Utah woman’s engagement photo pays tribute to grandmother’s love story at Bryce Canyon NP
TAYLORSVILLE, Utah — Sitting in her Taylorsville apartment, Elva Orton smiles while turning the pages of a book at her dining table.
It’s a scrapbook she put together, with the title “An Eternal Love Story” written on the side. Each page is filled with pictures, paper clippings and letters that bring up memories from decades ago.
“Elva my darling, Elva my love, my heart is yours, dear. As long as the stars above,” Elva read from a yellowed piece of paper with a song handwritten on it.
Elva’s late husband, Steven Orton, wrote that song for her. He also wrote many of the love letters Elva has saved and stored in the book. His name is scribbled across dance cards from nights they went out dancing, and he had asked her to dance with him the whole night.
“We were so fun. We were a fun couple,” she reminisced. “We dedicated ourselves to serving each other.”
Elva gets emotional thinking about the nearly 60 years they had together before Steve passed away unexpectedly in 2017.
“Love… a lot of love,” she expressed, as tears welled in her eyes. Elva looked down at a photo of them. “He was a very, very kind person and treated me like an angel.”
The two met working at Bryce Canyon National Park in the summer of 1959. Elva has pictures and letters from that in her book, too.
She remembers sitting on the bus at the bus depot, looking out the window and seeing a handsome young man who she’d later find out was named Steve.
Thanks to a mutual friend, Elva would meet Steve and set up a first date at a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fireside meeting — which meant a lot to Elva because it told her that Steve was dedicated and religious.
The date would also show her that he was fun.
“He had a little competition,” Elva joked.
She said she had gone out with a few other boys but wouldn’t let any of them kiss her. Steve bet those boys he could get a kiss from her before the end of the first date.
“He did; he got it. It was real short, and then he was off,” Elva remembered with a huge smile. “But he learned to kiss longer, later.”
The two would fall in love and marry a few years later after Steve served a mission. His military career took them to five different states, and their family grew to seven children and 17 grandchildren.
Throughout the years, a photo of Elva and Steve overlooking Bryce Canyon that first summer of 1959 would become iconic within the family.
It marked the beginning of their lifelong companionship.
“I really remember the moment I saw it, I really do,” recalled Paige Orton, Elva’s granddaughter. “It just stuck with me. You could just feel how comfortable they were with each other in it.”
Paige always admired her grandparents’ love story, so she was thrilled to go on a family trip to Bryce Canyon National Park last fall to celebrate the couple’s 60th wedding anniversary.
Except she was bummed that her boyfriend, Garrett Arnoldsen, couldn’t make it.
“I was at the time working on a case for school — a school project,” he said.
Or so Paige thought.
Paige’s sister suggested they get dressed up for sunrise photos. It would soon turn into the beginning of Paige’s own love story when Garrett came walking up out of nowhere, also dressed up.
“I looked, and I saw him, and I knew exactly what was going on the second I saw him,” Paige said, smiling. Garrett got down on one knee and asked her to marry him as the morning sun hit the hoodoos behind them.
Of course, Paige said yes.
“I think it ended up working out pretty good,” Garrett said. “It was honestly the most perfect proposal,” Paige echoed, looking at him.
What made it even more perfect came in the moments after Garrett put a sparkly diamond ring on Paige’s finger.
They posed to recreate the photo that Elva and Steve took all those years ago. Their version looks almost identical, as Paige looks out over the horizon and Garrett faces the other direction, gazing off into the distance.
For Paige, recreating the photo of her grandparents with the love of her life as they began their own journey together meant everything.
“I don’t think I’ve witnessed two people more in love than my grandparents,” she said, getting choked up.
It’s a love that continues, now with two special family photos in one unforgettable place — 63 years later.
“It made me happy,” Elva said. “It made me very, very happy that she would want, that they would want, to start their love story in Bryce Canyon.”
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