1. Life & Culture

After nine trips down the aisle, Pasco couple still believes in love

Barbara Grimes peers over at her husband who has just cracked another joke from the comfort of his easy chair.

"If this one goes,'' she says, "I'll swear off men.''

Suddenly, Jim Grimes gets serious.

"I hope I do go before you,'' he says, "because I couldn't live without you.''

At 81, they remain playful and attentive and mindful of all they have in common, which is substantial. They smile when a visitor to their home in San Antonio suggests they would make a dandy Valentine's Day story because despite all they have lost, they have never given up on love.

Their path together started 14 years ago in one of those dark hours. Jim had paid his respects to Barbara's husband, Cal Winters, during his final days in hospice care. A few months later, the same hospice team cared for Jim's wife, Mary, and Barbara held her hand.

Then one day as Jim, lost and sad, tried to sort through possessions of a 10-year partnership, Barbara came over to help clean his house. She emptied the refrigerator.

"You like calf's liver?'' he asked. She cooked it for dinner. They had known each other from a distance, members of an Airstream travel club, but now they learned details that sounded awfully familiar. Jim had been married four times, losing his last two wives to illness. Barbara had been married three times and buried the last two.

Barbara was 4 when she lost her mother to tuberculosis. Jim was 8 when a coal mine explosion claimed his father.

They both eloped as teenagers in 1950. Both divorced.

They both had three children, though Jim lost Leilani to a drowning accident during his first marriage. Even today as he complains of fading memory, he recalls exactly how old she was when she fell in the river at Fort Bragg, N.C., while he was in the hospital with a parachuting injury: "4 years, 6 months, 1 day. You never forget something like that.''

Jim spent 23 years in the Army, serving during wartime in Korea and Vietnam and retiring as a sergeant major. Barbara worked as a secretary in internal medicine at the Naval hospital in Jacksonville. DuWayne "Tommy'' Thompson, her husband from 1978-90, was a sailor aboard the USS Vestal, a maintenance ship moored alongside the battleship USS Arizona when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Until his death from heart disease, he and Barbara seldom missed a reunion of the Vestal survivors.

The more Barbara and Jim shared their experiences, the more they realized how much they had in common. They married on Jan. 16, 2000, in a small chapel in St. Augustine. But while history had brought them close, they weren't about to dwell on it. They shared other passions, namely travel, having spent years attending and organizing Airstream rallies around the country. They built a new home in San Antonio, adding a garage large enough to store their 37-foot silver beauty.

They didn't confine their travels to this country. In their utility room, they put up a world map and started sticking pins everywhere they visited. The pins have taken over. Jim proudly counts all seven continents and 100 countries.

When home, they devote time to public service. Jim served as post commander at the Dade City American Legion and as a driving instructor for seniors. They both accepted governor appointments as nursing home ombudsmen and for years have volunteered as parking enforcement agents for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

"They're amazing people,'' offered Sheriff Chris Nocco.

This week they are among 250 other Airstreamers attending the state rally in Sarasota. It's a tune-up to the big national rally this summer in South Dakota. Barbara does all the driving. "It's an art,'' she says.

They are fortunate to travel. Five years ago, Jim suffered a near fatal motorcycle accident that left him in hospitals and a rehab center for nine months. Surgeons removed 3 inches of bone from his right leg and he must now wear a built-up boot. "Otherwise,'' he said, "I'd still be riding. I've always had a motorcycle.''

The incident made him consider his mortality. He wrote his own obituary, proudly noting his travels and military service. He wrote of his "wonderful life and infectious good humor'' and closed with this: "He is survived by his loving wife Barbara.''