1st June 2017
Love & Patience - Carmel and Haroldine Portelli
Carmel and Haroldine Portelli who are celebrating 54 years of marriage this July tell Marie-Claire Grima all about that special day, and the colourful journey together that followed.
Carmel and Haroldine Portelli both grew up in Gzira, so they knew each other by sight long before they started dating. “He was in the Youth Catholic Action group with a lot of his friends, including my brother Richard,” Haroldine recalls. “Back then, we used to think the Azzjoni Kattolika boys would all turn out to be priests!” However, Cupid’s arrow struck when Carmel saw Haroldine in 1959, fresh from a stint with the Blue Sisters in Rome, arranging flowers in church for the Christmas celebration. “I asked her brother whether she was back for good, and told him to put in a good word for me,” Carmel smiles. The rest, as they say, is history.
The pair dated for about three years before an engagement was set, and they celebrated their betrothal in Kirkop, with a friend of theirs from Gzira, Fr Joseph Theuma, who had been transferred there as a parish priest. “We ordered a few sweets from Busy Bee and had quite a party, considering we were only three people,” Haroldine laughs. A skilful seamstress, she wanted to make her wedding dress herself, but her friend Imelda Galea Musú insisted on sewing it for her because it would be bad luck otherwise, so she had to settle for helping with the beading.
“The parish priest actually came to my parents’ house before the wedding to check that the neckline wasn’t too low-cut!” she laughs. Instead, she made the dresses for her bridesmaids and flower girls; the bridesmaids tease her to this day for making them wear ostrich-feather headpieces, which they claimed made them look like they were wearing pancakes as hats. While Haroldine’s taste in fashion was bold for the time, her routine on the morning of the wedding was touchingly modest. “I got up, had a shower, put on my wedding dress and my hair in a bun and went off to get married. I wasn’t even wearing a speck of make-up!”
Carmel and Haroldine married on 28th July 1963, at the Gzira parish church. The reception was held at the Regina Hotel in Sliema, which was one of a handful of wedding venues back in the day, and the young couple set off on a 10-day honeymoon in Marsalforn, Gozo. Five children – four boys and one girl – followed in quick succession, and the family grew as Carmel’s public service career, from Director of the Public Lotto Department continued to rise eventually to Permanent Secretary and Chief Electoral Commissioner.
The couple renewed their vows four years ago, for their 50th anniversary. They were recently on holiday in Rome when they were approached by a young woman who was in the middle of her hen’s party, asking passers-by to sign her shirt with words of marital wisdom. When she asked them how long they had been married – going on 54 years – she was awestruck, and demanded to know what their secret was. “It’s no secret,” says Haroldine. “It takes a lot of love, and a lot of patience. When a couple has a disagreement, words said in anger can lead to a lot of regret after the storm clears. That’s the only secret – knowing when to hold your tongue.”