Sunday, Apr. 23, 2006

Disabled couple have language all their own

On Valentine’s Day, Linda Van Deusen used a borrowed fork to feed her husband turkey and sweet potatoes.

It also was a dropped fork — one the Van Deusens’ service dog, Minnie, had picked up with her teeth.

It was their version of romance, an awkward wheelchair waltz with Linda taking the lead and John following as best he could.

It’s been that way since 1995, when John fell off a wheelchair lift and suffered a head injury. His muscles are captive to the spasms caused by dystonia, a movement disorder that he and Linda suffer.

Since her retirement from state government in 2000, Linda Van Deusen has filed dozens of lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act — the 1990 federal legislation that guarantees the handicapped access to public buildings.

But love, marriage and life came first for the Van Deusens. The litigation came later.

John can’t talk. He occasionally can hold his head up, but it’s usually just to roll it to the other side of his shoulders.

His body is twisted into an S-shape because his muscles aren’t strong enough to support him. His head leans to his left, perpendicular to his crooked body.

Linda can walk, but only short distances, such as from her carport to her front door.

They met in New York in 1975 at an international convention for dystonia patients. Linda lived in Pennsylvania but moved to West Columbia and the Wil Lou Gray Opportunity School the next year. John was in Washington, D.C., where his father was a Lutheran minister.

They fell in love through letters and were married a few years later.

In 2005, Linda had surgery and was in the hospital. That meant John had no one to care for him at their home. Someone — Linda doesn’t know who — called the Department of Social Services. They threatened to put John in a nursing home.

“Linda has lived with that, fighting the system, feeling neglected and rejected in the world at large. It creates in her, this passion that you see,” said the Rev. Barry Gray, associate pastor at Shandon Baptist Church and Van Deusen’s pastoral counselor. “She’s fighting for a quality of life that you and I take for granted every day.”

Another local church rallied to the couple’s cause and scheduled members to stay with John. When Linda came home, the volunteers stopped.

In May 2005, Linda yielded, exhausted from taking care of her infirm husband. John’s church found him a place in a White Rock nursing home.

Now, Linda loads up her 1997 Econoline 350 van twice a week and drives to White Rock to visit and take care of her husband at Lowman Home.

John carries a board with everyday phrases written on it, such as “yes” and “no” and “hungry.” It’s mainly for the nurses.

John and Linda speak through an abbreviated sign language. He grunts to get her attention and, usually, she knows what his grunts are about. It’s when she doesn’t know that he starts using his hands.

“It’s 100 percent give,” Linda said about her marriage. “But the preacher said for better or worse. I guess I took him seriously.”

Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2006

Sweethearts reunited, 62 years after Normandy

THEY had not set eyes on each other since 1944, when Marie-Henriette Steffens bravely sheltered him from the Germans after his tank broke down.

But for more than 61 years after kissing her goodbye, Arthur Jones carried the image of the pretty young French girl in his heart.

And, when they finally met up again, there was “instant chemistry” between the former gunner and the sweetheart he left behind to rejoin his unit.

“I’m so happy, I feel like I’m walking on air right now. I just don’t want this feeling to stop,” he said yesterday after their reunion. “I’d given up hope of ever seeing her again.”

Mr Jones, a widower from Wolverhampton, now 80, and his comrade Ian Cohen were left behind by the 147th Field Regiment as the Allies forced the Germans out of France after the Normandy landings in June 1944.

The two men spent three days sleeping rough and living off rations after their Sherman tank broke down just outside the town of Liévin, near Lille.

But Mlle Steffens and her family accepted the risk of German reprisal when they harboured them in their home for five weeks.

And, as the soldiers waited to join a supply convoy to take them back to their unit, the 18-year-old soldier became smitten with Mlle Steffens, who was 22 at the time.

“I spent a lot of time with Marie and I took a real shine to her,” he said. “We used to talk and play cards; it was all very innocent of course. It was my first time away from home and she was so wonderful. I was so grateful to have her company.”

After helping to liberate Europe, Mr Jones returned to Britain, began working as a mechanic and in 1949 married Dorothy who died two years ago from a stroke, aged 77.

But he never forgot the girl who had been so kind and vowed to find her.

