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She needed time to think

MEDFORD — After 23 years together, a local couple who met on an airplane and were known for a herd of graham-cracker-eating llamas they raised in the Applegate will tie the knot on Valentine's Day.

Harriet Ferguson and Jerry Lambo, now in their 70s, have been together since they met in 1992. They've been best friends since the beginning, but it wasn't until recently that Ferguson, who is facing a terminal cancer diagnosis, proposed to Lambo.

Lambo is quick to point out that he proposed the first time, a year after they met on an airplane ride from Medford to San Francisco. He was going home to Washington, D.C., and she was on her way to visit family on the East Coast. They talked nonstop during their short flight, with him offering to "show her around" should she ever visit the nation's capital.

Ferguson, who was widowed the year before, had been making a new home on a ranch in the Applegate where she planned to raise llamas.

A few months after that fateful flight — following a large shopping trip for new clothes to "impress my new friend" — Ferguson visited Lambo in D.C.

"We've been together ever since," Lambo recalls.

"It was 22 years ago when I popped the question," he teases her now. "But she told me it might complicate things."

"What? I needed time to think," Ferguson teases her soon-to-be husband.

Ferguson took stock of all the things she and Lambo have endured together, including an Alzheimer's diagnosis for her mother, re-homing of more than two dozen llamas when the time came to retire, all the ins and outs of busy lives ... and her recent diagnosis.

Lambo will turn 80 in a few months, while Ferguson celebrated her 73rd birthday Dec. 20.

"I feel like we still have our lives to live, so that's what we want to do — live," Ferguson says.

Ferguson says she plans to keep her last name.

But "if we have any children, they'll have my last name," he jokes.

For rings, the couple were practical.

"We went to Renaissance Rose in Ashland to find mood rings, but they didn't have one big enough for his hand," Ferguson says. "So, instead, we found magic rings that change color with the light."

"Four dollars apiece," Lambo brags.

"The idea of spending a lot on rings didn't appeal to us, because we intend to spend a lot on travel," Ferguson says.

Kimberly Gobel, a friend of the couple who works at Springs at Veranda Park, the retirement community where they live, says a Valentine's Day wedding is ideal for the retired lovebirds.

"They're just two of the greatest people. The back story with Harriet makes it a little more surreal, but she's just really one of those people who have a special aura about her," Gobel says.

"They were here only a week, and I had residents saying how wonderful they were. It's very unique to have residents who have not been here that long to have made such an impression on so many of our residents. Everyone just loves them. It's very heartwarming to be able to be part of their big day."

While she acknowledges her diagnosis was frightening at first, Ferguson says she quickly regained her positive outlook. Whether doctors give her six months or 12 months, she intends to live.

"I feel better than I have in 30 years. That's really the reason I turned to Jerry and said, 'Let's get married.' I just want him to know how I really feel about him and our life together," she says.

"With cancer, there are many gifts, and it makes you see things in ways that are both overwhelming and heartwarming. You could go out in the street and get hit by a bus tomorrow. Everyone is going to die — but let's live while we're alive. And it's so much more fun to plan a wedding than a funeral!"

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com

Harriet Ferguson and Jerry Lambo show off their $4 'magic' wedding bands. They are marrying after beingtogether for 23 years. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell