A morning with George and Joan

By Lisa Britton March 03, 2010 01:18 pm
These 79-year-olds stay busy with exercise, church activities and the occasional candy-making

George and Joan Wilder, both 79, will celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary in July. These two first met 30 years ago while working at the Extension Office, and reconnected after their spouses passed away. (S. John Collins/Baker City Herald)
The door swings open, welcoming visitors to the home of George and Joan Wilder.

But peek inside and neither is in sight.

Then George bustles through on his way to the kitchen, where the counter is covered with bags of marshmallows and nuts, and several bowls of melted chocolate.

Yum.

On this day, George is going to demonstrate his candy-making talents — but first comes the mid-morning snack as required by the low-carb diet he and Joan started two weeks ago. (They both already exercised.)

The candy, made for the purpose of this demonstration, will leave with his visitors, he says with a grin.

Welcome to “A Morning with George and Joan.”

Take off your coat and stay a while — here’s your two slices of apple and an ounce of cheddar cheese.

But first he wants you to notice that plate with a slice of cheese surrounded by tiny mice made from a chocolate-dipped maraschino cherry and a Hershey’s Kiss.

“I want to get the cheese before the mice do,” he says with a wink.

And back to that diet: George has designed a “Diet Record Book” where people can keep track of the calories they consume — a trick of many weight loss plans.

That record book is available at Betty’s Books.

But it’s not the only volume he’s ever published.

He’s finished book No. 10 to round out his collection that includes a couple history accounts and two books of the poetry he’s penned.

One is titled “Poems for a Reason,” and all the verses are inspired by the ones he loves.

“I just like it,” he says of his poetry.

Has he written one for his wife?

He grins and grabs the book, then starts reciting.

George and Joan will celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary on July 17, but they’ve been friends for much longer.

Both turn 80 this year.

“We worked together 30 years ago,” Joan says.

They were both married — she to Ralph and he to Emily.

George was the weed supervisor for the county, and his office was at the Extension Service, where Joan was the secretary for 32 years.

He moved to La Grande in 1983, then to Pendleton in 1987. He was an insurance adjuster from 1989 until retiring in 2004.

He hadn’t seen Joan since moving from Baker City, but about a year after Emily died he decided to reconnect.

At that time, Joan had been a widow for five years.

“I called her and asked her to coffee,” he says.

They still have momentos from their long-ago friendship — a book of recipes she’d typed up and an apron she made for his class on making candy.

Joan is quite the seamstress, and these days her specialties are table runners and matching fabric bowls made in patterns for different holidays and seasons.

“Working at the Extension Office I took all the sewing classes,” she says.

Her efforts are given away as gifts to family.

“Pert near every one of them has several table runners,” she says.

Throughout the conversation, George is busy in the kitchen making goodies.

In his candy recipe book, he states: “I’m a chocolate lover and learned when I first married, many years ago, if you want candy like your mother made, make it yourself.”

And so he did, and still does for special occasions and gifts.

But these morsels he’s making are easy enough for a last-minute treat.

His first tip for success is using Chocoley wafers — Belgian chocolate he orders from the East Coast.

Peanut clusters, he says, are a “10-minute candy.”

First, melt the chocolate in the microwave, pour in a bag of Spanish peanuts, stir, drop by teaspoons onto waxed paper and then stick in the freezer for 10 minutes.

Of course, melted chocolate has all sorts of possiblities — dip in whole marshmallows (he calls them “Top Hats), or coat half of a dried apricot for a fancy treat.

“If you want people to enjoy food, go ahead and make it pretty,” he says.

In his bowl of leftover white chocolate he tosses in whole almonds to make almond bark — a confection that is so good it’s hard to eat just one little piece.

While his chocolate creations harden in the freezer, George takes a seat and sorts through his book collection.

He picks up one of cowboy poems — “Songs and Poetry of Cowboy Clint” — and his persona becomes one of the Old West as he recites lines from his favorites.

These poems were inspired from all sorts of events — he wrote “My Shaniko Prairie Maid” after seeing a woman cleaning the rest stop just south of Shaniko.

“The poem just came to me,” he says. “When I travel by myself is when I’ve written most of my poems.”

And whether he’s writing poetry, attending Bible studies or making candy, this man definitely enjoys life.

“I like being me,” he says. “You gotta be pleased with yourself or you can’t love anybody else.”