Grandma, 86, Is Dating the Next-Door Neighbor and Loving It

My dad took this photo on Cape Cod where my Gramz and Gordon live.
My dad took this photo on Cape Cod where my Gramz and Gordon live.

You can read a story I wrote about Gramz and her boyfriend, Gordon, in today’s St. Petersburg Times.

My grandma, “Gramz,” is the most special woman I know. She’s my surrogate mom, the person I’ve always turned to when I’ve needed advice or help finding my way through the labyrinth of love. At 86, Gramz has some pretty solid relationship advice and an uncanny ability to understand guys.

For years she lived vicariously through me, always wanting to know who I was going on a date with, where we were going and what my initial impressions of the guy were. When I moved to Florida, 1,400 miles away from her, she became even more curious about my “exciting” love life (or lack thereof).

But then Gramz started having her own fun. A widow for 11 years after my grandfather died, she never thought she’d have that butterflies in your stomach feeling again. That was before Gordon came knocking. Gordon Pepper has lived next door to Gramz for 36 years and recently started courting her after his own wife passed away in spring 2008.

Every day around 5:30 p.m. he crosses the vegetable garden that separates his house from my grandma’s so that he can eat a home-cooked meal and watch “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” with Gramz. They hold hands on the couch and cuddle. On Friday and Saturday nights they have “sleepovers.”

I couldn’t help but want to write about their relationship, so I pitched a story about it to the St. Petersburg Times. When Gramz heard it was running in this Sunday’s paper, she laughed and said something to the effect of, “All of my old neighbors and friends in Venice, Fla., are going to see the story and wonder what’s gotten into me!”

Since dating Gordon, who is a bit of a prankster, Gramz has become much less uptight and more liberal in her thinking. It makes me happy to see the transformation in her and to know that she’s no longer alone. Sixty three years separate my grandmother and I, but the love we have for each other and the new love she has found – have brought us even closer throughout the last year.

Gramz’s relationship with Gordon is no doubt a reminder that, for all its ups and downs, love has longevity. It doesn’t end with old age, and it doesn’t come easily. Life and loss happen.

Gramz will tell you, though, that tempting as it is to hold out for “the right one” or to avoid the search altogether, you have to stray from the narrow paths and wander a little, even if it’s just through the vegetable garden in your backyard.


Published by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Mallary is a mom of two young kiddos -- Madelyn and Tucker. Mallary absolutely loves being a mom and often writes about the need to find harmony when juggling motherhood and work. Mallary is the Assistant Director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, where she manages the Center's various programs related to distance learning, freedom of expression, and digital journalism. Previously, she was Executive Director of Images & Voices of Hope and Managing Editor of The Poynter Institute’s media news site, Mallary grew up outside of Boston and graduated from Providence College in Rhode Island. In 2015, she received a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University. She now lives in beautiful Austin, Texas, with her kids, husband Troy and cat Clara. She's working on a memoir, slowly but surely. You can reach her at

2 thoughts on “Grandma, 86, Is Dating the Next-Door Neighbor and Loving It

    1. Thanks, Daniela! I got so many nice compliments on this piece. A lot of people seemed to be able to relate to it, even though most of the readers I heard from weren’t anywhere close to my grandma’s age.

      I think it’s in part because the piece touches upon some universal themes — love, loss and an unwillingness to let old age get in the way of happiness.

      Gramz is making quite the name for herself!

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