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"Good evening, Commander," the maitre d' greets Edward Gamble, who sits ramrod straight in his chair, nattily attired in a bola tie and blue blazer. "And happy birthday to you, sir."
Actually, Gamble's birthday isn't until a few days later, Tuesday, November 30, but he's going to celebrate tonight. And who could blame him?
Born in 1899, the retired Navy commander just turned 100. If he makes it until the first of next year -- and he's doing fine, all things considered -- Gamble will have lived in three different centuries.
Deaf and almost legally blind, he seems at first blush to be out of touch, but his mind remains stunningly keen -- and his thoughts even a bit nasty at times.
"You might be able to see my wife better than me," he tells a guest, "but I can feel her, and you can't."
New Times told the Gambles' story earlier this year ("Olden Opportunity," March 4, 1999), which marked the first time they had spoken publicly about their controversial courtship -- she was 38, he was 99 -- and marriage. The story noted that the union appeared to be a marriage of convenience; Gamble needs someone to take care of him, and DeJongh needs someplace to live.
The story came on the heels of an Arizona Republic piece titled "Love or Money? Couple's Wedding Raises Eyebrows," which described how a Peoria justice of the peace had refused to marry the pair. Instead, he had phoned Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley about the possibility of elder abuse by DeJongh, who had met Gamble while working as a caregiver.
The lovebirds then drove to Glendale Justice Court. There, Judge Quentin Tolby performed the ceremony after concluding that "Mr. Eddie" may be old, but knows as much as the next guy about what he's doing about affairs of the heart.
Romley's people checked things out, and determined that all seemed copacetic. One reason is that DeJongh can't just take hubby's money and run, even if she wanted to. The assets -- about $900,000 at last count -- are being managed by a third party, and will continue to be after Gamble dies.
The couple's relationship seems much the same now as it did in February. DeJongh treats her husband with respect, but also like a harmlessly naughty child. He relies on her for just about everything, including her constant emotional support.
Maybe that's why she seems more shopworn than her ancient mate.
At last week's party, the two eat their dinner (Gamble eats like a ravished teen), after which Lakes Club entertainer Bobby Freeman announces the 100th birthday over the public-address system. The other diners applaud loudly, which Gamble seems to recognize.
He and his wife toast each other with champagne: "The real stuff," Gamble says, smiling.
Two female admirers, both of them senior citizens, sidle up to the table to congratulate Gamble.
"You're quite a man, Commander," one of them tells him.
That, he hears.
She turns to DeJongh.
"You're a lucky lady."
"Thank you," DeJongh replies. "I think I am."
Contact Paul Rubin at his online address: email@example.com