Their paths finally crossed again after Mr Jones met Alan Brown, an expatriate who is now the councillor for Sainte Cécile in northeast France, at the RAF Museum in Cosford, Shropshire. He showed him the faded pictures he had kept of Mlle Steffens, and Mr Brown made inquiries. Six weeks later, in January, Mr Jones received the news for which he had been waiting.

He said: “I’m in love. For what she did, I can’t help but love her. She’s still pretty, bright as a button and, like me, very active in her old age and, as soon as I saw her again there was an instant chemistry between us.

“She never married and sometimes I wonder if she was waiting for me to find her. Well, I’ve found her now and I’m on cloud nine. We now talk over the phone all the time and in a recent letter she told me, ‘I already feel as though we are married’.”

Mlle Steffens said: “He hasn’t changed much. He’s the same — a very nice gentleman.”

Thursday, Mar. 16, 2006

Reunited at a 40-year class reunion

Catherine Nilson of Freeport tells how she and an old classmate discovered one another.

John Nilson and I grew up in Freeport in the late 1950s and early ’60s. We both went to Archer Street Elementary School, attended the same junior and senior high schools and worshipped at the same church, Holy Redeemer. When we graduated from Freeport High School in 1961, we had two good friends in common. John and I knew each other in passing, but we were not in any classes together.

I married a few years after high school, had a wonderful son, Gary Harmon, and moved to Michigan. I later divorced and moved back to Freeport. I was single for 22 years.

Our 40th high school reunion was supposed to take place in October 2001. But because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the reunion was postponed to April 2002. On a lark, I attended.

The first person to greet me was my old high school friend Mike Beneville. Mike and his good friend, John Nilson, and I hung out together both nights of the reunion. We had a great time.

John called me soon after the reunion and we started dating. He had never been married. John was, and is, the nicest guy I have ever met.

After 20 years of dating, I was ready for the nicest, best guy in the world. He is a math genius with a very analytical mind. I was an art major in high school and college. I’m into arts and crafts, antiques and photography.

We have traveled to Hawaii, which was wonderful, and we took a beautiful cruise to St. Martin, Paradise Island and the Bahamas. We’ve also gone to Nantucket, the Hamptons and Boston.

Now that we are both retired – I worked in retail and he was a business analyst for IBM – we intend to travel much more. But the best thing is, we are very happy just staying at home, cooking – with or without a nice glass of wine – and watching TV together.

After getting engaged on Christmas Eve 2004, we made it to the altar on Valentine’s Day last year. We were married at Holy Redeemer in Freeport, the church where we both received first communion and confirmation as kids. I hadn’t been married in church for my first wedding, and I never had a gown. This time, though, we were committed to each other, and we both wanted to do it right.

Wednesday, Mar. 8, 2006

Sled Dog Racer Weds At Stop Along The Trail

A sled pulled by eleven dogs brought veteran racer Tenley Meara to the site of her wedding overlooking the Allagash River along the trail in northern Maine where the Can-Am race was held.

here, under a white-veiled arch attached to two spruce trees, Meara married Wayne Bennett in a ceremony Monday in 22-degree weather. Bennett, a chef, proposed a year ago.

After a notary performed the ceremony, the couple were ferried across Route One on a decorated snowmobile to Two Rivers Lunch, where wedding cake was served.

The wedding took place a couple of days after Meara finished 18th in the Pepsi-Budweiser Can-Am Crown 30-mile sled dog race.

About 20 people attended the ceremony. They included other mushers and volunteers at the Allagash checkpoint in the Can-Am Crown International sled dog race.

The newlyweds own sporting camps at Eagle Lake in Aroostook County.

Thursday, Mar. 2, 2006

Best things in life are cheap

Best things in life are…cheap if you know where to look.

I do believe that best things in life may be free, but what is not free is getting to where they are and putting yourself in the situations where you are more likely to find them.

Too many of us are simply short of both time and money to be able to travel to places where such things are free.

Some twenty odd years ago I had a dream to fall in love with a French girl, and to have her say to me: ”Je t’aime”. It did happen, but not in Paris. Since I had no money to go to France, I decided to take a train from New York to Montreal, and then, on to Quebec City. This is about as close to France culturally as you can get. I had only $800 at my disposal which I changed to Canadian money and it became something like $1200 in their dollars- quite a big factor in giving me more breathing space while on the trip. I rented a room in a student boarding house, and spent one month hanging around the Gothic, Celtic and very French city of Quebec- a strange, out of place town which, in my opinion, simply does not belong in North America as we know it. It has an old section of town behind a mediaeval wall, and many castles, courtyards, and quite European-looking shadowy alleys which make you feel like you are, in fact, living in France.

