Saturday, May 18, 2013

Great Beginnings

I'm a big fan of how we met stories. I'm not sure how other writers work, but I need my cute meet before I can even begin typing. Proximity, routines, introductions, work, even simply the transformation of an existing relationship from casual to something a lot more meaningful.

So share yours with me. How did you come to be with your significant other? Did you meet through friends, on line, a simple random encounter where phone numbers were exchanged? Did you even like them at first or did they have to work to win you over?  Who pursued who?

If you want, I'll start. My husband is two years older than me. He and my brother were in the same home room in eighth grade. Seated in alphabetical order, my husband was right behind my brother. One day, out of the blue, my brother showed him my sixth grade picture and said, "This is my little sister. Do you think she's cute?"  He did.

We didn't actually meet until the fall of my sophomore year of high school. I was out with friends and he saw me walking down the sidewalk as they drove by. He and his friends made numerous loops just so he could keep watching me. He was enthralled by my long hair.  When I walked into a Burger King with my friends, they pulled into the parking lot and came inside to talk to me. He was at my locker the next day and became a really good friend, though I already had a boyfriend who could have driven him into the ground like a spike if he even suspected anything was going on.

It wasn't until the end of the school year and graduation was fast approaching that I finally broke up with my boyfriend and dropped a big hint on my now husband. I said I hoped we'd still see each other over the summer before he went away to college. He was at my house the next morning. Early. Wearing shorts. He had very nice legs. We officially paired up.

Only then did he finally tell me about my sixth grade picture. He described my Farrrah Fawcett hair to me! I was blown away. He wasn't anywhere on my radar, but I'd been on his for a long time.  We married two months after I graduated from high school. Yeah, we knew the statistics. Even my own grandmother said aloud that we had no business getting married so young. But we beat the odds, raised three boys, and are happier than ever.

There, that's my story. Tell me yours.

- Tara Mills

<p>Image courtesy of [image creator name] / <a href="" target="_blank"></a></p>


  1. What a wonderful story! It's so romantic that he remembered your sixth-grade photo, even down to the way you wore your hair. You two were meant to be together!

    I met my husband quite by accident. My roommate was owed money from someone, and was going to meet this person at a local bar to get it. I went with her. I say it was a bar, but it was really a dive, a hole in the wall, a honky-tonk. One of my co-workers said it looked like a place where people went to die. LOL! I was uncomfortable, so I made a beeline for the bar, claimed a barstool, and tried to avoid notice. I was watching the bartender, though! He was tall, lean and bore a striking resemblance to Mick Jagger. He kept coming over and asking me if I wanted anything, and kept frowning in my direction. I thought he was irritated because I wasn't ordering anything. I tried to erase that frown and make him laugh, but it didn't work. Later, my friend told me he wasn't the regular bartender, but since he was friends with the owners, he was filling in that night when the bartender called in sick. A few days after that, she told me this Mick look-alike had asked for my phone number. He never called, though, and I thought that was that. But a couple of weeks later, we ran into each other while out and about. Three months after that, we were married! It's been 27 years, and I'm still crazy about him. :)

    1. Talk about a whirlwind! That's so wild. I'm glad you're still going strong, Juli.

  2. I actually wrote this as a short story a few years ago.

    DEAR MARIA - Part 1.

