness together.
Both Marlene and Swanie have had extreme joy and pain in their lives. A divorcee, Swanee remained a bachelor for most of his life. His priority was his four children, whom he raised all by himself. Marlene, widowed twice, raised her three children from her first marriage, both by herself and with Don.
In fact, Don was her brother-in-law, her husband’s brother and her children’s uncle. It was a match literally made in heaven, which lasted some 41 years, until Don died. If people roll over or smile in the grave, Marlene’s first Pokorny would have been delighted to see two people he loved so much united in marriage.
“Don … inherited Marlene,” Swanie quipped affectionately. “Actually, we chose her. Marlene is the most wonderful person and woman anyone can imagine.”
The same names
Both Swanie and Marlene adore each other’s children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. They both have daughters named Pam and several members of the extended family share the same names.
The Swansons both have a passion for cooking (and Swedish specialities, like pickled herring and cucumbers with sour cream and dill, which Marlene first sampled while attending a Swedish church where potlucks were traditional Smorgasbords).
A dedicated father, Swanie learned to cook to feed his children properly. An engineer who served in the U.S. Army as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Swanie became proficient at cooking, cleaning, laundering and rearing his children, quite unusual in the 1950s when mothers were almost automatically granted custody.
According to Marlene, that is one of the blessings of having Swanie for a mate. They share the tasks equally. And, they both delight in all their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, being the sort of grandparents that illuminate love, values and generosity of spirit.
Marlene and Swanie also take pleasure in dining out, which they normally confine to lunch to avoid driving in darkness. One of their favorite restaurants was the former St. Pauli Inn on Highway 50. Now, of course, they adore The Forester in Camino (still owned by the same family that established the St. Pauli Inn), among other restaurants.
In talking with the personable proprietors of The Forester, William (Bill) and Helen Carey , the Swansons learned of a coincidence: Helen’s deceased father was named Eldon, and Bill’s late mother was named Marlene. It seemed uncanny, for Eldon and Marlene are not everyday names these days.
The Swansons also enjoy gardening, traveling, dining, crossword puzzles, fun and they share a multitude of interests and good times. Both have a penchant for beauty and orderliness. They are very amiable, and they both laugh heartily, glancing at each other fondly. Their “song” is a ditty done by George Burns, that talks about “old love.”
Swanie was born in a small town in Minnesota, and was raised in Minneapolis. Marlene was born and raised in California, where she spent her formative years in Oakland. Oakland was beautiful “then.” Her family home, built in 1905, still stands, resolute and beautiful and solid amid the changes in the city.
*Two candles, loving light*
Marlene’s late husband Don was a career Army officer. Marlene’s many years as a military wife entailed numerous moves. Though arthritis precludes her playing the piano these days, she has an old, beautiful piano in her living room. For years, it was stored, too heavy to be moved frequently. Now she has been able to place her grandmother’s magnificent 1885 piano in her living room.
When the piano was lovingly made in the 19th century, electric lights had not yet been invented. The solid, elegant piano, lovingly burnished and cared for all these years, has two sconces attached to it, where two matching candles go. Back in the day, they provided the light for the piano player.
Like those two candles, symmetrical and made precisely for that piano, Swanie and Marlene are together, solidly, for as long as destiny wills, which they believe is forever and ever. In the meantime, they continue to provide love and light to each other every single day.
The original French libretto to Elger Martini’s song says: “The joy of love lasts but a moment, but the pain of love lasts forever.”
But for many Placerville couples, the true love has lasted a long, long time. Nobody can predict the future, but the Swansons plan to be together forever.