In Uphams Corner, couple exchanges wedding vows at health center

Clouds were in the sky, but love was in the air last Friday, when Carmen Caban, 51, of Dorchester said, "I do" and married her longtime boyfriend, Luis Gonzalez. The wedding took place at Upham's Corner Health Center on Dorchester Avenue, where the newlyweds' lives have converged for two very different reasons.

Carmen has worked at Upham's Corner a total of eight years, first as a van driver and now as a Certified Nursing Assistant. Since 2004, Luis, 64, has been a participant at Upham's Elder Service Plan, a day center serving close to 150 elderly residents in the Dorchester area.

Carmen's decision to get married at Upham's Corner is a testament to the connection that she and Luis have to the community there. From the food to the decorations and music, everyone pitched in to make the wedding happen. Diane Staib, a social worker that has worked alongside Carmen for five years said when she got a call from Carmen a month ago asking if it would be alright if she and Luis were married at the center, she "almost dropped the phone. It was such a sweet thing to ask and shows how close she is to us. We're a second family."

After more than 34 years with Luis, Carmen says that her life won't change much after the wedding. The couple recently moved into their own apartment on Adams Street in Dorchester; they were living with their children previously.

In response to the question, "Why now?" Carmen said with a shrug, "It's just time."

With three children and a lifetime of memories together, the ceremony is a representation of the commitments they have already made to each other over the years.

Carmen first met Luis in 1963. He was a radio announcer on a Spanish radio station and a young Carmen fell in love with the sound of his voice as soon as she heard it. She used to call Luis at the station with announcements for birthdays or anniversaries until she decided to find out who the man was behind the voice. Carmen went to his house with her brother and his girlfriend and asked a man standing outside where she could find Luis Gonzalez.

"The man said, 'That's me,'"Carmen remembers and her heart sunk. "At first I didn't like him at all. But he kept calling and he was nice to me. Saying nice words. I guess he was the man for me," Carmen said.

Luis has suffered several strokes over the years and is now confined to a wheelchair. He requires constant care, which Carmen provides at home and at the day center. Though she has always loved him, Carmen says that, "ever since he had his strokes I'm more attached to him. I take good care of him and he appreciates that."

Luis had always called Carmen his wife, though he has become more affectionate in his old age, Carmen says. "He'll throw me kisses all the time now, things he didn't do before. I know he appreciates what I do for him."

As the wedding march began in the dining hall at Upham's Corner, Luis waited for his bride at the end of the aisle, his chair adorned in tulle and pink roses, the aisle lined with white Christmas lights. Smiles spread throughout the group and dry eyes were scarce. The round tables were packed with family members, Upham's participants, volunteers and staff, all eager to catch a glimpse of the bride-to-be. Carmen said she was happy that she and Luis could share her wedding with the people that are such an important part of their daily lives.

Described by her co-workers as "the ultimate caregiver", Carmen wouldn't take time off after the wedding, though she and Luis were looking forward to spending the long weekend together at their new home. She said she and Luis would probably watch the 7 o'clock news together that night and share coffee and toast as usual.