For 50 years, through a marriage and several long-distance moves, she saved the corsages he’d given her for dances and special occasions.
They were nearly inseparable in their late teens. An old photo shows them smiling, her arms wrapped around him during a homecoming bonfire at Fort Lewis College.
“See, back in high school and college, all our classmates knew we were going to be married,” Larry Rockett says. “That was a given thing.”
Their future as a happy couple was set. What could possibly happen to change that? Well, as Theresa (Malberg) Lowry says a half-century later, California happened.
They’re side by side at the kitchen table in Durango recently, sharing their tale. It’s not quite as epic as “The Titanic” or “Gone With the Wind,” but it’s certainly a charming, bittersweet love story with a nice plot twist or two.
It starts around 1962, during the summer after their sophomore years at Durango High School. Knowing that her friend Theresa had a hankering for Larry, Virginia DuWall invited them both to her birthday party. They danced. She’s been head over heels ever since.
They began dating early in their junior year. Among the corsages, now mounted on a large piece of cardboard, is one that Rockett delivered on her 17th birthday to the Malt Shoppe Drive In (1776 Main, where JP Tire is now), where Theresa worked.
Lowry retrieves a pair of shorts she wore to a Sadie Hawkins dance in high school. She’d stitched his initials into a patch.
“I guess I was in love,” she smiles.
The first time Rockett proposed was right after high school. She wasn’t quite ready, but they continued to date through two years at Fort Lewis. After she received a two-year degree in secretarial science, she got an invitation from a childhood friend to move to Los Angeles. She even had a place to stay.
“She just sort of talked me into coming out and getting a job and experiencing that life,” Lowry says. “I can’t really remember what I was feeling. ... I think part of it was the excitement of living on my own.”
Rockett moved out to Northern California about a month later, where his brother connected him with a job. On his way, he stopped to see Lowry and popped the question again. Rejection No. 2.
“I’ve apologized many, many times,” Lowry says. Now they can both chuckle.
They saw each other in California a couple of times after that but slowly drifted apart. Next thing Lowry knew, Rockett was getting married. He stayed in California for a few years, then in 1971 moved to Albuquerque, where he sold insurance for 38 years.
Meanwhile, in 1969 Lowry returned to Durango, where she met her future husband. His work was in Kansas, so she moved to Topeka, and every year would visit Durango with her husband and two daughters.
“I cried every time we drove out of town,” she says.
In the mid-’80s, Rockett separated from his first wife. He gave Lowry a call in Kansas, where she was dealing with a rocky marriage. She gave him no encouragement when he asked if he could call back.
Her reply echoes to him over the years: “Well, if you want to.”
“After we hung up,” she says, “I was secretly hoping he’d call.”
But he was far from encouraged. In 1987, he remarried.
Many more years passed. Their paths crossed at their 40th high school reunion in 2004. They know a classmate took a picture of them together there, but they’ve yet to see it. Rockett brought his wife to the reunion. Lowry had been divorced for several years and was back in Durango taking care of her ailing mother.
Fast forward one more time to a hot August 2012 afternoon. Lowry had prayed a week before that the Lord would have to send her a man if she were destined to marry again. She worked hard that morning and helped herself to a beer and laid down on the couch for a nap.
Meanwhile that same day, Rockett, no longer married, took his sister, Judy Dossey, to lunch at Francisco’s Restaurante Y Cantina. While driving her home, he pulled onto Lowry’s street and cruised past her house. Dossey asked him what the heck he was doing, and he told her.
“She said, ‘You should go see Theresa,’” Rockett says. “I said, ‘Why?’ She said, ‘You just should. Go see her.’”
Minutes later, after dropping off his sister, he was knocking at his high school sweetheart’s door. Not knowing who was there, seeing only a stranger with gray hair, she hesitated. A staunch and lifelong Catholic, she heard the word “charity” in her head.
“So I was supposed to be charitable to the stranger,” she says.
With beer on her breath, she opened the door to be charitable. She didn’t instantly recognize the man.
“Theresa, it’s Larry.”
“Well c’mon in. You want a beer?”
After nearly five decades, two marriages for him and one for her, after a lifetime of regrets and what-ifs and second-guesses, finally, the timing was right.
They began seeing each other a couple times a month when Rockett, then living in Farmington, would come to Durango to check on his rental properties. They played Kings on the Corners, listened to Neil Diamond – it was just as good as the old days.
“They’re so happy together,” Dossey says. “They’re just like they were when they were 16.”
Says Rockett, “We were just talking the other day: We haven’t had so much fun and laughed so much in our lives like we have the last year.”
There’s that nagging regret: Why didn’t we do this 50 years ago? What happened to us?
“Yes, there’s a lot of that,” Lowry says. “I just want to be thankful for the time we have left.”
When they told the kids (two each), grandkids (seven total) and friends they were getting married, everyone was supportive – some to the point of tears. The marriage is Tuesday at St. Columba Church.
“We’re picking up where we left off,” Rockett says.
Concludes Lowry, “It feels like it never ended.”
email@example.com. John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column.