    I have met the woman of my dreams. But it was not love at first sight.
    In fact we did not even speak to each other for the first few months.
    We were penfriends.
    International Penfriends is a great way to exchange knowledge, ideas and opinions with people all around the world, and hopefully gain a better understanding of others. Actually, it is comforting to discover that we are all pretty much the same, whatever corner of the globe we come from. I come from Australia, originally, and the locals are still trying to understand me, but that is another story.
    I am lucky to have made some wonderful friends and it always brightens up my day to receive a letter with a foreign stamp.
    But there is something special about writing to, or hearing from, a new person. Unlike meeting someone face to face, I don’t get nervous and start to stutter, or talk absolute rubbish. I don’t need to worry about what they will think of the way I look, the clothes that I wear, or how my hair is styled, (although style is a concept that is still completely alien to me.) The usual advice given to me when meeting a girl for the first time, is to relax and be yourself. Easier said than done when meeting them in person, but when writing to them, I can do exactly that. And because there is not the concern over being judged on superficial appearances, you get to discover the real person.
    Maria is from Spain, which is possibly not surprising with a name like that. I thought it would be good to have a Spanish penfriend as I could practice my Spanish, which I have been struggling to learn for years. It was harder than I thought. It took me three days to write the first letter. I had a nightmare time checking all my verb tenses, reflexive pronouns, and other grammatical elements that I don’t even understand in English, let alone Spanish.
    Reading back over that first letter now, I am surprised Maria replied at all. Trying to use humour - particularly when it passes through a dodgy translation - is a bit of a joke, and one that falls on stony ground.
    But after an anxious wait, a letter arrived from Córdoba. She actually enjoyed, (and understood!) my letter, and hoped to hear from me again, soon. Maria came across as intelligent, cultured, well mannered, but most of all, a genuinely nice person.
    That’s what makes the first letters special: the excitement of getting to know someone for the first time.
    Then one day, I got a letter accompanied by a photo. She was elegant, attractive and had a way of looking directly at the camera that made me feel she was looking straight into my eyes. My first reaction was, “WOW!”
    To top it off, Maria said that she was going to be in London for a few days; we could meet up, if I was interested.
    Being somewhat intrigued, to put it mildly, I got to work on sending a reply. That was when I noticed the dates – Maria was due in London in a week’s time, and yet going by the postmark, the letter had taken three weeks to get here. Spanish mail is obviously collected from post boxes by an old man riding a wee burro.
    I hurriedly sent a letter off, with my phone number and e-mail address, so that she could give me a more reliable and immediate response. However, the same old man riding his wee burro, was no doubt delivering the mail, too, and I did not hear anything from Maria to arrange a time and place to meet. I had no way of contacting her.
    I normally consider myself to be a fairly sensible chap. But for once, my heart over-ruled my head, and in a moment of madness, I asked the boss for some days off, hopped on a train, and made my way to London. My hopes rested on one, flimsy piece of information – which hotel she was staying at.

    Next week, Part 2.

    1. This is terrific! You'd better keep going or I'm going to find you and hound you for more, Simon. Love it.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Dear Maria: Part 2
    The second part in how I met my wife.

    This was a really stupid idea, I thought to myself. Now what am I going to do?
    I sat in the reception area of the hotel where Maria said she was staying. I had asked the receptionist if there was a Maria booked in. The reply was a disconcerting "no". I tried to keep calm. Maybe she was sharing a room with of one of her friends. A further, ridiculously desperate question as to whether anybody with a Spanish-sounding name was registered for that night, elicited a similarly disconcerting "no".
    So there I was, sitting on a sofa where I had a good view of the entrance. It was seven o'clock in the evening and I was clinging on to the vaporous hope that Maria might go past. The very small, rational side of me was wondering how long I was going to sit there before giving up, assuming that the staff didn't throw me out first. My scant knowledge of the Spanish, gleaned from a handful of holidays in the Costa del Sol, was that they tend to go out 'til late for drinks and tapas. Knowing my luck, they were going to be rolling back in at two in the morning.
    I checked my watch. Five past seven. It felt like I'd been there an hour already. I needed a drink. I was getting thirsty but, yes, I needed to steady my nerves as well. I didn't dare leave my spot though, in case she went past.
    I searched in my bag for the photo of her. Where the heck was it? That was all I needed: in the rush to catch the train, (which I had almost missed) I had left my only form of identifying her at home. And in my stressed state I wasn't sure I could depend on my mental image of Maria.
    A Spanish-looking girl walked past. I had been too busy ransacking my bag to concentrate on the people going through the front doors. She didn't look like Maria, though. I suddenly realised, however, that there were quite a few Spanish people. In fact it seemed like I had found myself in the Puerta del Sol Square of Madrid. What was the guy in reception on about, saying there were no Spanish booked in? He obviously wouldn't know a Spanish person if they danced flamenco, waved a red, matador's cape at him and shouted, "Olé".
    I tried to stay focussed. I examined every girl as discreetly as I could - I didn't want to give the management cause to throw me out too early in the game. Sure enough, within a few minutes another Spanish-looking girl came in that vaguely matched my faded, sepia-toned photographic memory. I nervously approached her and asked, "Eres Maria?"
    She looked at me as though I was an alien. Ironically enough, for years, before getting my full British citizenship, I was referred to on my tax statement as an alien. "Qué? No," she replied, shaking her head. Not Maria, but definitely Spanish.
    I was beginning to distrust my memory, since I felt like I was trying to shoehorn all the women into Maria's description. Another girl went past, but she seemed too tall and with lighter, almost coppery hair. I thought I had better ask anyway.
    "Eres Maria?"
    Her three friends immediately bristled defensively like cats, ready to fend off this stranger that approached them.
    "Perdón, sorry," I mumbled and turned away.