I started frequenting a café in the town where people were friendly and where I met a local girl. We fell in love and, one day, we both stood in front of St. Lawrence River with the huge Frontenac Castle behind us, and she murmured as she looked straight at me. “Je t’aime”.

This memory is so precious and so intense that up until today I cannot forget the solemn, ice-bound watercourse to the right of me, the crisp air around us, the oblique winter sun, the shadow of the somber castle hanging over us, and the words “ I love you” uttered in French, the most beautiful language on Earth.

I think that for some, an experience like that may be worth many years of work and struggle, but it cost me only $800. It was one of the greatest highlights of my entire life. It wasn’t costly, but it wasn’t free, either. I still had to spend money to get to Quebec City and to take buses around it, feed my girlfriend, etc. It was money well-spent, though.

I also did something that not many people do. Since I was very poor at that time, I was able to take ‘French courses’ by becoming an “auditor’ at LaVal University’- the biggest institution of higher learning in that town. I attended many classes, met quite a few people, all without paying a dime. I asked the university staff if I had to pay for classes if I did not take them for credit, and all said “‘No’, just talk to the teacher, and if the teacher says ‘it’s OK’, then just go ahead and sit in the class”.

All this was done in just thirty days, but the amount of experience was tremendous. Many months have come and go, each one so much like the other, but that was probably the best month in that period of my life. It was not free, but it was like so many other best things in life- inexpensive.

So, since then, I have dedicated a lot of time to studying where I could get quality time and meet quality people, enjoy great beaches and sunsets, fall in love, dance, make great friends for as little money as possible. And it is very doable if one sits down and does his homework. The thing is, one simply needs to pick a destination which contains unusually concentrated amounts of a certain thing one likes, be it great beaches, great people or great food, but it has to be a bit off the beaten path where most people do not go. Like Quebec City. This way, you will be able to enjoy the best things in life cheaply because best things in life are relatively cheap.

Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2006

East Tennessee couples say “I do” again

It’s the day every girl dreams of. Walking down the isle in front of family and friends, and saying I love you to that special someone. In a special vow renewal service at Redemption Church International in Knoxville, hundreds of couples are getting a chance to relive that dream again. Pastors Ed and Nora King are giving the special day to married couples at their church.

“It’s a restatement of something we consider to be very holy and very biblical,” Ed King says.

Many of the men and women in the ceremony have been married 10 years, 30 years, even close to 60 years. It’s a chance to repeat covenant vows already shared once by two people in love.
To have and to hold, from this day forward, to live together in marriage, serving the Lord together, are words Mike Boyd is sharing with his wife Mary after 35 years of marriage.

“Since 1970 the face hasn’t changed, the smile hasn’t changed, the beauty in her eyes hasn’t changed,” Mike says.

Mike fell in love with Mary while in their hometown of Pennsylvania. He was senior and Mary was a junior. Mary, a catholic school girl, had never date before until she met Mike.

“When I saw him I fell in love with his blue eyes,” Mary says.

After dating for several months, Mike went away to Florida for college.

“He moved away and my heart broke,” Mary says.

Mike could only fly up to see Mary once or twice a year. But, on one trip to Pennsylvania he was sure he wasn’t letting her get away.

“I picked her up from the airport one Christmas in the airport parking lot and I asked her to marry me,” Mike says.

Now, 35 years later the word forever has a brand new meaning.

“35 years didn’t go without floods and fire in our life, but we have the Lord to thank for that,” Mary says. “We can say after 35 years we still feel for better or for worse, richer or poorer, you are the one until death do us part.”

Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2006

Real love’s in the air, believe it or not

We’re marrying more than ever and are going the whole distance. So what’s changing for couples?

“She had on a white blouse, a blue skirt — and legs. Wow! And legs,” John Rocchio recalls of the first time he saw his then-to-be wife Emilia Antonelli in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1922. “So I says to myself, ‘I need to meet that broad.’”

