Steve and Christine Conradi couldn’t find pictures from their 1972 wedding when I stopped by their house last week. They do have the fancy figures of a bride and groom that topped their cake.
Looking like a Barbie doll, the bride wears a full-skirted gown and lacy veil. In a black tuxedo, the groom stands straight as a soldier at attention.
The Conradis have another cake topper. These ceramic figures, posed in the embrace of a dance, are a bit taller and less formal than the dressy pair. They’re newer, too.
The Everett couple was married, for the second time, on June 28. They are 57, middle-aged and then some. They don’t much resemble either cake-topping image of idealized love.
Theirs is a love story, though. It’s also a hard-life example of resilience and the enduring bonds of family.
“We believe in happy endings,” said Steve Conradi, who stays home as a full-time caregiver for their adult children. Their 32-year-old son, Jeremy, is autistic. His older sister Shannon, 34, suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident when she was 19.
“It’s been a long road,” said Steve Conradi, adding that Shannon is on track to graduate soon from Lake Washington Technical College in Kirkland. He said she already has a line on a job in her field, computer-aided drafting and design.
“She recovered way past what doctors anticipated,” he said. “With her determination, she’s a major success story.”
It was Shannon Conradi’s life-threatening accident in 1994 that drew her parents back together after their 1991 divorce.
“We had grown apart. As people change, their interests and priorities change,” said Chris Conradi, a waitress at Everett’s Totem Family Dining restaurant.
They didn’t share personal details of why they divorced in 1991, and I didn’t ask. During that time, Chris Conradi lived in Mukilteo while her ex-husband stayed with the children in their home near downtown Everett. She saw the family several times a week.
When the call came that their teenage daughter was unconscious and clinging to life at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, Shannon’s dire needs outweighed all that had torn them apart.
“We put aside our grievances at that moment and came back together,” said Chris Conradi. She moved back in with her family in 1994. As they dealt with new hardships, the romance of a second wedding was still years away.
They ignored recommendations that Shannon be placed in a care facility. At first, it meant tube feeding and tending to all her needs. “Both of our children have disabilities. A lot of families would have blown apart,” Steve Conradi said.
Through the years, Shannon Conradi progressed and her brother grew to manhood. Chris said that from the time she moved home, she knew it was right. During the 14 years they were together but unmarried, she wore what she called a “maybe someday” ring. They’d often banter about tying the knot again.
Whether it’s age, kindness or that crazy thing called love, Chris Conradi said things that used to irritate her about Steve no longer bother her at all. She likes to watch football, but he can’t stand it.
“Neither one of us has changed; we’ve only changed the way we look at each other,” she said. “We’re very much at peace.”
They knew from the day they met that there was something special between them.
It was spring of 1972 and they were 21 the night Steve and his buddies came into the Sambo’s restaurant where Chris worked on Highway 99 north of Seattle. “I was worried about them,” she said. “I made sure they were sober before they left.”
Steve Conradi was back in the car with his roommate, ready to leave, when he decided to return to the restaurant to ask the pretty waitress for her phone number. Soon after, they were dating. They remember carving their initials on a tree at Seattle’s Carkeek Park. They were married in a church on Dec. 15, 1972.
Last Easter, Chris knew something was up when her husband asked her out to dinner at The Keg. After his 1972 marriage proposal in the Northgate mall parking lot, Steve decided to do it right. When he pulled out a new ring, “I just about died,” Chris said.
Their son Jeremy made a handsome best man at their wedding last June at Advent Lutheran Church in Mill Creek. They danced to the Righteous Brothers, “Unchained Melody.”
So what if they didn’t look like those perfect people on top of a cake?
“I think a lot of young ones have a white picket-fence notion of life. Marriage isn’t disposable,” Steve Conradi said.
His wife of 19 years, and now of one year, agreed.
“Marriage is something developed over years and years,” Chris Conradi said. “That bond never broke.”
Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or email@example.com.