    Continued below...

  4. Dear Maria: Part 2 (continued)

    "Eres Simón?"
    I looked back. The girl smiled at me, a sweet, genuine smile that could only have been the Maria who I knew from our postal encounters. Blissful relief showered down on me. I nodded because I thought that if I opened my mouth to say yes, a load of babbling nonsense would come out.
    Maria brought her friends to heel, but they continued to eye me suspiciously. She greeted me with the customary Spanish kiss on each cheek, which I "forced" myself to return.
    "I was thinking that you not come," Maria managed to say, aided with explanatory hand gestures.
    "You didn't get my letter?"
    She shrugged, whether in incomprehension of my English, or mystified as to the existence of any letters I wasn't sure, but it was all the same.
    "Tú querer beber... something?" I said, miming a drinking action to make up for my lack of vocabulary, not to mention grammar. My Spanish was patently worse than her English. Surprisingly she did understand; she told her friends that she was going to accompany me and we found a quiet spot in the hotel's bar.
    It was probably good that we had gotten to know each other a little bit by mail first, because otherwise, the first impression I was giving would have fallen flat. The effort in having to find words, think of the verb conjugations and try to put it all in the right order was exhausting and didn't make for a fluid, let alone sparkling conversation. But Maria was patient and understanding. And ever so slowly, we made connections.
    There weren't any sparks or fireworks that evening. After a couple of drinks, we had a low-key dinner and later I went back to my cheap, but not very cheerful, hotel room. That's not to say that we didn't get along. I lay awake most of the night going over the evening in my head. Even then, I could see myself marrying her. Maria glowed with love - love in a universal sense, for family, friends, or the average person in the street. And yet, there seemed to be something holding her back. Admittedly we were both tired and the language barrier made things difficult, but I had the feeling she was slightly closed.
    The next day we did a couple of touristy things. I took her photo next to the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus and I think he scored a few hits on me with his arrows. But most of the time we wandered around the centre of London, giving us time to talk. During a lazy stroll through Hyde Park, in which a cheeky squirrel scurried up to us to say hello, I tried to tell Maria a story about a dog. After twenty minutes of getting nowhere, like playing poker with only half the deck of cards, I admitted defeat and had to change the subject. She had stuck it out, though, and I gradually became aware that here was a person that I felt comfortable being around.
    Maria told me how I had been very lucky to see her - she and her friends had planned to go out the previous night until late, but one of them had forgotten something and they had to return to the hotel. She had also rung her mother after spending the evening with me. Maria told her that she had met her Australian penfriend and her mother's first question was, "He's not one of those idiots with an earring?" Maria crossed her fingers and said of course not.
    The day passed far too quickly and before I knew it the time had come to say goodbye. We'd barely had twenty-four hours together. Maria gave me an awkward kiss on the cheek and I muttered something about how nice it was meeting her. Suddenly I was alone, wondering if I would see her again, particularly as she lived in a different country and if she would be interested in seeing me anyway.
    I found a nice card, with a quote on the front: "Those who make us happy deserve our thanks." I wrote inside, "Gracias," sent it off and prepared myself to wait for a reply.

    Part 3 next week.
    by Simon Hugh Wheeler, author of Loosely Translated.

  5. DEAR MARIA: Part 3

    I felt sorry for my boss. I spent the days moping around like a lovesick teenager.
    "What's the matter with you?" he asked, a couple of days after I had come back from meeting Maria in London.
    "I'm waiting to hear back from her."
    "Maria. The girl I met in London."
    "Oh," he merely replied.
    I worked in a small, musical instrument shop and it was just the two of us. My boss was an older guy and like most guys, not given to discussing personal subjects. But his worker wasn't working.
    He took a deep breath before embarking on unravelling the story. "You say you met her in London?"
    "Well, not exactly; she's a penpal - we've been writing to each other for a few months."
    "So... you've exchanged a handful of letters and met her for a couple of days."
    "Yeah," I nodded excitedly like an idiot.
    "What was she like?" He sniggered. "You didn't get a shock when this girl that you've been writing to turned out to have a back end on her like a hippo? And a face like one, too!"
    I ignored his comment. "I had a photo of her before I met her. She's really nice, actually."
    "You're not going to tell me that you fell in love with her? You've barely met her."
    I went all goofy. "I think so, yeah."
    My boss looked at me, mystified. "You think so?"
    "It's just that I'm not sure if the feeling is mutual. That's why I'm waiting to hear back from her."
    "What did you do in London? I thought you'd had a couple of days of unbridled passion."
    I shuffled my feet nervously. "I dunno. We chatted and went for walks."
    He shook his head. "I don't understand the younger generation."
    "She's a bit shy, that's all."
    "Okay, if by some miracle she does want to move on to the next level," he rolled his eyes, "and hold hands or something, don't you think London is a long way to go to visit her?"
    "Uh, she doesn't live in London. She's Spanish."
    "Maria lives in Spain."
    He checked to see if I was joking. On discovering otherwise, he shooed me away. "Go polish all the guitars and tune them up as well."

