Happy Valentine’s Day!


Me in 1979 at Ashland University.


Jim in 1979 at Ashland Theological Seminary.

Today’s post is a How-I-Met-Your-Father—minus a litany of ex-boyfriends that would jettison my kids into therapy.
At twenty-one I was an Ashland (OH) University creative writing major chasing a dream—hermit writer on the North Carolina coast. The only non-negotiable was the hermit part—I would never marry. To say I had daddy issues is saying cystic acne is just a few zits.
I gritted my Florida-grown teeth against the frigid February First night. My fists jammed into the pockets of my coat as I trudged the ribbon of shoveled cement toward my dorm. I peeked at Jim, tall—I’ve always liked tall—sharp-elbow thin, and hat-less. “You make nine degrees look like a minor inconvenience.”
His chuckle whited the air and dissipated. “Thanks to all those Pennsylvania mornings when my hair froze on the way to school.”
I eyed him, marking off another who-knew? like discovering Christmas card snow turned your fingers to stiff, white corpses.It wasn’t a bad first date—we’d sat shoulder to shoulder watching Good-bye Girl in the basement of Founders’ Hall. But no guy was going to take my mind off my brother pulling an over-nighter in juvie two thousand miles south.I should warn Jim, I’m the girl who says good-bye. But I’m a sucker for brainy guys, natural leaders, ones with integrity. I stole another glance at him. Check, check, and check. And that’s why he deserved to know.The wind pistol-whipped my cheeks and I yanked my hood tighter.Jim peered at me in the yellow light from the library. “Did you see Emery spin and do a double-take at our hands?”“Yep. Saw it.” My laugh squeaked out. Actually, not holding my hand might have earned Jim a second date. I could do friends.I pushed through the glass door into Amstutz Hall’s lobby. Nirvana. Heat and light engulfed everything but my heartache. I turned, good-bye balancing on the fulcrum of my tongue.

But Jim parked himself on an orange vinyl chair.

I slipped off my gloves. Crying would keep.

Jim centered his blue denim gaze on me. “Tell me about your family.”

My eyes widened. The guy had read my mail. So, I told him—every last detail. Forty-five minutes later I felt… better.

Jim stood, shrugged into his coat. He smiled at me, the kind of smile that made me hope he’d read my mail again—soon. A tighter bond roped between us than we’d formed in a semester working together and a month of flirting.

The next Friday I smashed up against the passenger door in his heater-less 1974 Dodge Dart the twenty miles to dinner in Mansfield and back—because keeping my distance is what I did. But he’d already read my mail, and there was no undoing that.

Valentine’s Day crept up, and I’d never gotten around to telling Jim I was the girl who said good-bye.

Jim knocked on my door holding red roses and a Bible he inscribed, whether we spend our lives together or apart….

I stared at his winter-pinked cheeks, mussed hair the color of pennies. I liked what I saw. I liked the caffeinated feel of his presence. I liked him. But we were only fourteen days in, and apart was where we were headed.

Jim closed his fingers around my hand.

Warmth skittered across my knuckles.

He bent his head.

I heard his voice praying for me. My eyes drifted shut. I smelled the flowers, and I floated to a place where I wanted to curl up and stay forever. For a girl who’d come-to-Jesus Catholic and been spit out Protestant, there was nothing sexier than a spiritual man.

When the prayer ended, he didn’t let go.

I basked in the next couple weeks of hand-holding, his arm around my shoulders that made my skin feel alive under all those layers of clothes. But I still carried good-bye in my pocket.

February is a short month, but it stretched out long as a cat on a register. Five official dates and dozens of hours of non-dates… and Jim hadn’t kissed me. I was intrigued. Curious. Maybe a little eager.

I spent the last eight years slipping behind the screen door before a guy could pucker up, reading aloud the definition of prude, living by Mom’s golden rule—never kiss a guy you don’t want to kiss.

But I wanted to kiss this one.

I turned the key in my door, stomping my Dingos and two pairs of socks to let in some warmth.

Jim hovered at my elbow, smelling like soap and snow.

Catholic guys kissed. Maybe Protestants had different rules.

Jim followed me into my room, and the door swung nearly shut.

I turned around to say good-night. Definitely not good-bye. At least not until I got my kiss.

Jim stepped into my personal space. His warm gaze, zeroed in on me as though he could see all my issues and didn’t care. Bring ‘em on, his eyes seemed to say, as he cupped my face in his hands, and leaned in for the Goldilocks of kisses—not too short or long, tentative or firm. Perfect.

During those few seconds my world tilted. Good-bye spilled from my pocket. And it kept on falling—till May chased all the cold away—and I said, yes, I’d curl up in his forever.


Jim and I 34 years later at Ashland University.


Our sons, daughters-in-law, grandson, daughter/bride (’12 AU grad). Anyone seen the groom?











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