Do you ever think about how different your life would have been if one single event had not occurred? Or of the reverse, that had one event occurred, how different your life might have been as well? From either perspective, we can speculate a lot about how altered our lives could have been. For some, it might be how better their life could have been. For others, it might be just the opposite.
For me, it was a chance meeting that literally changed my life—for the better—springtime 37 years ago when I met the woman who would become my wife and life partner.
Many married couples have interesting stories about how they met. Ours too, is interesting because were it not for the need of a pair of shoes, it might not have ever happened. I must preface this story with the caveat that this is how I remember the events. My wife, who has incredible long-term memory, may recall it differently or be able to provide even more details from her perspective. Maybe she will write her story in the future. But for now, let’s go back 37 years.
At that time, my future wife had recently graduated from college and was returning to her sorority’s annual dance to receive an award for her tenure as president of the sorority. Her date for the dance just happened to be shorter than her and so she needed to buy a pair of flat shoes so she wouldn’t tower over her date. I just happened to be working at Goldsmith’s, a local department store, in the ladies shoe department.
It was one night in the spring when she and her friend first stopped by to find said shoes. I’ve been told in my wife’s version of this story that I was looking lazy (this part I don’t recall) and she told her friend she would see if she could get me to wait on her. My memory is that I noticed two cute girls in need of help and I was ready to be of service. I approached them and offered to bring out the shoes she would like to try which I proceeded to do.
Perched on my little salesman stool with the angled ramp for the customer to place their feet, I buckled on the first pair of shoes, a pair of flat sandals as I recall.
As she walked back and forth to try them out, we began to talk. She shared the purpose for the purchase—to return to her sorority to receive her president’s gavel—and I shared that I too, was president of my fraternity. We talked some about our college experience and as we did, I noticed how easy it was to talk to her (I was a strong introvert at the time and conversation did not come easy for me).
She made her selection, completed her purchase and we said our goodbyes.
Over the next several weeks, I wondered if I would see that cute girl again. She might not need another pair of shoes so soon but surely she would shop at the store again, even if she happened to just be walking by my department.
Several weeks later, she did come back by the shoe department. We talked some more and I soon learned that she had recently purchased a new car—a red, two-door Honda Accord. Since I expressed I was most interested in cars, she offered to give me a ride around the parking lot and I took her up on it.
She proudly showed off her new car and I enjoyed the experience. It might have been at this time that I learned that we had both gone to the same high school and graduated in the same class although we didn’t know each other. (Even though it was a large school, she claims to have known who I was since she prided herself on knowing everyone and in retrospect, I seem to recall at least seeing her in her ROTC sponsor uniform).
My ride ended and she dropped me by the door to return to work. At that time, I was dating someone else who also worked at Goldsmith’s so I didn’t ask my future wife out for a date. But after this second chance meeting with her, I began to look for her a lot more while at work.
It seems like almost a month went by before I saw her again. One reason was I had gone to Florida for spring break. But then one night in May, she was back. (How this cute girl happened to be back on that particular night is a part of her story, which I don’t feel I am at liberty to share and obviously didn’t know at the time.)
She stopped by the shoe department that night and we began to talk. I seem to recall that I learned more things we had in common. It was an easy and enjoyable conversation. Before we knew it, an announcement was made that the store was closing and they were beginning to lock the doors. When she expressed concern about being able to exit the store where she had parked, I offered to give her a ride to her car.
We exited through the employee’s door and approached my car—a 1973 AMC Gremlin with Levi denim interior—which I had bought new when I was in high school. It was nowhere near as nice as her car but she didn’t seem to mind. I drove her around to her car and we talked some more. At that point, I decided to ask her out and inquired if she could go out with me the following weekend. She said she could and so we made some plans. At this point, I must have gotten her telephone number as well.
I made these plans in spite of already having a date scheduled with the person I was dating that also worked at Goldsmith’s. (Turned out that person came down sick and left a telephone message with my college roommate canceling, so I didn’t actually stand her up).
I picked up my future wife and we went to dinner at Blue’s Alley, a blues club in downtown. I don’t remember what we ate (maybe ribs, although I’m sure my wife remembers). When the evening ended, I remember that I just barely had enough cash to pay for our meal (the waitress really got shorted that night, since I think I left less than a dollar tip). But it was the beginning of many more dates and before the year was out, we would be engaged to marry the following year.
To this day, Goldsmith’s holds a special place for me—the site where we first met (this vintage photo of their downtown store hangs at our condo). Whenever we share the story of how we met with new friends, it is a richer story, as we are each telling our part so they get both perspectives. But it is this event—actually three chance meetings, that I would never change one bit. For it was a life-changing event that has brought me a bounty of joy and for that I am forever grateful for the need of that one pair of flat shoes.