And so he did. They fell in love, got married and still live happily together after 82 years.

It is an astounding achievement and one that apparently makes John, 101, and Emilia, 100, the Guinness Book of Records’ longest-married couple in the world.

With World Marriage Day celebrated February 12 and St Valentine’s on February 14, we explore whether John and Emilia’s feat can be repeated by this generation.

In recent years, the debate about the sacredness of marriage has been hotly contested. There was moral outrage among the church community last week after a Birmingham radio station married a couple who had only met over the telephone on a call-in show.


Marriage is increasingly being used as an economic tool and is most under scrutiny when immigration is involved.

With multi-layered pre-nuptial agreements the order of the day, are marriages really intended to last? And with the UK having one of the highest divorce rates in the world, the question is becoming: is marriage being utilised as a temporary escape from reality?

Whether at the registry office or at the church altar, couples continue to promise to stay together ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health while they both shall live’.

These couples have as their goal companionship, love and tranquillity. Achieving it, though, is not simple or easy, and many do not succeed.

In the UK, marriages that end in divorce are at an all-time high. Even couples that last beyond the honeymoon stages, before the challenges of everyday living set in, may become bored, mutually unfulfilled and ultimately driven apart.

Couples in their mid-20s are at the highest risk of separation blues. Breakdown in communication, difficulty discussing emotionally-charged issues such as finances or child-rearing practices and the challenge of effectively resolving divisive issues are all factors that can sour a potentially gratifying marriage.

Statistics suggesting modern marriages no longer last more than a decade imply that newlyweds today are doing something wrong compared to their older counterparts who have successfully tied the knot for more than half a century.

Francis and Alice Langlais from Enfield, north London, have been married for 53 years. They attribute the success of their long partnership to having a strong faith in God and knowing how to compromise – the famous three words: ‘give and take’.

“Give and take is hard to do because sometimes you are right but you compromise for peace. It takes two to argue, as well as to tango.

“Marriages don’t last because many couples don’t have God in their relationship. Having faith in God results in having faith in your marriage.

“Modern couples turn to their friends for advice and seek council from people who may not have their best interest when in truth they should turn to God.”

The Langlais couple exchanged vows on June 3, 1952 after falling in love the year before. “Alice and I fell in love in 1951 after meeting each other in the choir at Christmas. I had a lovely voice and I used to play the guitar,” recalls Francis, 78.

Alice, 74, gushingly echoed her husband’s sentiments: “We were in love – that’s all we knew. We did not have the pressure that many modern couples have today because we had our parents’ support and we did not have unrealistic expectations for one another.”

Many marriage counsellors reiterate that marital discord may occur simply because the couple came together for the wrong reasons or because they approached marriage with unrealistic expectations. Going into a marriage with eyes wide open is the first initiative toward the long-term success of the union.

“Every ten years we accomplish together is a blessing. The fist decade we shared we had a huge party and we also had a big celebration for our golden anniversary. We love growing old together and would not change it for the world. We especially love seeing our children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren grow and develop,” the couple said.

Relationship counsellor and author Paula Hall believes that acceptance is the ultimate formula for successful marriages. “There are two key things to master if you want to have a long lasting marriage. The first is acceptance – we are all different and unique and you’re not going to find your carbon copy and the second thing couples must learn is to communicate in order to get over those differences.”

Philip and Letitia Morris, 58 and 55 respectively, tied the knot in 1972 and have been successfully married for 33 years. Together they share four children, three grandchildren and two foster-sons.

Once again, the same three words are mentioned in order to keep a blissful marriage. “The secret of marriage is ‘give and take’ along with having the ability to accept the person that you are with, please the person and respect their wishes.


“Many marriages end in divorce due to a lack of preparation. If couples prepare for the unexpected the unexpected will not catch them off guard and if you have high or unrealistic expectations and they are not fulfiled you will become disappointed.”

Hall told The Voice that her research found that couples often break up due to lack of communication.

“The art of good communication is being able to express yourself honestly and clearly, being able to own your feelings.

“You must also be a good listener – being able to read between the lines, hear what people are feeling as well as what they are saying,” Hall said.

