Originally created 02/14/98

Art of love



AIKEN - When Harrie Carpenter and Marie Henning applied for a marriage license at the Aiken County Clerk of Court's Office, Ms. Henning didn't have a Social Security card. She had lost it.

Instead, she presented the window clerk with her Medicare card. And for the fun of it, Mr. Carpenter did, too.

The duo, both 78, have been engaged since Thanksgiving and plan to tie the knot on Valentine's Day weekend.

Mr. Carpenter and Ms. Henning will be married at 4 p.m. Sunday before about 80 friends and relatives after an eight-month courtship.

"(The best man) will probably turn the whole thing around and say during the toast that when the lady took one look at us, she automatically asked for our Medicare cards," Mr. Carpenter kidded.

Happiest of all are Ms. Henning's three children.

"These are two people who truly know how to make the most out of life, and we need to take pause and look at the exuberance they show for all of us," said Susan Neilson, the middle child who lives in Connecticut. "We never expected this to happen, but we're really glad it did."

The couple met 10 years ago during an introductory painting class at the University of South Carolina at Aiken. Until June, the relationship was strictly casual. They would exchange courtesy nods in the classroom, or wave hello if they passed on morning walks through their Houndslake subdivision. Their houses are less than a mile apart.

"It wasn't an electric spark at all," Mr. Carpenter said of their first encounter. "It was just a nodding acquaintance. We were classmates."

Most Mondays and Wednesdays find the widowed couple still enrolled in an advanced painting class. Only now their easels are an arm's length apart. And with a wedding to plan, they've been playing hooky more often than before.

Between them, Mr. Carpenter and Ms. Henning have 96 years of marital experience under their caps. And neither finds it the least bit strange to be tying the knot after nearly 50 years each of previous wedded bliss.

"It's downright comforting," said Mr. Carpenter, who has no children. "We don't know how long we'll be married, so we're just trying to make every hour count, and so far we're having a wonderful time."

"And I just can't wait to be Mrs. Harrie Carpenter," said Ms. Henning, a mother of three and grandmother of five.

It was June, after a day of golf, that he asked Ms. Henning to dinner. They went to No. 10 Downing Street and delighted in sea bass dipped in a special sauce.

"Since then we've had many wonderful dinners," Ms. Henning said, gleaming.

Mr. Carpenter had to pop the question twice before she agreed to marry him, though.

"The first time she said she had a lot to think about," Mr. Carpenter said."The second time she said, `Maybe we can set a date."'

And because Valentine's Day is fraught with love, romance and happiness, Ms. Henning circled Sunday on her calendar and drew a big heart right through it.

For weeks now, the decorated World War II veteran hasn't slept in his bed. He's waiting for his wife-to-be to join him there. Tonight will be his last in the guest room.

Unless he has some important business to take care of, Mr. Carpenter doesn't dare step foot in the uncluttered master bedroom. The bedspread is unwrinkled, trinkets are placed just so on the dresser, and two teddy bears are perched atop each bed pillow.

"I'm just waiting for Marie and I to be married before I spend the night in here again."