I love stories of how people met. There’s always something interesting in the chain of events that bring people together. You never know how it’s going to turn out, but you can’t beat the story of how it all started. They named an entire tv show after it: How I Met Your Mother.
Ironically enough, my favorite story of how two people met is the story of how my parents met.
It was Atlanta in the very early 1970s (probably ’71 or ’72?). My mom was just about 30 and excited to be living in a big city. She worked as a secretary at Rohm and Haas Chemical Company. Mom always was very shy and sweet. She was just so good in every sense of the word. She was not the kind of girl who would approach a stranger or speak out. She didn’t like to draw attention to herself. I’m not like that. I’m much more like my dad.
Dad worked for Champion Paper, in the same building as Mom. He was just coming off of an unfortunate divorce. His two sons, my half brothers, were living up in Ohio with my dad’s family after the stuff that went down with Dad’s first wife. But Dad was always super charming and personable. He was the kind of guy who would go out of his way for someone. He did and still does like being the center of attention. And he has no problem saying surprising things to strangers.
There was a small diner across the street from the building where my parents both worked. As Dad tells the story, it was usually so crowded at lunch that you were lucky if you got a seat. He had noticed Mom there before, noticed her in the building where they worked, and had wanted to meet her for a while. But Mom was shy and she didn’t give him much of an opening.
One day at the busy, crowded diner it just so happened that Mom was sitting at the counter and there was an open seat next to her. So of course Dad grabbed that seat. He probably said a friendly hello to her, and she probably smiled shyly back. And then disaster struck.
Mom was eating tomato soup. For whatever reason, she dropped her spoon right on the front edge of the bowl. In her attempt to pick it up she hit the lip of the bowl. The entire thing went spilling all down her front. Tomato soup everywhere! Dad rushed to help her clean it up, as any gentleman would do. He says that Mom was absolutely mortified.
So what did Dad do? He smiled and said to Mom, “Looks like someone needs to take you out and teach you how to eat. How ‘bout me? How ‘bout Friday night?”
And Mom said … no.
Yep, she turned down a line like that. But that didn’t stop my dad. The ice was broken and he had his foot in the door. He continued to talk to her in the halls at work whenever he saw her and sit near her at lunch whenever he could. He kept asking and asking … until she eventually said yes. They had their first date at a revolving restaurant in downtown Atlanta. I was once driving through the city with my dad and he pointed it out to me.
Of course, the story doesn’t end there. Dad being Dad, there was one minor detail that he forgot to tell Mom as they began dating. In fact they were incredibly serious before he mentioned a thing about it. But he knew he would have to say something, because they were talking about marriage.
As Dad explains, they were at the swimming pool in the apartment complex where one of them lived. Dad finally fessed up and said, “Susie, I have something I need to tell you and it’s serious.”
To which Mom quickly replied, “There’s something I need to tell you too.”
Dad blinked and said, “Well okay. You go first.”
Mom blurted, “I’m older than you.”
He says that Mom stared at him … then got up and walked away. She walked around the corner and he thought that was it. He thought he would never see her again.
But to his surprise, she came walking back towards the pool a few minutes later. She said to him, “I always knew that I was meant to be a mother, and if that happens sooner than I expected, then that’s okay with me.”
And that, my friends, is the kind of person my mom was.
Granted, the love story turned out to be more of a tragedy. My dad cheated on Mom and left her for a younger woman. Then he took his sons, the boys my mom had taken into her heart as her own from the moment she heard about them, back. You never know how the story is going to end. Mom died of cancer in 2001 and one of those sons, my brother Kelly, died last month of cancer at age 41. As I sat by Kelly’s side in the hospital last month I imagined how happy they would both be to be reunited at last. Maybe Mom can take Kelly out and teach him how to eat.