On Valentine’s Day, true love, and chance meetings


In the early 1940s my parents were students at Bluffton College, a small midwestern liberal arts college. Dad was very shy, Mother quite the opposite. She knew him by name and knew of his family’s connection to the college. But she was a rural farm girl with a love for English and music. His heart was in the sciences. You might think that on such a small campus, everyone knew everyone else but apparently that was not so.

One day my mother told me how they met. I don’t remember how old I was at the time but to me, it was a classic love story of the white knight rescuing the damsel in distress. Our lovely Ohio winter weather means that the sidewalks on campus are often snow-covered and slippery. Treacherous in a word. So their story is simple. She fell on the ice outside the college library, he happened to be passing by, picked her up and that was that. They met, fell in love and married a few years later. They were married for more than 50 years before my dad died.

Since then, my brothers and I periodically tease our mother about “fixing her up” with some rich guy. She laughs good naturedly. One day though, she made it quite clear that while we could have our fun, she needed no other man. Her comment is one I hope I can say some day. “I think I had it pretty good the first time around. Your dad was perfect. I don’t have any need now for another man.”

It is by far, not the only love story I’ve ever heard. In fact, I love hearing how others met their spouse. My cousin (and longtime best friend) and I saw each other through many failed romances in our younger years. I realized recently that I never knew how she met her husband of (almost) 15 years. She and a coworker answered each other’s phones when the other was out of the office, so she found herself having frequent phone conversations with a male friend of the coworker. They ended up dating off and on and eventually married, blending their two sets of children.

I can’t help myself. I’m a sucker for sappy stories. They make me happy and who doesn’t like being happy? My favorite part of the Sunday New York Times is the feature wedding in the style section. The story of how the couple met, split up, re-met, and married is often humorous, sweet, silly, but always unique and therefore, entertaining.

Another friend met her husband through her mother. She was working in a factory, he in a bank. Her mother knew the guy and thought he’d be a good match for her daughter so she fixed them up. It worked, which is just proof that moms often do know their daughters best.

My sister-in-law met her husband in a free health clinic in San Diego. He was treating her kids. They’ve been married for more than 30 years.

My mother-in-law tells her story this way. We’re not sure if it’s true because she had the family trait of “embellishing the truth” (which by the way, is inherited). She was in high school and dating two different guys. One came from a wealthy family and was destined for wealth. The other was a poor farmer but was oh so good-looking. She chose looks over money. Or so she said. But when he died, they’d been married for more than 65 years so she obviously made the right choice.

My brother and his wife met in the sandbox, according to their parents. Both families were living in seminary housing in Chicago. They didn’t meet again for almost 20 years but that sandbox meeting set them up for life. They’ve been married for almost 40 years.

When people ask how my husband and I met, we laugh. I was his student, but that, of course, is not when we actually began dating. That came much later and a lot went on in between — most of which no longer matters. We’re in the process of deciding where to celebrate our 30th anniversary. I am, as he says, his “Number 1” wife, which you may translate any way you wish.

Sappy though it sounds, I love Valentine’s Day. It’s a silly, fun day and one to reflect on those we love — chance meetings or not. For me, it’s a reminder of why I married the person I did. Because, as we often tell our daughters when they ask why we got married, “No one else would have us.”

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6 responses to “On Valentine’s Day, true love, and chance meetings

  1. Mary – nice article and great story about your parents. I just saw a great program on PBS about former North Dakota politician Art Link and his wife Grace – a really cood love story! The link above is by the author of the program

    • Pannabecker Steiner Mary

      Thanks Bob. I’ll check it out. I think it would be fun to write a book of short stories like that. It’s probably been done, but….

  2. I also love reading the wedding announcements in the NYT! They also make me sad because of the descriptions.

    “Courtney, daughter of Bill and Melinda Gates, is an investment banker and hedge fund manager. Her soon-to-be husband Craig, son of the King and Queen of Spain, invented Facebook.com. Both met at a friend’s charity dinner during the week of the Grammy awards. Courtney’s interest piqued when Craig mentioned he had attended Harvard, as she too was an alum.”

  3. Pannabecker Steiner Mary

    But wouldn’t it be fun to write these? I honestly am amazed by some of the family connections. Like…Sarah is the great-great-great-great-great niece of Henry the 8th.

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