Aquebogue resident Gloria Keller was 14 years old when she met her husband, Bob -- and 67 years later, their love story is a valentine deeply etched onto their hearts.
"I met him it in a shoe store," she said. "I was with my girlfrriend and I just absolutely flipped. I went home and told my mother, 'I just met the boy I'm going to marry.'"
The couple wed when Gloria was 18 and he was 20 -- today, they are 86 and 88 years old, and their love story has withstood the test of time.
Looking back on what she believes has kept their love steadfast, Gloria said, "First of all, you have to be best friends. You have to be completely honest."
One of their greatest challenges, Gloria said, came when her husband suffered a life-altering stroke ten years ago.
"You have to recognize what you are praying for," she said. "I prayed for him to get well -- but I didn't think to ask that he would be able to walk and talk, or be able to know who we are. There are big parts of him that died with that stroke."
Still, Gloria said, their lifelong love has helped them to weather the storms.
"He isn't unhappy -- and that's where the love comes in," she siad. "He is your best friend. What are you going to do? Put him in a home? The love is not the same. It's not the same, emotional, passionate kind of love -- you can't keep that up. But this is somebody that is your friend, that you love."
Looking back, Gloria remembers a husband who could "do everything," completely remodeling their 300 year old Aquebogue home, which they purchased in 1976 and moved into permanently in 1986.
Her husband, she said, has always had a big heart. "To show you what kind of guy he is, my father died when I was 12 and when we got married, my mother and kid brother moved in with us. She lived with us for 30 years."
Valentine's Day, Gloria said, has held different meanings for her and her husband. "I am a very romantic person. I cry at movies. He 's not made like that. However, he'll say, 'Go out and buy yourself anything you want.'"
Sharing a love of travel, the two have hopped in the car and explored America, visiting 50 states.
And Gloria always made sure to keep the romance alive, even when their three children, Robert, Suzanne, and John, were young. "We always went out to dinner," she said. "He was a chief in the fire department in the city and whenever he came home, even at 8 p.m, we would eat. On any holiday, I always had the table set in holiday colors, with flowers. There was a children's table so he and I could have a romantic dinner."
Remembering another private memory, Gloria said, "I always called their father 'the king.' If there was a piece of cake left, I would say to the kids, 'You can't eat that. That's the king's.'"
His parents' love story made a lifelong impact on South Jameport resident Bobby Keller -- who proposed to his wife Georgette 20 years ago this Valentine's Day.
"I grew up believing that their marriage was somehow destined to be, and that God puts together the people He wants to be together somehow," he said.
After watching his parents, Bobby shared his secrets for a happy marriage. "Never giving up, having the courage to walk that line, to be willing to fight, and willing to forgive," he said. "To be ready to admit when you are wrong as often as you are ready to point out the shortcomings of your spouse, and to believe in the reality of love, and the power of that destiny that brought the two of you together in the first place. It is bigger than the both of you."
Looking back on the day they became engaged, Georgette Keller said Valentine's Day has forever held romantic memories of that moment. "He made a cassette tape of music for the occasion. First, he played Louis Armstrong's 'I Surrender, Dear,' then came Tony Benett's 'Time After Time,' and, as the lyrics rang out, 'So, time afte time, I always know that I'm so lucky to be loving you. . . ' he got down on one knee and proposed with the most exquisite, antique sapphire ring I had ever seen. Now, that's romance."
Reflecting, she added, "That's Bobby, Mr. Music, and a hopeless romantic. That's why he's such a wonderful husband."
While his parents will celebrate their 68th wedding anniversary in April, Georgette and Bobby will celebrat their 20th wedding anniversary on May 1.
"On Valentine's Day 1997, I was in the hospital. I had given birth to our daughter, Nina, and he came into my room with a box of handmade candies -- hand-dipped chocolate covered fudge -- and sat on my hospital bed with me and Nina. We watched 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' on the hospital TV," she said.
The couple, Georgette said, always does something special to mark Valentine's Day, usually going out for a romantic dinner. "I always make his card by hand --and either write a poem or buy a book of poetry," she said. "Valentine's Day doesn't have to be expensive, but it should allow the romantic in you to shine- unabashedly -- for the one you love."
Even their daughter Nina was inspired by her grandparents' enduring love. After Hurricane Sandy hit her grandparents' Aquebogue home on the bay, sending 51 inches of water pouring into ther basement -- and destroying decades of priceless family memories and treasures -- the teen rushed to help.
Out of the floodwaters of despair, came hope: In salvaged bins were water-drenched photos and letters -- letters a young Bob Keller had sent his love, Gloria, when he was sent off to serve in the Air Force during World War II.
The letters revealed a romantic young man, wooing his girl, calling her "cupcake" and signing off as "Bobbykins."
Covering the period of time from when her grandfather first left for basic training at 17 in 1942 until he returned in 1945, Nina said the letters include words of love that laid the foundation for a marriage that has lasted a lifetime.
Many of those best preserved, Nina said, were written in India ink, which was meant to not bleed, and in pencil.
Her grandfather, said, was very much in love and wrote long letters; she has almost 100 pages in all.
"One was so beautiful," she said. "He told her, 'Don't worry about my getting killed overseas. If I get killed, I'll love you from beyond the grave."
Dotted with terms of endearment such as "cupcake," and "sweets," her grandfather, Nina said, poured out his heart and said "I love you" three or four times in every missive -- teaching her about true and enduring love that spans generations.
"People fawn over movies like 'Dear John' and 'The Notebook' because they're so beautiful, but they don't know that stories like those actually exist in real life, between an octegenarian couple who are still living together after 67 years of marriage."
She added, "It's such a beautiful testament. When he wrote, 'I'll love you forever,' he meant it -- he has," she said.