Couple reunited after more than 60 years

Willard Mason and Ilah Ost are giving new meaning to the phrase: “Love is patient.” More than 60 years ago, the couple were engaged to be married, but life’s circumstances got in the way. [My Boyfriend’s Back : Fifty True Stories of Reconnecting with a Long-Lost Love]

Now, after they each married others, raised families and their spouses died, the two are together again.

“Ilah was my first girlfriend,” Mason told The Daily Telegram. “I first met her when I was a sophomore at Blissfield High School.”

The two began dating and got engaged.

But in 1941, Mason moved to Ypsilanti to work at the Willow Run bomber plant. There, he met a woman named Helvi, and broke his engagement to Ost. He married Helvi in 1942.

Ost later married her husband, Marvin, and had three children before he died in 1974.

Mason’s wife died in 2003, and by chance, he ran into Ost’s brother in Blissfield in 2004, and he encouraged Mason to call Ost.

The two started dating, with Mason driving from his home near Houghton Lake to Adrian, where Ost lived.

On one of his trips to Adrian, Mason blacked out and struck a tree with his car. Tests showed he needed a new pacemaker, Mason said.

He then moved to near Adrian and invited Ost to move in with him.

“We get along perfectly,” Mason said. “We’ve never had an argument. She’s a great cook, and she takes care of me.”

Mason and Ost spend much of their time with friends and family, and Mason marvels at how the two have gotten back together after so many years.

“You don’t know how our lives might have turned out if we’d gotten married in 1941,” Mason said. “But now, she has a wonderful family and so do I.” [Small Miracles: Extraordinary Coincidences from Everyday Life]

Sunday, Feb. 12, 2006

A kidney, straight from the heart

While many people wrestle with finding the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for their spouses, Jane Picone knew exactly what to give her husband — her kidney.

On Tuesday, the Andover Township resident will donate her left kidney to her husband Al, who suffers from a genetic polycystic kidney disease. [The Official Patient’s Sourcebook on Polycystic Kidney Disease]

“Thirty-five years ago I gave my heart to him, and this year he’s getting my kidney,” she said Friday to her coworkers who threw the couple a surprise party complete with kidney-shaped cupcakes and sandwiches. An office manager and paralegal for Daggett, Kraemer, Eliades, Vanderwiele and Ursin, Jane Picone has worked at the Sparta law office for 28 years.

Al Picone said he was “amazed and touched” by his wife’s decision.

“I’m from the old school where the guy is always the hero, but Tuesday that will change,” he said.

Although he has had the disease for a long time, Picone, a Union pipe fitter, said he really started feeling poorly last year, experiencing extreme exhaustion and muscle fatigue from the poisons that his body could not expel. Picone’s doctors recently told him he had to choose between a transplant or dialysis. [Kidney Dialysis and Transplants: The ‘At Your Fingertips’ Guide]

“When I told my wife it was going to need to be one or the other, she said she would donate hers,” he said. “There was no hesitation.”

To Jane Picone, the decision seemed obvious.

“I couldn’t think of any reason why not,” Jane Picone said. “There was never a question — I have two kidneys and the other one will grow larger to compensate.”

Thanks to advancements in immunosuppressant drugs which keep the body from rejecting a transplanted organ, the kidneys don’t have to be a perfect match as long as the blood types are compatible, said Jane Picone, who has a universal blood type.

“They also have to mix the bloods together to make sure the cells won’t fight each other,” she said.

Once it was clear that the couple’s blood was compatible, the surgery was scheduled to be performed at Saint Barnabas Hospital in Livingston on Valentine’s Day.

“I think it was intentional,” Jane Picone said with a laugh, adding that she plans to work the day before and be back to work within a week. She said her surgery, which is less invasive than most people think, will last 11/2 hours, while her husband’s will last two to three hours.

“It’s very happy and very hopeful … We’ve met a lot of people going through the same thing,” she said. “We are very fortunate because my husband is older and he is not on dialysis — he would be in a couple of weeks if we weren’t doing this.”

The Picones will celebrate their 30th anniversary on April 4. Married at the ages of 19 and 20, they met in high school and started dating “sometime in 1969.” Al Picone proposed to his wife on top of Garrett Mountain in Paterson.

“I had curlers in my hair,” Jane Picone recalled with a laugh.

Their adult daughter, Laura, said she is a little nervous about the upcoming surgeries.

