Lifetimes of love
When many are asked about first loves, memories from adolescence tend to flood in.
And of course one's first love is not necessarily their last — the one they marry.
Bonnie Viviano and Yolande Saindon prove an exception. They were fortunate enough to marry their first loves and spend more than 60 years of their long lives loving them.
"(Pete) was my first love," Bonnie said, smiling. She and her husband were married 68 years before Pete passed away. Bonnie is now 89 years young.
"We met at a dance," she recalled. "My parents used to go dancing, and they took me there. We danced right up until he got sick. We'd dance on Saturday, roller skate on Sunday at Oaks Park."
She said when she saw Pete at the grange hall on 64th Avenue and Foster Road in Southeast Portland for the first time, "My heart stopped.
"He was good looking, and he could dance," she said with a laugh. "He didn't know it then, but he was mine."
Bonnie was 14 years old when she met Pete, who was 16. He waited two years to date her, per her family's rules. Their dance was the waltz and their song was "Could I Have this Dance."
And just as in the song, the Vivianos had that dance for the rest of their lives. They married on June 15, 1947.
Viviano's something borrowed was her wedding dress, which her friend Gloria lent her.
"She was only married for 40 years," she joked. "We didn't have much money, so we had the reception in my parents' backyard. That was a good day."
Bonnie worked in a beauty shop for several years, then in retail at a drug store, then Sears on Grand Avenue in Portland. Pete worked as a garbage man.
"It took him a long time to tell me he was," she said. "He thought it would make a difference. I said 'it's a job.'"
In their 68 years together, Bonnie and Pete Viviano had three children, two daughters and one son, nine grandchildren and 22 great grandchildren.
"It's quite a family," she added. "(Pete and I) of course had arguments just like anyone else, but we always pretty much got it straightened out."
After they retired, the couple took to the open road in a motor home and spent many a day on the beach with family.
They moved to Avamere in Sandy in November of 2014. Pete suffered from dementia, and passed away in March the following year.
"He was very unhappy toward the end," Bonnie explained. "He was losing his eyesight. But we were together right until the end. He died in our apartment, surrounded by his children and grandchildren."
Pete was 91 years old.
"He was my first and only love," she said. "I just can't think of anybody else. I'll never marry again. Never forget how you fell in love when you argue. Remember the good times. We loved each other right up until the end."
Running like a clock
Yolande Saindon's story of how she met her husband, Leo, is similar to the Vivianos', but very different in location.
"I'm from a small town in Quebec. I met my husband at a dance at home," Yolande explained. "My sister invited him for me. He came and we got along good and it started our love story."
Yolande was 25 when she met Leo, and they married on May 3, 1952.
"It was a great big stone church — very beautiful," she said. "We had invited a small gathering of few friends and family, and we were dressed for summer. After the wedding, we walked outside and there was snow everywhere."
After honeymooning at Niagara Falls, Leo took a job with the railroad and the couple moved to another small town, into the only available living space: a 12-by-12 room. Reminiscing, Yolande laughed. "When we got there he starts crying and said 'Look what I did to you!'
She replied, "Nothing bad. We're going to be all right."
As it turned out, that conversation was indicative of how the rest of their 62-year-long marriage would be.
By the time they were 29 years old, the couple was expecting a baby and moving to the United States.
"He always wanted to go to California," Yolande said. "It was very stressful because I was six months pregnant and didn't speak a word of English."
Yolande learned English by taking night classes and watching "Captain Kangaroo" with her children.
Moving to a new country was only one of many trials the couple faced throughout their marriage. Leo said he was fired on several occasions for no other reason than his Catholic faith. And to make matters worse, Leo was orphaned as a child, and those who adopted him exploited his skills as a tradesman. So he's held in his heart a resentment for his childhood.
"He was always a challenge for me because of his bitterness," Yolande said. "He didn't have very fond memories of his childhood. But, we had three beautiful daughters. They all came out really good."
Though she learned English along the way — and you'd never know now she ever couldn't speak the language — Yolande was also fortunate to find French and French-Canadian friends in the states, and she quickly started new traditions with them.
"The first Christmas we were here, we were in a small apartment," Yolande recalled. "I decided to invite everyone for a midnight party like we do in Canada. I was good at cooking and I liked it."
She told a story of going to her local butcher and asking for enough chicken to feed 20 people and ending up with "enough chicken for three more parties after that.
"I came home and asked Leo to help me clean the chicken," she said with a laugh. "He said 'You bought the chicken, you clean it.'"
Needless to say, the party was still a huge success, and Yolande became a regular hostess.
Besides their three children, the Saindons were also gifted with eight grandchildren. In their retirement, the Saindons made it a point to visit their family regularly via a motor home. Leo's interest in trains also resurfaced, and building model trains became a passion that took them all over the country.
"It was a real happy time," Yolande said. "They always said his engines run like a clock!"
They moved to Avamere in Sandy in November 2014. By April 2015, Leo was gone. In his final years, he suffered from Alzheimer's disease, cancer and chronic back pain.
"I admire him the way he fought and always got better at his job," Yolande explained. "He was really clever. He could work with precision in a very special way."
When asked what her secret for a long and happy marriage was, Yolande said, "Be able to forgive and love each other."
"He was a very good man," she said. "He was not overly religious, but he had principles and, to him, marriage was for life. We had such a good time. For bad or good, we'd stay together."