Though Larry Cooker, 54, and Debbie Pray, 50, felt a connection when they dated 30 years ago, they ended up marrying other people. But after rekindling their romance in 2010, the couple wed -- in their kayaks -- on Connecticut’s Mystic River on July 3, Stonington Patch reported. They shared their story with HuffPost Weddings.
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Debbie: I was 19, having a drink with my friend at a place called Chuck’s, when I spotted this handsome guy standing with his buddy. I started up a conversation with him and knew right away he was “the one” by his personality, his charm -- and, damn, he looked good.
Larry: Debbie’s eyes mesmerized me. Because of her dark hair, dark eyes and nice tan, she looked like she may have been Italian, so I took her to an Italian restaurant called The Gondolier, which is now closed. Turns out that Deb is actually Portuguese. We went out a few more times and we definitely enjoyed being with each other, but neither one of us was ready to settle down. I don’t know how else to explain it -- timing just wasn’t on our side.
Debbie: We still question why things didn’t work out, but we were kids! We never clearly expressed our feelings. Even though we both married other people, I can’t say I wasn’t thinking about Larry over the years. I stayed with my first husband for 19 years even though he was a very big drinker. I was raised to stay in a marriage, happy or not.
Larry: Then, almost two years ago, I ran into a family member who told me that Debbie was divorced. I was also divorced, so I called her up. As I dialed her number, I debated if I should hang up -- I didn’t know if she'd want to take a chance with me again. I just tried to concentrate on not saying anything ridiculous. Fortunately she agreed to go see “Avatar” with me. It was the first date I’d been on in over 23 years.
Debbie: When I saw Larry that night, my heart skipped a beat just like the first time I saw him. We talked like we were never apart.
Larry: Obviously we're both a little older now, but Deb looked the same to me -- she looked great! Our first kiss that night was both awkward and exciting, a small kiss that left me wanting another.
Debbie: From that date, we’ve pretty much been inseparable. But we had to be sure our relationship was going to work because we each have kids -- Larry has a son and I have four boys. My youngest son was 15 when I met Larry, and he still lives with me. I never in nine years of being divorced brought anyone home -- ever. The first time Larry met two of my kids, my son said, "Mom, you can tell he loves you by the way he looks at you and rubs your back." Larry moved in with me in October, about eight months after we were reunited. We feel like we’ve been together forever.
Larry: In a good way! Deb has a positive outlook on everything -- she would do anything to help her friends, her family and me. She had her 22-year-old son come live at her house after he got his wisdom teeth out so she could take care of him. I actually came home from work one day and she’d surprised me by cutting the lawn, which I usually do. One time, we built a custom shower-curtain rod together -- I showed her how to solder.
Debbie: He is just so fun to be with. One day, we were watering plants and all of a sudden a stream of water hit me from over the house -- Larry had a hose in the front and was spraying me. I waited a minute, then quietly came around the corner with my hose and it was war!
He makes me feel so loved. When I was diagnosed with celiac disease, Larry said, “We are both in this together.” We are now gluten-, sugar- and dairy-free -- and we’ve each lost 40 pounds. And he always opens the car door for me, and I always return the favor with a kiss.
Larry: Even though we never talked about marriage, I thought getting married was just the right thing to do. I missed an opportunity to have a life with Deb a long time ago, and I didn’t want to let another pass. I wanted her to know that I would be here for her for the rest of our lives.
Debbie:: Because I had such a nonfunctional marriage the first time, I always said I’d never do it again.
Larry: I proposed in December. Deb was sitting on our couch and I had her ring in my pocket. I sat next to her and said that I had to ask her a question.
Debbie: He asked me if I loved him, and I said, “Of course, I love you.” And he said, “Do you love me enough to marry me?” At first I was like, “Huh?” Then I realized he was serious. I was shocked. I started crying I was so happy.
Larry: Deb suggested we elope, but I knew that our families would be upset if we didn’t allow them to share in our wedding -- and that's not a great way to start a marriage! So I thought we could have something small.
Debbie: We picked up kayaking after we rekindled our relationship, so Larry suggested we get married on Mystic River, in our kayaks, which we had bought months ago as gifts to each other.
Larry: Debbie was raised in Stonington, which is on the east side of the Mystic, and I was raised in Groton, which is on the west side. Mystic River is in between both the towns, so it was a no-brainer!
We picked the night of July 3 when there would be a full moon and high tide. It ended up being beautiful -- even the water was warm. We decorated the kayaks with little snap-and-glow lights and red, white and blue LED strings. There were about 25 kayaks, some of them tandem, so there must have been at least 30 guests -- friends and family -- on the river with us. Another 30 people watched from the dock -- they had come to see a concert in the park along the river and they joined our celebration. Friends of Debbie’s sons said it was most fun wedding they’ve ever been to.
Debbie: The guy who runs the park said that our wedding was the best thing that ever happened on Mystic River. My first wedding was "normal," with a white dress and bridesmaids, so it felt amazing to buck tradition. And getting married under the moonlight was very romantic.
When we said our vows near the dock, I couldn’t believe that it was actually happening. While I don't think marrying my ex was a mistake, because I wouldn’t have had my boys, I always knew I wanted to be with Larry.
Larry: My first wedding I had some reservations about getting married. This time I had no hesitation. I was excited, not nervous, and honored to say my vows to Deb. I love her dearly. It took a lot of time and waiting, but now I can look forward growing old together.
Click through the slideshow below to see photos from the couple’s Fourth of July-themed river wedding as well as some snapshots of them from 30 years ago when they first met.
Crooker, Pray and their children lined up in their kayaks.
The wedding procession down the Mystic River
Pray and Crooker saying their vows (Crooker's best friend from high school, Mike Marquette, officiated their ceremony)
Guests lit sparklers on the dock post-ceremony
Pray and Crooker sharing a kiss in their kayaks
The couple's wedding cake
Pray and Crooker after their ceremony
Crooker, right, with childhood friend Marquette, taken around the time he met Pray 30 years ago
An image of Pray around the time she met Crooker
A group photo taken at Camp Wightman, which the couple attended the camp as children (they didn't actually meet until a few years later)
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