“It’s scary to have both parents going into major surgery, but it’s a good thing,” she said. “Mom’s so optimistic and my dad’s going to be better than new.”

An energetic and petite woman, Jane Picone was obviously a favorite of the coworkers gathered to wish the couple well on their surgeries.

“Jane is like a second mother to me,” said Holly Reinhardt, an associate attorney at the firm. “I’m worried but very happy for her at the same time.”

“This is a testament to their relationship,” said Lisa Abraham, secretary to Gary Kraemer. [Real Life, Real Love : 7 Paths to a Strong and Lasting Relationship]

“If you know her, you understand why she’s doing it,” Attorney George Daggett said. “She’s just giving all the time.”

Daggett, who has worked with Jane Picone for nearly 30 years, dubbed her “the brains” behind the office’s operation.

“I’m glad the other girl called and said she didn’t want the job,” he joked from across the room.

“Let’s be honest — she called and said she didn’t want the salary,” Jane Picone quickly returned.

The office presented Jane Picone with presents to get her through the surgery, from Valentine’s day pajamas to a finger puppet to keep her company in recovery.

“Maybe it will start talking back to me with the drugs,” she quipped as she held the small puppet.

The couple said they would like people to know that donating an organ to a loved one is easier than most people think.

“A lot of time people have a preconceived notion but the procedures are so much more advanced,” Al Picone said.

“If the situation were reversed he would give me the kidney,” his wife said.

Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2006

Baby Jessica, rescued from well 18 years ago, weds at age 19

Baby Jessica, whose dramatic rescue from an abandoned Texas well was televised across the country 18 years ago, got married in a private ceremony, People magazine reported on its website.

Crews struggled for 58 hours to rescue Jessica McClure after she fell into an 20-centimetre-wide pipe in October 1987. The celebrity magazine reported that McClure, now 19, married Daniel Morales, 32, at a rural church outside Midland on Saturday. A sign on the door instructed guests not to take pictures or video, the magazine said.

The two met at a daycare centre where Morales’ sister worked with McClure, according to the magazine.

The case of 18-month-old Jessica created a worldwide sensation. Emergency crews rescued her – a dramatic moment covered on live television – after digging a parallel shaft and then breaking through the wall of the well.

Friday, Jan. 13, 2006

Online Chatting Leads to Virtual Wedding

Rita Sri Mutiara Dewi’s fiance could not get time off from his job in the United States. But that didn’t stop the couple who have never met in person from tying the knot on Thursday.

And a Muslim cleric who witnessed the ceremony between the Indonesian lovers declared it legal, she said, even though they were on opposite ends of the earth.

“We are happy that we’re married now, even though we had to do it via the Internet,” said Dewi, 50, noting that the two used a video link so her relatives could see her 52-year-old groom.

Dewi met Wiriadi, a physiotherapist who works at a hospital in California, in an Internet chat room several months ago. They exchanged pictures and contacted each other almost every day, she said, speaking usually online but other times by phone.

In November Wiriadi proposed. Over the Internet, of course.

Dewi, who works as a teacher in Malaysia, returned to Indonesia for the virtual wedding. Wiriadi, who uses only one name, was in California. It was the second marriage for both.

Dewi said Friday she plans to travel to the United States next month to meet her new husband.

Monday, Jan. 9, 2006

Dog’s best friend

A black American pit bull puppy living in a junkyard seems an unlikely china doll.

But on Christmas eve, Lonnie Smith rushed the sick creature to the Animal Hospital at 1250 Main St. 10 minutes before it closed and begged for treatment.

“I don’t have a lot of money. But I promised them, ‘If the dog dies or if the dog lives, I’ll pay you,’” said Smith, 37, who has blackened his hands salvaging parts at the local junkyard where he lives on-site in a trailer with Knucklehead.

Initially, he figured she had lapped up some antifreeze.

“But then I opened up her mouth, and it didn’t smell like antifreeze,” he said.

The vet diagnosed the 25-pound puppy with parvo, a virus that lowers white blood cell count and makes animals vulnerable to potentially fatal infections.

“I know people food ain’t too good for them. But every once in a while, I feed her cheeseburgers,” Smith said of the puppy. “When she wouldn’t even eat a cheeseburger, I knew she was sick.”

