The second you walk into the home of Olympia and John Theuma you can see what matters to them most – family. They have been married for 55 years and every corner of their Tarxien maisonette displays photos of their smiling children and grandchildren. “We’ve lived in this house for 33 years,” 79-year-old Olympia tells me. “It’s been a good home with lots of memories.”
Credit: Alan Carville
John, 82, knows the village well, having grown up in Tarxien, while Olympia comes from nearby Zejtun. Olympia remembers John as a boy, although he was not as aware of her back then. “I knew him when he was nine, when he went to private lessons for school,” says Olympia, “but he doesn’t remember me. He remembers my sister, but he didn’t notice me!” she laughs.
It was a decade later, when the pair were at a Christmas dance in 1958, that things changed. “It was love at first sight,” says John. “I was at the dance but knew I had to leave to get the nine o’clock bus home. So I said to her, ‘do you want to accompany me to the bus station?’ and she said ‘yes ok’. On our way there I asked her if she wanted to meet me the following day, and she accepted. From then on, we never left each other’s side. She’s my one and only – I never courted another girl. It was a grace from the Lord that I met her, and I am very happy.”
The pair were together for four and a half years before getting married, but tragedy struck and forced them to change their plans for the wedding day itself. “We were supposed to have the wedding in May, but my father was very sick and passed away,” explains Olympia. “So, we moved the wedding to 29th June and kept it small. It was a quiet family wedding of 50 or 60 people, as we were all still mourning the loss.”
Olympia says she was too nervous to sleep the night before the wedding, and there was lots of preparation to do beforehand as the wedding reception was at home and the mass was at a private chapel in Zejtun which was lent to them for the day.
“My dress was bought readymade from a shop in Republic Street in Valletta which is no longer there. I had one bridesmaid, which was John’s sister. It was a busy morning because we had to be in church by 10am,” she says. “In those days, we didn’t have a beautician or hairdresser come to your house, we were our own beauticians. My sisters helped me to dress up and my brother prepared the house for the reception.”
“John’s brother was a priest, so he married us. Afterwards we drove home and ate pastizzi, timpana, sausages, sandwiches, vol au vents and of course, wedding cake. In the evening we drank champagne before John and I went upstairs and got changed to go on our honeymoon. I remember I wore a hat to the airport,” she continues with a smile.
John and Olympia’s life as a married couple started with an adventure to Rome and Naples, which they remember like it was yesterday. “Our flight to Italy was special because it happened to be around the time of the Coronation of Pope Paul VI,” says John.
“Malta’s Prime Minister at the time, Gorg Borg Olivier, was on the same flight as us because he was going to the Vatican, and we had to wait for him. Of course, he was sitting in business class and we were in economy class, but it was still exciting. When we got to Naples, we jumped on a train we thought was going to Rome, but when I asked another passenger, he said the train was going to Bari and not Rome, so we had to get off and find the right train, or we would have missed the Coronation!” he laughs.
And it’s that sense of humour which seems to have gotten the couple through six decades together. “He was always a jovial person, that’s why I liked him,” says Olympia. “Even my parents used to say ‘Johnny has a happy character’. He is never gloomy, and he is romantic. He always brings me gifts on special occasions and remembers all of the children and grandchildren’s birthdays.”
The couple brought up two daughters, Caroline and Christine – another great adventure they embarked on together. “I got pregnant quite soon after we got married so I gave up my job as an administrator to mind our children,” says Olympia.
Credit: Alan Carville
Communication and honesty also helped the couple navigate tougher periods over the years. “Of course, we’ve had our ups and downs and difficult moments. Bringing up children and not always agreeing is hard, but we always found a compromise. I think letting go and discussing the matter is important. Even now that we’re older, there are still moments we don’t agree, but it’s easier to close one eye and move on together. It’s about compromise.”