Joe & Bella Meet Paul & Judy
Written by Peter Zollo, Joe & Bella cofounder.
You never know who you’re going to run into during a hike and how a chance encounter can leave such a lasting impression.
My wife Debbie and I were beginning along a beautiful trail in the foothills of the Rincon Mountains that border Tucson, Arizona’s east side. When we passed through a wonderful wheelchair-accessible section, we noticed an older couple -- she sat on a wheelchair, and he stood next to her. We could hear their laughter echo down the mountain path. When we got closer, Debbie whispered to me, “That is one exquisite woman!” We slowed down and heard her laughing with the gentleman. We just had to meet this couple who exuded such grace and energy.
We introduced ourselves to Paul and Judy. They felt like old friends as they graciously welcomed us into their conversation. After a few minutes, I explained a bit about Joe & Bella -- including how we’re always looking for new folks and new stories to write about. They loved the idea and had me write down our web address and my email. I asked if we could take a photo of the two of them, and that’s when we found out -- to our surprise -- that they were not a couple and had met just minutes before.
Judy’s daughter, who’s also in a wheelchair, had gone ahead down the trail with a friend to do some birding while Judy took in the mountain air and contentedly waited behind. Paul arrived soon after, having completed his four-mile morning hike. We learned that Paul is 88 and Judy is 86. They both lost their spouse over the past few years and were happy to talk.
The conversation quickly came to the subject of age. Paul shared, “I think the 80s are just great!” Judy enthusiastically agreed, adding that “being wiser” makes one appreciate life even more. We’ve all heard the expression that with age comes wisdom, and these two not only model that, but they also heartily own it.
Paul lives most of the year in New Jersey and has been coming to Tucson every winter for 23 years. He shared that 10 years ago, he lost his wife of 55 years. I asked him how he thinks he’s managed to be so healthy and productive at his age. He told me: “I feel this outdoor life (along with good genes) is what’s keeping me going.” The Pink Hill Trail, which he hikes often, is especially meaningful to him. It was the first trail he and his wife hiked together -- as well as their last. “I’ve scattered some of my wife’s ashes on Pink Hill and some of her other favorite places out there.”
Judy told us that her husband “was a gift” to her, and that “when I got upset with him, I’d remind myself that he was a gift.” She then told Debbie, pointing at me, “and remember that when you get mad at him, he, too, is a gift.” (I’m hoping Debbie doesn’t forget that wise advice!)
Of course, I laughed, and Debbie agreed (she certainly could relate to the “when you get mad at him” part). Paul and Judy -- so simply and with so few words -- exuded warmth, kindness, and humor. Though they both spoke about the loss they felt by the absence of their spouse in their life, they expressed such gratitude for the years they each had as a couple.
They were eager to talk about the joy of being older. Judy said she’s happy with life despite the loss of her husband, appreciating that she now lives in a multigenerational household with her “doctor daughter” and her grandchild. She wrote down her phone number and address for us, welcoming all of us to stop by for a visit at any time, but warning us she doesn’t email -- she prefers texting! (For someone who studies generations, I found Judy’s messaging preference much more Millennial or even Gen Z than her own cohort, the “Silents”!)
As soon as we returned from our hike, I was greeted by an email from Paul, sharing a quote he half-remembered during our conversation from Dick Van Dyke, who -- as Paul pointed out -- is “eight years my senior at age 96”: Appropriately, the quote was about aging, with Mr. Van Dyke advising: “Keep moving. And don’t act your age. You don’t even have to feel it.”
So, I emailed Paul the photos Debbie took during our mountainside meeting, while Debbie texted them to Judy. Paul quickly responded, asking if we could forward him Judy’s phone number, because “I might like to call her sometime and possibly make a date to get together. I have her address, but don't want to just drop in on her.” Ever the gentleman.
With Judy’s permission, we emailed her number right away to Paul, who responded, “Thank you. Perhaps I can bring a little more joy into her life.”