She was content to be alone, he was looking to fill the emptiness.
After 62 years apart, Cynthia Riggs and Howard Attebery now live happily and very much in love in West Tisbury. On May 25, Ms. Riggs and Dr. Attebery celebrated their one year anniversary as husband and wife.
“The word that comes to my mind is timeless,” Dr. Attebery said while sitting in the backyard of the couple’s home. “I can’t believe it’s been one year.”
Next month they’ll head down the Mississippi River on a paddleboat cruise for their honeymoon.
The couple met during the summer of 1950 while working at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, sorting and counting plankton at the San Diego laboratory. She was 18, he was 28. Their friendship grew over the course of the summer when they exchanged coded messages and notes. Ms. Riggs returned to Antioch College in Ohio that fall and the two fell out of touch. They reconnected over 60 years later in 2012, at first through an anonymous coded letter sent by Dr. Attebery that when translated read, “I have never stopped loving you.”
What followed was months of daily correspondence and eventual courtship. Ms. Riggs flew out to visit Dr. Attebery at the end of the summer of 2012. The two were engaged within 24 hours.
Ms. Riggs is turning 83 this week and Dr. Attebery is 92.
“One of the things we both understand is obviously we have a limited amount of time, so we’re not going to waste time worrying about the little stuff,” Ms. Riggs said. “Who cares if the toothpaste is in the sink, that just isn’t important.”
The story of Dr. Attebery’s and Ms. Riggs’s courtship first came to light two summers ago at a storytelling performance at Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs for the Moth Radio Hour. The story gained national attention and even an offer for a television movie. The two became a symbol for never giving up on love, no matter the age.
For their one year anniversary, Ms. Riggs put together a picture booklet of their past year together. Dr. Attebery gave his wife a kite and they flew it together in the backyard.
A native of California, this was Dr. Attebery’s first real winter.
“It was a little hard to get used to — the winter underwear, the skull cap, it has to be learned,” he said.
A typical day in the Riggs/Attebery household included trips to Cronig’s Market, the post office and a walk outside.
“We’re exploring places I’ve never been to,” Ms. Riggs said. Some trails have become habitual, too. “Since Polly Hill didn’t have enough benches for us to sit down when we wanted to, we gave them a bench.”
“We always had a candlelight dinner by the fireplace,” Dr. Attebery said.
In the spring they added some chickens and goats to their backyard.
“We really enjoy the chickens, they’re part of the family now and they know it,” Dr. Attebery said as Ms. Riggs invited a chicken onto her lap.
“Before we got married one of Howie’s guy friends said to him, make sure you don’t get her pregnant,” Ms. Riggs said, laughing. “So we’re calling the chickens and guinea hens our babies.”
This summer, in addition to the trip down the Mississippi, the two will continue to run Ms. Rigg’s bed and breakfast out of their home at the Cleveland House. Dr. Attebery helps set up in the morning and makes coffee for inn guests.
“She gives me chores I can handle,” he said.
And the two are writing a book together about their late-in-life relationship.
“When Howie first contacted me and we started corresponding, we were emailing two or three times a day,” Ms. Riggs said. “We both kept it all, so we just put it together.”
The book includes an anecdote neither shared with anyone for 60 years. While they were working together at Scripps, the two took a camping trip up the coast.
“We took this little camping trip together that I never told anyone about,” Ms. Riggs said.
“We went up the coast to Sequoia and Yosemite, and we saw one of the relatives to make it legal,” Dr. Attebery added.
“And one night we slept in this orange grove,” Ms. Riggs said. They slept in separate sleeping bags, of course, “because this was 1950.”
“Under the perfume of the orange in blossom,” Dr. Attebery continued. “But then we didn’t know they irrigated it at two in the morning.”
Over the past year, Dr. Attebery has learned that Ms. Riggs snores and she has learned of his keen interest in snowy owls. And both are surpassing each others’ expectations.
“I had such a tough marriage before, I was really expecting somebody who even though he seemed really nice in his letters, I was expecting there’d be some rough spots,” Ms. Riggs said. “But there haven’t been. It’s not at all what I expected. He goes along with everything I say, which I’m not used to.”
Dr. Attebery said he was expecting “good times” and a “peaceful life.”
“My second wife died of cancer, and there was quite a period that I was alone. I was lonesome,” he said. “She’s filled up that loneliness. It’s gone.”