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March 3rd, 2004 Kim Colton | Hitched
 

Jim and Bertha Nyman

NOVEMBER 23, 2002

     
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Normally, the Hitched column is reserved for the stories of newlyweds, lovebirds who've only known married life for six months or less. Most couples we profile still have fresh memories of that first kiss, and can still recall the initial speed bumps of their romance with equal parts affection and humor.

Sometimes, though, along comes a different story, one that's too good to pass up. Jim and Bertha Nyman, now married about 15 months, are that kind of couple. They stand out--not for their sappy love story or their "still on the honeymoon" attitude after the first year, but because of their dining habits.

The Nymans spend every lunch hour at the Center Cafe, a cafeteria in the Standard Insurance building downtown. They sit in the exact spot--known to regulars as "the jungle"--where, just days before Christmas 2001, Jim and Bertha formally met.

Bertha, a 46-year-old native of Colombia who sorts the building's mail, says they reluctantly defect to different seats if others are lunching there. And yet, the couple have something of a reputation around the cafe. Sometimes diners see the two coming, pick up their trays and move to another table, according to Jim, a55-year-old telecommunications contractor.

"It's a hot corner," Bertha notes with a laugh.

That the two are in love is apparent from observing them sit dangerously close together over lunch. Jim's affection for Bertha sparkles through his bright blue eyes. They share their food, be it an orange from home, their favorite kind of soup (Center Cafe's broccoli) or the fish entree on Fridays. This Valentine's Day, the couple ordered the cafeteria's special menu option--jumbo shrimp and filet mignon--while dining at a table dressed in white linen.

The fact is, Jim and Bertha's love story isn't the only romantic tale from the Center Cafe. Finding love in the cafeteria, it turns out, isn't so rare.

Jim and Bertha say they've heard about another cafeteria couple who've set a date to get married. And one of the cafe's employees proposed to his girlfriend, a woman he met in the dining hall, during lunch last year.

So just what's the Center Cafe's secret love potion? Look no further than chef Christa Collins, who happens to be a bit of a romantic. On Valentine's Day, she served special meals, wearing not al chef's uniform but a sweater decorated with hearts. Though the chef doesn't claim responsibility for all of the dining hall's love connections, she does believe food can be a love affair. "Whether it's family or friends," Collins says, "food brings people together."

As for Jim and Bertha, they decided to start sharing dinners, and then, four months into their relationship, moved in together. Both Jim and Bertha have been married before and say they didn't want a formal engagement. A wedding, Bertha says, just seemed inevitable.

The inevitable ceremony happened the weekend before Thanksgiving 2002, when the two married in front of 60 friends and family. This fall, they took off on a real honeymoon when they vacationed in Miami.

These days, Jim and Bertha eat their dinners at the Southwest Portland home they share with Jim's 17-year-old daughter, and the family is joined most of the year by Bertha's 76-year-old Colombian mother.

"Nothing's changed," Bertha says, her smile as strong as her Colombian accent. "This is real love."

 
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