By Jan. 2, when the Animal Hospital discharged Knucklehead, Smith knew he faced a hefty bill. So he pawned his red and white 1988 Chevy pickup and used some of the $400-plus to pay back as much as he could.

Smith now rides a green Schwinn and is still making payments to the hospital, he said.

“He was very honest and forthright about his whole situation,” Animal Hospital office manager Jennifer McLaughlan said. “There are not many people who go to the lengths he’s gone to pay us for their pet care.”

Smith got Knucklehead in early December for free from a client, he said. At first, he refused.

“Then I met her. She was in the bathtub. That’s where she lived,” he said. “I couldn’t take it. I just took her home with me, and we’ve been together ever since.”

By day, Knucklehead keeps Smith company, chewing plastic bottles while he works among a crammed hodgepodge of car carcasses and engine parts. She dozes on a light blue blanket beside a battered convertible overflowing with aluminum cans.

By night, Knucklehead curls up near his right arm.

“She’s Lonnie’s baby,” a co-worker said Friday.

A self-described loner, Smith agreed.

“Yeah. She’s pretty much my family,” he said. “Knucklehead doesn’t bite, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard her growl.

“Huh, kid, huh?” he said, rubbing the puppy’s belly in the morning sun.

“This little dog just tore my heart out when I saw her sick like that. These people (at the Animal Hospital) were heroes to me,” he added.

“See, it says right here, ‘We treat your animals like our own,’” Smith said, pointing at the slogan running along the bottom of his oil-stained Animal Hospital bill. “They do. For sure. They saved my dog.”

Monday, Jan. 2, 2006

From Russia, with love

If all went according to plan, Scott Nelson and Irina Balagurova are formally engaged this morning.

Scott planned to propose to Irina last night at Yakima’s first-ever downtown New Year’s Eve party. The Millennium Plaza proposal comes nearly two years and thousands of miles from Siberia, where the two met.

Scott always thought of Siberia as a frigid, faraway land — the place where his parents threatened to send him for misbehaving as a child.

He never dreamed it would be the home of his future wife.

“I fell in love with her the moment I met her,” he said. “It’s funny to fall in love with someone long distance. And I fell in love with someone halfway around the world.”

Earlier in the week, he was nervous about the surprise proposal.

“I wanted to do it right this time and do it big,” said Scott, 44. “It’s been a bad year for me. I am ready for a new year and a new beginning.”

A district manager for Rex TV, Scott manages 10 retail stores in Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho.

Managing that many stores across such a wide area requires a lot of traveling. That made it especially hard this year when his mother and grandmother fell ill and passed away. Then he lost his 17-year companion, a black Labrador named Tabby. On top of that, there was the enormously long and frustrating process of obtaining a visa for Irina.

Scott first heard about Irina from her sister, Ella Cosgrove, who has lived in Yakima for about 10 years. Like Scott, Irina was recently divorced. The two began exchanging e-mails and discovered they had more in common than most would think, considering their different backgrounds and cultures.

The two finally met in the fall of 2004, when Scott traveled to Russia with Ella and her husband, Mike.

Until the eighth grade, Irina and Ella lived in Kirovo-Chepestk, which was then a city about the size of Yakima. The family later moved to Irkutsk, which is in Siberia near the Russia-Mongolia border.

After high school, the two sisters split up. Ella came to Yakima to be married. Irina stayed, became a nurse, married and had a daughter, Sveta, now 22.

For years, Ella pleaded with Irina and their mother to visit her in Yakima. But Irina never really had a desire to visit until she met Scott.

“After that first trip, (Irina) told me that maybe she would like to visit,” Ella said.

During that first trip, the couple hit it off and embarked on a transatlantic relationship. Unfortunately, the courtship moved faster than Irina’s immigration application.

Scott applied for the visa in November 2004, and it had been approved stateside and sent to Moscow for processing in early January.

Fiancé visas are fairly routine. Last year, 1,159 were granted to people coming to Washington state. Nationwide, a total of 28,546 were awarded. The visas require couples to be married within 90 days of visa approval.

Typically, fiancé visa applications take about two months to process. A spokeswoman for the western region office of the federal Citizenship and Immigration Services said it’s not clear what delayed Irina’s application.

A frustrated Scott called the U.S. Embassy in Moscow weekly. Each time he was told the application was “under review” and asked to “submit more information.”

