Published July 14. 2013 4:00AM
The bride wore white, and her 20 bridesmaids were all wearing tiaras. One of her adult sons gave her away.
The groom, with his 10 groomsmen, couldn't stop smiling, never mind that most of his teeth are missing.
Elius Jacques, 88, and Atelia Michel, 83, tied the knot last Sunday before 300 friends at the Haitian Adult Day Health Center in Mattapan, Mass., better known as Sant Belvi.
The wedding began the latest chapter in a long-running love story. Jacques and Michel have been a couple for 62 years, and had 19 children together. They had done everything together, it seems, except get married.
Tuesday, they sat together at the center giggling like teenagers as they described their decades-long love. They were nearly thwarted in the beginning, they said, because Michel's father didn't like her boyfriend.
"I've been living with the man I love so long, and it's time to get married," Michel said through a translator. "The wedding was beautiful. I loved it."
Michel came to America in 1976, while Jacques followed a few years later. Three of their children live in the United States, while the others are in Haiti (several are deceased). Two of them attended the wedding.
Oswald Neptune, director of Sant Belvi, explained that between the demands of raising a family and helping relatives back home, getting married had simply never been a priority.
"Now that they don't have responsibilities and are happy, the lady said, 'It's time to get married," Neptune said.
Once the prospect of marriage came up, they got a lot of encouragement from their friends at Sant Belvi, where both have been spending most weekdays for the past year. The center serves about 150 Haitian seniors a day, all of them under the auspices of MassHealth. They gossip, play board games, receive some basic health care, hold discussion groups. Mostly, it's a place for them to bond and find a sense of community.
So when they began to contemplate marriage, the other members of the center, along with the larger Haitian community, went to work. They raised about $2,800 for the wedding, most of which went for a limousine, clothes for the wedding party, and a cake.
"When we talked about it in the community, people really embraced it," Neptune said. "When we asked them how they wanted to do it, they said they wanted it big."
Their friends at the center made up the bulk of the guest list. Two priests officiated, while the Sant Belvi choir performed two songs. Among the guests were state Senator Linda Dorcena Forry and Councilor at Large Ayanna Pressley. Pressley had never met them before. Dorcena Forry, a frequent visitor, had seen them together, but it had never occurred to her that they were a couple.
"Maybe you would think after 62 years it would be a muted affair, but no," Pressley said. "It was grand. You felt a real spirit of unity and community and faith."
Michel joked that the one wedding gift she wanted to give her groom was more teeth. He beamed and referred to her as his love. Observers say the wedding was just as romantic.
"He was invited to kiss the bride, and he wouldn't stop," Pressley said.
The glow from the big party was evident afterward at the center, where the couple seemed to enjoy their new celebrity. A wedding was a break from the daily routine.
"You could see how excited the others were," said Marie Carmen Jocelyn of the center. "Maybe this won't be our last wedding."