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  • jrblackburnsmith

An American Love Story

Image: The offending shoes on our wedding day

I met my wife, Denise, when she was 16 and I was 17. We attended rival high schools and lived about 15 miles apart outside of Springfield, Ohio, but our schools employed the same French teacher, Mr. Burt, who offered a French club trip to Quebec City, Canada during the spring of my senior year. We went by charter bus, 921 miles, and the trip changed my life forever.

I noticed Denise before the bus even pulled away from the school. She was sitting across the aisle with a friend, playing solitaire. I was sitting alone, reading a book, and I didn't quite understand why you would start playing solitaire before the trip even started. I was smitten and did not even know it. I watched her for the rest of the day, but never spoke to her.

On day two, still on the bus, somewhere southwest of Quebec City, my life changed forever. Denise was sitting in the seat in front of me today, and she turned around and asked me a question. "You don't talk much, do you?" she asked.

I looked up from my book --Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein-- my heart beating wildly, and I looked Denise in the eyes and said "No, I don't." Then I went back to my book. If you believe in fate, that was the moment I blew it and missed the chance connection that could have led to a fairy tale story. The thing was, Denise believed in those fairy tale stories and bored with two days of solitaire, she didn't give up on me. Eventually, I spoke, and we spent every waking moment of the next week together. The highlight of the week came when Denise told me about the boy she was dating back in Springfield. "I'm waiting for him to ask me to go together" (for those of you who didn't grow up in the Midwest in the 1970s, 'going together' meant dating exclusively). I, being the suave young man that I was, blurted out "Well, I'll go with you!" and that was it. We didn't realize at the moment that we had just decided to get married, but that was the truth of it, and three years later, while still in college, we did.

Denise, like many brides, found the perfect pair of shoes to wear with her dress, but they didn't have her size, so she went a little bigger and stuffed the toes to make them fit. When we got married, after her father walked her down the aisle, we had to go up three little steps to the alter and those shoes came off on the first step, neatly side-by-side, as if we had planned it. While the ceremony was going on, one of our bridesmaids fainted. Three times. I kid you not. Then when we were introduced by the minister, I kneeled down and slipped Denise's shoes back on her feet. Every woman in the church was crying at the 'romantic gesture' that was just the outcome of buying the wrong shoes. Then, as my brother Andy drove us to the reception location, we got pulled over by the police for making an illegal left turn. A superstitious man, inundated with so many red flags, would have decided the marriage was headed for disaster, but I've always been a little dense and couldn't see anything but my beautiful bride.

This past Saturday, two Valentine's cards arrived in the mail, one from me to Denise and one from Denise to me. I wrote I was blessed the day we met. I am still blessed today. Denise wrote From that very first day in Canada, I was so taken with you, and I still am. This year was our 44th Valentine's Day together and we have become the same person. That is an American love story.

Win a free Kindle edition of Love: a novel of grief and desire: I work with Reader's Favorite on the Kindle book giveaway. If you go to you can sign up for the monthly giveaway. You can scroll through the list of giveaways (over 500 each month) or sort the list by title or author to find Love: a novel of grief and desire and put your name in for this month's drawing. Good luck!

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