    Continued below...

  6. DEAR MARIA: Part 3 (continued)

    Pepe, the old Spanish postman, riding his little burro, made me suffer for four weeks, waiting for a reply. But it was worth it - Maria had enjoyed meeting me and would like to keep in contact!
    Now the boss, and everyone else for that matter, had to put up with me going from moping around to having my head in the silver-lined clouds.
    Why was I surprised when almost everyone had a similar reaction to my boss? Even my sister, who I thought would be more inclined to a romantic response, said I was mad. My father couldn't understand why I hadn't found a nice Scottish lass, or better still, go back to Australia and find myself an Aussie girl.
    Now that I finally had her phone number and email address, I spent the evenings writing to her, since a phone conversation would be impossibly slow and costly. A simple text message took me half an hour and an email almost three hours, checking words and grammar in my dictionary. I also got stuck into learning Spanish.
    I had been trying to learn Spanish for years, from a textbook. I thought I was stupid because I still didn't understand any of the grammar. So I threw the textbooks away and bought Harry Potter in Spanish. Armed with a pocket dictionary, the first page took me half a day. By the time I got to the end of a sentence I had forgotten what the rest was. But I persevered and very quickly learnt a load of vocabulary and the grammar I simply absorbed.
    Over the following months I got to know Maria much better. I might have been blinded somewhat by love, but blinded by passion would have been worse. At least we were building a relationship on understanding.
    Meanwhile, the only person who backed me up was my best mate. Even though I must have driven him nuts yabbering constantly about Maria, he always said if that's what I wanted, go ahead and do it, because if I really wanted, I could work out any obstacles. I think that was a good bit of advice: if you want to follow your dreams, look at the reasons you CAN do something, not give up on them because of the reasons you can't.
    I took it to heart, saved up some money, asked my boss for a week's holidays and booked a flight for Spain.

    Author's note: Any resemblance to actual persons, events or places is entirely true!

    Part 4 next week. By Simon Hugh Wheeler, author of Loosely Translated.

    1. I can't even imagine. Well, I can, and the communication difficulties you willingly faced blow me away. I had a French pen pal when I was in junior high and simply translating her letters was a challenge. I'm ashamed to say I dropped the correspondence, even though I was extremely interested and impressed by her. I came to realize I didn't deserve the grades I was getting in French class.

      I'll be watching for your next installment.

  7. DEAR MARIA: Part 4
    The Fourth and Final Part of How I Met My Wife.

    It had been four months since I'd seen Maria. We had been exchanging a mountain of emails, letters and text messages. The first words when I got to see her again would have to be chosen carefully. I got off the train in Cordoba and there she was.
    "Te quiero." (I love you.) It was the first time I had said it and I wanted it to be in person. Yeah, she melted. From then on it was terrible - we were like Siamese twins joined at the lips. Even Maria's mother told us to stop it. And that leads me on to the next part of the story - if you want to fall in love with a Spanish girl, you've got to be prepared for the family.
    Spanish families are big and loud. For Andalucian families, multiply that by ten and add on completely mad. But they are warm, friendly and will do anything for you.
    I survived the shock and by the end of the week I knew that this is where I my future lay. By the second visit, three months later, things were getting serious. I did the traditional thing: went to have a chat with Maria's father to ask for her hand.
    He frowned, confused. "What's wrong with the rest of her? Take all of her."
    I was puzzled, since it wasn't a problem with translation - it means the same in Spanish. He wasn't overly romantic, I suppose. He didn't hang around for an explanation; something caught his attention and he disappeared.
    A couple of days later, there was a family get together out in the countryside. They cooked up the equivalent of a herd of cows on the barbecue and Maria's mother insisted I eat at least one of them, since she thought that living by myself in Scotland, I didn't eat properly and was too skinny.
    Afterwards, the men had a shooting competition, firing at a row of tin cans. They kept trying to encourage me to have a go, but I wasn't particularly interested, not to mention being so full of cow that I could barely move. However, in the end, with much persuasion, they dragged me into it. I think they assumed being a foreigner, or not interested in shooting, that I didn't know how to use a rifle and gave me instructions like, "point this end towards the target." They didn't know that I had spent six years in the Army Reserve in Australia and once had beaten the score of the Regimental sniper. I sent a can flying on the first shot.
    Maria's father gave me an enthusiastic thump on the back and proclaimed to everyone present, "He is a good lad." He turned to me and said, "Of course you can marry my daughter."
    The week after was Maria's birthday. That evening, we went for a stroll through the parks and I contrived to lead her to the statue of the Lover's Hands. There is a romantic story behind it, of the Princess Wallada and her forbidden lover, the poet Ibn Zaydun. When we arrived at the statue, I got down on one knee.
    "What are you doing down there?" Maria asked.
    I can't say that I had envisioned that sort of response, but I carried valiantly on. "If I am your poet, would you be my princess?"
    "That sounds nice."
    Still not what I had been expecting. "A yes or no answer is usually given at this point."
    "Oh right! Well in that case, yes."
    I would have danced a little jig, but a stone had been digging into my knee, so it turned out to be a kind of happy wobble. But, yes, I was happy.
    Continued below...

