Couple make marriage work - on four wheels or four legs
The couple who rides together is still together, though these days they're hoofing it when they make their rounds of Versailles. Jeanette Phelps is recovering from a broken toe and an ankle sprain she suffered when she stepped in a hole while taking a shortcut (with husband Robert, of course) across the old Woodford Middle School grounds. Before then, anyone who spent much time in Versailles saw them riding or, more often, walking their bicycles around town - a seemingly-odd way to travel unless you know, as the Phelps do, that it's illegal to ride a bicycle on a city sidewalk. They've been married for 16 years - a union formed after Robert answered her follow-up question to his proposal with a line many would-be grooms can only envy. After he asked her to marry him, she responded, "Yeah, but I want a man with four wheels." Robert shot back, "Honey, we've got it. Your bicycle and my bicycle." It's a tale they first told to The Sun shortly after they got married May 19, 2000, but their story begins the year before that, when they first met. Jeanette said she was in the passenger seat of a friend's car on Oak Street when she saw Robert riding his bicycle. "I motioned, 'Come on up that way,'" Jeanette said. Not long after, sitting in her Oak Street apartment with her friend and Robert, he reached over and grabbed her hand. "I told him, 'I know what you want to do. You want to get me in bed,'" Jeanette said with a laugh. Each had been married before. Each had a child. But as it the case with most every relationship, there were challenges. For one thing, Robert, who turned 76 today, June 16, was 23 years older. He was teased about robbing the cradle. "Yeah, that's what they say," he said with a smile during an interview last week. "Her landlord where we used to live on Huntertown Road said, 'You can get in trouble for marrying a younger woman.'" Their routines haven't changed much in their time together. They've moved from Macey Avenue to Laval Heights, which makes it easier for the presently non-bicycling couple to make a daily loop around town that may include stops at half-a-dozen places and chats with most anybody who smiles at them. "We just like to do things and walk places together and stuff, and sometimes we hold hands," Jeanette said. From time to time, they see Woodford District Judge Mary Jane Phelps (no relation), who presided over their wedding a year after she took office. "Everyone knows the Phelpses," Judge Phelps said in her chambers, where she keeps a small wedding chapel with hundreds of photos of her and the couples she's married - including Robert and Jeanette. "We tease each other regularly . I'll call them 'cuz' or 'cousin,' but they always remember the fact that I performed their wedding." Judge Phelps said she often compliments them on their bikes, saying they've got the fanciest wheels in town - which, of course, was the point Robert was trying to make when he proposed. In turn, Robert and Jeanette keep a framed copy of the picture with the judge on a wall at home. Robert's worked various odd jobs around town, but, with him now 11 years past retirement age, the couple live on Social Security and Supplemental Security Income and, sometimes, the kindness of strangers. At the Cornerstone Pharmacy, deli manager Dixie Lowe and others will give them a place to cool off in the summer and a glass of water. Sometimes, the Phelpses bring a stack of Woodford Sun papers in, and in return, they get a free copy. Sometimes they'll take a water bill to a mailbox. Sometimes, they even get a free lunch. Moxie Style owner Holly Kruse and stylist Vanessa Seitz give Jeanette a discount on a cut or color. At Steve's Barber Shop, Becky Smith braids her hair for free. "And then sometimes she'll come in here, and she'll say, 'Oh, look at what Becky's done.' A lot of times, they're just looking for a little bit of encouragement and some kindness," said Lowe. When Lowe's not at Cornerstone, she drives a school bus. "Some kids need a little extra help," Lowe said. A little more than 16 years after Jeanette took Robert's name, she doesn't hesitate when asked how they've made it work. "We're still together because he's good to me and I'm good to him and we need each other and ... I'm glad to be married to him, because I ain't had nobody as good to me as he has," Jeanette said. "When my first wife left me, she was the first one I met and I've been with her ever since," Robert said. "I'm glad to be with Robert and a lot of times, I have a lot of stomach problems and everything and he's always good to me," Jeanette said. "He says he wishes I didn't have no more stomach problems and stuff." Jeanette said they hope to ride (and walk) their bicycles again when she heals and Robert, who said he's known as the oldest man in Versailles to ride regularly, isn't opposed to the idea. Sixteen years after a judge by the same name married them in the county courthouse annex, Jeanette is willing to offer a bit of advice to couples considering marriage. "That if you love them, and care for them and stuff, you should be together and get married and live happy ever, like we two do," she said.