Last May, my friend Sam Ion pledged “I do” under a flower-strewn gazebo at Sandals Whitehouse Resort in Jamaica. The twist in this love story is that Sam married her first husband, Tom Ion — for the second time. Both are now 65 years young. Tom vowed to “love, honour and obey … again, as long as you clean up your newspapers.”
Sam, in a stunning cream chiffon gown, replied, “I loved you when we were kids. We had a lot of fun and two lovely children. I loved you then and I love you now.” The reverend Oswald Hall pronounced them husband and wife, the groom gave his bride a lusty smooch, she kicked off her pearly sandals and they strolled along the beach to the applause of the bikini-clad sunbathers.
The wedding party, consisting of Sam, Tom, their daughter Jayne Ion, her husband Nick Lockwood and bridesmaids Joan Haines and yours truly headed to a secluded garden where we toasted the newlyweds with champagne while the couple waltzed under another gazebo to Tony Bennett’s rendition of “I Left my Heart in San Francisco.”
All these romantic bells and whistles are a far cry from their first nuptials on Jan. 19, 1962, 48 years ago. It was “love at first sight,” recalls Tom about their first meeting in Grade 10 math class at Hamilton’s Westdale High School. Her real name is Alyce-Jean Salmon, but Tom nicknamed her Sam, and the moniker stuck. They dated from Grades 10 to 12 and then, to use the parlance of the ’60s, Sam got “knocked up.”
Deciding to keep the baby, they announced to their parents that they were getting married. The wedding was a glum affair attended only by immediate family on a frigid Friday night.
“No friends were allowed because we’d sinned,” shrugs Sam. The wedding pictures reveal a fragile 90-pound bride wearing a wan smile and a pink chiffon dress.
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, what have I done,’ ” she says. “There’s a big road out there, and this is a hell of a detour. Tom remembers the wedding as being ‘almost surreal.’”
Tom’s dad lent them the family car so they could spend the weekend at a lakeside hotel. It was the first time they’d gone out for dinner and spent the entire night together. But Sam was depressed and suffering from morning sickness. To this day, she can’t look a fried egg in the face. On Sunday, they drove to Niagara Falls, then returned home to Sam’s bedroom. The honeymoon was over.
Shortly after, they rented a dingy one-bedroom apartment. Tom sold encyclopedias by night and worked in a hardware store by day. Sam, who grew up in South America in a household complete with servants, turned out to be no Martha Stewart. Tom remembers her stashing dirty dishes in the oven.
Six months after the wedding, son Russ was born, followed, five years later, by daughter Jayne. Tom eventually landed a job with the Hamilton Harbour Police. Over the years, the couple moved to larger digs and took in university boarders. At one point, they had 12 students, two kids and two dogs to feed.
“We lived at the Dominion store,” remembers Tom. Although the gregarious Ions seemed to thrive on the constant house party atmosphere, there was precious little time to devote to their relationship or romance as there was “always somebody in the room next door.”
By the mid-’70s, Sam decided she wanted to become a writer. She got her first stint as an advice columnist for working women at the Toronto Star.
“At that point, we started to have separate interests,” says Sam. “Tom was still hanging out with his macho buddies at the Harbour Police, and I was becoming involved in women’s issues and hanging out at the Toronto Press Club. Tom was afraid that I’d outgrown him and, at that point, I had. Basically, Tom was happy in his box and I had all this pent-up desire to explore the world, so I decided to leave the relationship in 1981. And Tom, being Tom, actually helped me pack.”
“I regret now that I didn’t offer a lot of resistance,” admits Tom. “But I figured she’d made up her mind. It was probably the saddest time of my life.”
But life goes on. Tom remarried — twice. Sam married Cam Norton, then travel editor at the Toronto Sun.
Throughout all this time, Tom and Sam remained friends. In fact, Tom became an investment counsellor, and Cam and Sam hired him to handle their financial affairs.
In 2006 Sam and Cam were traveling to Australia, where both Russ and Jayne lived — Russ had married Jayne’s friend Deanne, an Australian girl, and all three had ended up down under. However, tragedy struck as they raced through the Vancouver Airport and Cam suffered a fatal heart attack.
Sam and all of us who knew Cam were devastated. Tom, who has counselled many widows in his work, seemed to know instinctively how to comfort and advise Sam. A grief counsellor also helped her deal with what she admits was a longtime inferiority complex about lack of education, all stemming back to the “pregnant-at-18” stigma.
Romantic sparks started to fly when Jayne, a website designer in Sydney, won a scholarship to the Mac World Expo in San Francisco. Elated, both parents decided to fly down to celebrate the occasion. “I reckon I hadn’t spent time alone with both my parents since I was 13,” says Jayne in her slight Aussie drawl. San Fran cast its magical spell, and the three spent a happy week sightseeing and reconnecting — especially Mom and Dad but on a “strictly platonic” level.
Coffee and cookies at Sam’s kitchen table moved to candlelight and wine in the upstairs bedroom. “We’ve always had a great sex life,” winks Sam. Tom concurs.
“I discovered that he had matured from macho policeman into sensitive guy.
For the first time in our lives, we discussed our true feelings,” Sam says. The relationship with Sam made Tom realize how unhappy he was in his third marriage.
“When I told my wife I was leaving, she was shattered,” recalls Tom. “She didn’t see it coming, whereas I had known things between us weren’t right for a number of years. It wasn’t ugly, but it was sad and teary.”
When Sam went to Australia in 2007, Jayne noticed her mom had “become quite girly.”
“She was looking like quite the babe and had this new interest in her appearance,” Jayne recalls. On the last day of the visit, Sam plucked up enough nerve to announce, “Your father and I have fallen in love again.”
Back in Hamilton, Sam and Tom began talking seriously about getting back together. “After five months, I wasn’t prepared to be my first husband’s girlfriend any longer. We knew how horrible it would be for both the kids and us if we couldn’t make it work. But we felt so strongly about each other, we were determined to make a life-long commitment,” says Sam. “We vowed to discuss any problems and not let them simmer.
The lovebirds also acknowledge that nurturing their healthy relationship requires constant work and that there are times, when the rest of the world intrudes, that they must give priority to their privacy and quality time together — a lesson learned from their first marriage.
“We’ve both changed and grown up but we’ve always had so much in common,” reflects Sam. “We love renovating, dogs, travel and foraging at garage sales. We’ve come to realize that we truly are soulmates.”
The marriage proposal came when “second-hand Sam,” who loves to shop in thrift stores, spotted a simple gold band in a local pawnshop. When she and Tom went to pick it up, he asked, “So, do we need balloons, white doves, me down on my knees?” Instead, they celebrated with burgers at Wendy’s and phoned Jayne and Russ with the news.
And that’s how we ended up at Sandals, where the couple decided to make up for their first no-frills shotgun wedding almost 50 years ago. This time, they’ve pulled out all the stops, including his-and-her massages at the spa, torch-lit dinners on the beach and champagne breakfasts in bed.
“I saw this as a chance to have the romantic wedding we never had before,” says the glowing groom. “My life is back to where it should have been all along.” Sam gives him an affectionate “ah-shucks” hug.
It couldn’t happen to a nicer couple.
A version of this article appeared in the March 2010 issue with the headline,” I Do. Again.”, p. 74-77.