  8. DEAR MARIA: Part 4 (continued)

    Within two months I had packed up my worldly possessions, (limited to what I could fit into my small car), left the cold weather of Scotland behind and drove all the way though Britain, France and Spain, to the searing heat of Cordoba.
    We got married the following year. My family was unable to come, so we had an early honeymoon and went to Australia before the wedding so that Maria could meet them. They were shocked that we were expecting so many guests at the wedding. Ninety-eight! The Spanish were shocked that we were having such a small wedding - even the restaurant where we had the reception didn't normally cater for less than one hundred people.
    Then there was the problem of "la madrona". In Spanish weddings, the bride is brought to the altar by the father, as we do, but the groom is likewise escorted by his mother, la madrona. Unfortunately, my mother passed away over twenty years ago, which is a shame, because she would have adored Maria. When my soon-to-be mother-in-law suggested that she be the madrona, my silence was deafening. I then suggested, that being of Anglosaxon background, would they mind if I indulged in one of our traditions, that of having a best man? Maria's mother was not sure about the madrona being a man, but we eventually convinced her. My best man was of course my best friend from Scotland. Their tradition is to wear a kilt at weddings. The mother-in-law almost had a fit at the idea of the madrona not only being a man, but wearing a dress, too.
    The wedding was a lovely ceremony, made special by the wonderful people that attended. Apart from a minor hitch, where the best man almost signed in the register as the husband, it was a memorable occasion.
    When we left the church, we rode in a horse-drawn carriage, the horses looking spectacular, trimmed out in the traditional Andalucian fashion. We let Maria's nephew and another young relative come along for the ride. It was heartwarming that many people, complete strangers, shouted out their best wishes to us.
    It barely seemed like the next day when the questions started. "Where are the babies?" At first we took it with good humour, but it did start to get a bit overbearing when everybody we bumped into immediately fires that question at you. We got married when the two of us were forty years old. The questions began to become uncomfortable as time passed. Finally, and sadly, I had to discreetly request that people refrain from asking Maria about babies.
    I couldn't help but feel an emptiness. Maria was destroyed. The news was disheartening, but one doctor was particularly brutal and said there was no way she could ever have babies. We continued searching until we found a gynaecologist who agreed to help us.
    Five years passed and we were down to our last chance. We had used up not only all our savings but our emotional strength, too. It would have to be one of the tensest moments of my life, as we waited for the result to appear on the pregnancy test. And the following feeling of relief and ecstasy when we saw it was positive, was overwhelming.
    We had to wait another week or so for a visual confirmation. The scan showed not one tiny jellybean, but two!
    So here we are, in the present day, with two healthy girls, just past their first birthday. The other day was Fathers' Day and what did I get? Woken up early by the two of them giggling! I couldn't ask for more, even when I'm terribly tired.
    I've travelled a lot, seen some amazing places and met many interesting people. But as I got older, I began looking for a reason to put down roots. Happily, I've found a reason: my family.

    Author's note: Any resemblance to actual persons, events or places is entirely true!
    By Simon Hugh Wheeler, author of Loosely Translated, a romcom influenced by my experiences as a translator living in Spain.