Harold Holland and Lillian Barnes were teenagers when they met and fell in love in rural Kentucky. They had five children together, but after 12 years of marriage, their relationship fell apart – they divorced in 1968.
Now, 50 years later, they are proof that love never dies. Next week, they will marry again. Holland is 83; Barnes is 79.
“I saw them a couple months ago, and I’m telling you, it’s like puppy love. They call each other honey, sugar, baby, all these pet names,” said the couple’s grandson Joshua Holland, 34. “They light up when they see each other. They’re like two teenagers in love. They hold hands, they joke with each other.”
Both Holland and Barnes married other people after their divorce, but they stayed in touch with each other, mostly about their children. They were cordial at graduations, birthdays and weddings.
“I wouldn’t call it close friends, but we got along,” said Holland, who is the founder of the family’s floor-covering business based in Lexington. “For the kids’ sake, more than anything else.”
As fate would have it, both of their spouses died in 2015.
Holland hosted a family reunion at his house last summer, as he does every year. But this time, Barnes attended. The chemistry was still there.
“One thing led to another, and we had dinner together,” Holland said. “We got a little more friendlier when we were alone.”
Holland said he was surprised his bride-to-be gave him another chance. He takes responsibility for their first marriage not working out, saying he was at the office seven days a week. There were some other issues he said he preferred to keep private, but added that she’s forgiven him.
“I thought from the time we got a divorce she’d never look at me again,” he said. “I say all the time it was all my fault.”
Being together again has been familiar, bringing them back to many decades ago when they first met. “First love is hard to get rid of,” he said.
“She hasn’t changed in 50 years,” he added. “She was a beautiful, black-haired girl with brown eyes. She’s still the same, but her hair is white now. Mine is, too.”
He said their blended families include 10 children, more than 20 grandchildren and 30-plus great-grandchildren. He’s lost exact count.
He delighted in calling them and telling them the news.
“The kids and grandkids got a big bang out of that,” Holland said. “Grandma marrying grandpa sounds a little weird.”
Their grandson, Joshua Holland, who is a pastor in New Orleans, plans to officiate the wedding, which will be April 14 at Trinity Baptist Church in Lexington.
“When you’re the preacher in family, you do all the weddings and funerals,” he said. “This one will top the cake. This is the most monumental wedding I’ll probably ever do in my life.”
Harold Holland said the wedding was to be simple: Mostly just family. He didn’t know how many people were invited, but he figured there could be as many as 300 guests.
“People say they’re coming whether we invited them or not,” he said with a laugh.
Joshua Holland said he needed to do some thinking about what he’ll say at the wedding. He might use the couple’s own words, which he quoted: “We started out the first mile together, now well walk the last mile together.”
Staff researcher Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this story.