I’ve been asked to write this particular story — many times. But I haven’t until now. This morning, before my exercise class started, a woman next to me asked about my name, where I was born, about my parents and then — hearing that dad was from Texas and mom from Tennessee — how they met.
I asked her if she really wanted to hear it. She did. After I was finished, she said, like many others have said, “You need to write that story!”
I had been wondering what to share next on my blog because, the truth is, I never know what stories will invite me. My writing is much like life’s journey with its detours and unexpected insights and vistas. The woman’s urging this morning felt like an invitation to take a traveler’s rest and share this now. So. Here is the amazing story of how my parents met.
My father and his friend Dan, both seniors in high school, were heading to the movies. World War II was nearing its end; the year was 1945. As they walked the streets of the small town of Donna in South Texas, they spotted a green panel truck parked in front of a restaurant. At that time “tinkers” would travel in such trucks, selling all types of wares, from pots and pans to jewelry.
Dan was drawn to the many names and addresses written on both sides of the truck, from all the places that tinker had stopped.
“Hey, look!” he said to my dad. “There are names here of people who want pen pals.”
My father kept walking, not paying attention to Dan.
“Hey, c’mon, Tony. Let’s write our names on the truck with all the others. It’ll be fun,” Dan said. “What kind of girl do you want to write to you?”
My father, who wanted none of this, stopped and said in defiance, “A green-eyed blonde! Now let’s get to the movies.”
So Dan wrote my father’s name and address on the side of that panel truck. And he asked for a green-eyed blonde.
Meanwhile, the tinker traveled north to Red Boiling Springs, a nondescript town hidden in the hills of northern Tennessee, near the Kentucky border. My mother was sitting with her friend Peggy in her front yard when the panel truck stopped and parked in front of the Utopia Café.
My mother and Peggy were curious and walked to the truck to see what the tinker was selling. When Peggy saw all the names asking for pen pals, she said, “Let’s write to someone. C’mon, Mayme Alice! Choose someone!”
My mother picked my father’s name because it sounded exotic, like the movie stars of that time, Ricardo Montalban or Caesar Romero. She mailed her first letter to my dad, writing “I’m the green-eyed blonde you advertised for.”
On receiving the letter and reading it, my father was annoyed. He wrote and told my mother that he had NEVER advertised for a girl in his life, nor would he ever, and told her not to write again.
At that moment, my mother had a choice. She could have walked away. But she didn’t. She wrote back. She told him that she lived in the hills of Tennessee where it often was lonely. It was war time. She wanted a pen pal and a friend. Nothing more. So, they began writing and wrote for three years, love deepening with each letter, before meeting for the first time in Puerto Rico where my father was a radio operator for Pan American Airways .
This August my parents will celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary. They have nine children and eight grandchildren. And their strong belief in God has been their center, through joyful and painful times, including dad’s stroke two years ago.
Are some life events meant to happen? I don’t know. But I do know that God’s grace is always available and how we respond — with a yes or no — can determine our future and the lives of so many others. Those moments of grace can surprise us. But they give us hope that we are always dancing with the Divine, always in relationship with that force of love that guides us in mysterious ways, if we are present and open. And if we have the courage to say yes.