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“How’s that for romantic?” – lessons from long-lasting love

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Who better to give advice on love and marriage than those who have successfully weathered storms together for more than 50 and in some cases 60 years?

“We’ve been married for 67 years, and we still love each other,” says Joe Kassel proudly a few days before celebrating Tu B’Av (the Jewish equivalent of Valentine’s Day) on 12 August. “I’m just enjoying life with my lovely wife. She’s my head and shoulders and my eyes and ears.”

Joe and his wife, Anita, first met when they were children growing up in the same Cape Town suburb. “Having shared memories is a fantastic thing,” says Anita, “You don’t often get couples that can go back as far as we do. It’s an added blessing to us that at our ages, we can remember all we’ve been through together.”

Anita recalls the moment when her feelings for her childhood friend turned romantic. She was 16 and in hospital after an emergency appendectomy. When Joe heard, he came to visit. “He held my hands and sang me the song, Nature Boy. He’s got a very good tenor voice to this day.”

“The song ends with the words, ‘The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.’ That was the turning point for me because you don’t just get boyfriends coming around serenading you! I thought, “Oh my G-d, he’s really in love with me!”

The couple laugh as they confirm that Joe, who once made a record album with his brother, still regularly sings to Anita. “We both have a wonderful sense of humour,” says Anita. “A day never passes without a laugh between us. One thing we’ve learnt is that if you have differences of opinion, you can argue, but when we go to bed, there’s never any animosity.”

Speaking of what’s kept them together for so long, Anita says it’s love, religion, a shared love of music, and other interests. “But,” she says, “we never stopped each other from doing what we wanted to do separately.” Though Joe has no interest in Scrabble, he’s always supported Anita’s talent and shows off her trophies proudly.

Joe says there’s no real secret to a successful marriage. “You’re either attached to one another or you’re not. We live for each other, that’s the key.”

Married for 54 years, Vivienne and Itzik Maron finish one another’s sentences. While both were studying pharmacy, they were initially connected by their cousins, who arranged for Vivienne to befriend Itzik, who was moving down to Joburg from Cape Town to complete his degree.

“The first day I got to college, I saw this person standing at the bottom of the stairs,” says Vivienne. “A very good-looking person,” adds Itzik. Once they had introduced themselves, Vivienne told her future husband that his cousin had asked her to look after him. “I’ve done quite a good job!” she laughs.

While they met periodically on campus, the two began dating only when they later reconnected in Cape Town at Vivienne’s cousin’s wedding. Over the next two years, they conducted a long-distance relationship, mainly through letters, which sometimes led to misunderstandings – something they resolved together.

Becoming engaged, however, proved to be a dangerous exercise. “I was visiting Cape Town,” recalls Vivienne. “We were in the car, and I said to Itzik, ‘I booked my plane ticket back to Joburg, I have to go back.’ He said, ‘Oh sh*t, we better get engaged.’ How’s that for romantic?”

“In the excitement,” says Itzik, “I turned against the traffic on the highway!” Living to tell the tale, they later married and built a family in Cape Town before moving to Israel, where they’ve lived for almost 22 years.

Marriage and parenthood is something nobody teaches you how to handle, they say, you just face the challenges together. The support of both their beloved families and later their own three children and their families has helped keep their marriage strong.

“Vivienne’s a super-duper lady,” says Itzik. “From the day I met her, my eyes started to sparkle, and she hasn’t changed in all the years.”

“After being married for 54 years, we’re still very different,” Vivienne admits. “Opposites attract!” says Itzik. “You know the old story,” jokes Itzik, “even when I’m wrong, I’m right. Seriously, open your ears and listen before you open your mouth and criticise.”

“Except when you get to our age,” laughs Vivienne, “you can’t be a good listener because you can’t hear so well anymore!”

Approaching their sixtieth wedding anniversary, Barbara and Les Koz exemplify togetherness. “I don’t think we’ve ever been apart,” says Les. “We do everything together, we go everywhere together, we ran businesses together, we’ve travelled the world together, we’ve always been together. I’m very easy going and that’s helped. I’m not a fussy eater, and Barbara’s not a fussy cook,” he laughs.

Recalling how they met, Les says, “I was picked up in a hotel by my wife.” Elaborating, Barbara explains that a year before, they met briefly when she went to Les’s house with another guy for a small get together. “Most of the time, Les was in his dark room developing his photographs.”

When, a year later, Les walked into the lounge of the Cape Town hotel at which she was staying, Barbara was relieved to see someone of her own age. “I said ‘I know you.’ He didn’t know what I was talking about. A year later we were married.”

Barbara says their compatibility has cemented their marriage. “I’m the weak one and she’s the strong one,” says Les. “When two people get together, the one naturally compensates for the other.”

Echoing the Marons, the couple say marriage is all about give and take. Initially, though, it’s always a gamble. “Nobody knows what marriage will be like, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been with the person,” says Barbara. “It’s what you do that makes it a happy marriage. We’ve been blessed.”

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