In May, after waiting for so long, Scott traveled to Russia for a second time, a two-week trip to visit Irina and her mother in Kirovo-Chepestk.

When Scott returned, he wrote to U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray. He sought help from Yakima city officials and reached out to U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings.

“They all said they would do what they could,” he said. But days and weeks passed and still no visa.

“We were sending document after document to the immigration office in Moscow. It was just frustrating for me waiting and waiting,” he said.

He contacted the White House asking for help and continued calling the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

Then, in mid-December, Scott got an early-morning call from Moscow. A new caseworker had been assigned to Irina’s visa application and it was quickly approved.

“The guy said he didn’t understand why her visa wasn’t approved earlier,” Scott said.

Irina traveled six hours from her home in Siberia to Moscow and boarded a plane bound for New York City, then flew on to Seattle, arriving Dec. 19.

“It’s been a long journey but, actually, this is just the beginning,” Scott said.

Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2005

Tsunami brings wave of love

In the chaos after the 2004 tsunami, a volunteer Israeli doctor and a badly injured survivor fell in love. A year later, Israeli engineer Ron Bombiger held Dr Dorit Nitzan’s hand and proposed to her yesterday in the Phuket hospital room where they first met.

”Dori, in front of all these people, will you marry me?” asked Mr Bombiger, 49, as beaming nurses looked on in the room adorned with red roses and petals on the bed in the shape of a heart.

She whispered in his ear, they kissed and exchanged engagement rings to loud cheers and applause.

Mr Bombiger narrowly escaped the killer waves which struck the Kamala beach hotel he was staying in on Dec 26 last year. His leg was seriously injured and he was admitted to Bangkok-Phuket Hospital, where he met Dr Nitzan, 48, in room 432 two days later.

Over the next few weeks, as Mr Bombiger recovered from a series of operations on his right thigh, Dr Nitzan visited him frequently in room 432.

By an amazing coincidence they discovered they grew up in the same small town and went to the same school, and their childhood homes were only a few blocks apart.

After he was discharged from the hospital, Mr Bombiger returned to Israel to visit his family in April this year. He met Dr Nitzan again at a coffee shop in Tel Aviv and their friendship flourished into romance.

”We call it the ‘wave of love’,” Mr Bombiger said of the tragedy that brought them together. ”This wave came in and I found this girl I love and want to spend the rest of my life with.”

The two Israelis yesterday returned to Bangkok-Phuket Hospital. Mr Bombiger wanted to propose marriage in room 432, the place they first met.

Their wedding is planned over the coming months. Mr Bombiger said they would then holiday in Thailand, and joked they just might honeymoon in room 432.

Dr Nitzan has been posted to Belgrade by the WHO and they plan to move there.

Monday, Dec. 12, 2005

Husband Answer to a maiden’s prayer

Gloria Carroll of Merrick recalls how a wish came true the night she met her husband, Thomas.

In October 1948, I was 22 and lived in Flatbush, Brooklyn. I had received my RN at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan and was sent to train as a school nurse at St. Luke’s Parochial School on East 138th Street in the Bronx.

One day, I made a visit to St. Luke’s Church. I was told that if you make a wish the first time you visit a church, it will come true. So I knelt down and wished for a tall, handsome Irishman.

A week later, I was at a Knights of Columbus dance at the Hotel Grenada in downtown Brooklyn when a nice-looking fellow, about 5-foot-4, came over and asked, “If you stand up, will you be too tall for me?”

I was wearing platform shoes and told him I was sorry but I thought I would be too tall. With that, his friend, a handsome, 6-foot-2, blue-eyed Irishman remarked, “Well, you won’t be too tall for me!”

Our first dance together was to “Some Enchanted Evening,” a song from the Broadway show “South Pacific.”

He told me his name was Tom. He was 25 and had never been to Brooklyn before. He’d unexpectedly gotten the night off from his job at the A&P supermarket, and his friends persuaded him to come to the dance. They usually went to the Knights of Columbus dances in Manhattan.

Then I couldn’t believe my ears when he told me he lived in the Bronx on East 138th Street and attended St. Luke’s Church.

And to think I almost stayed home that night. I was supposed to go to the dance with my friend, but at the last minute she cancelled because of a toothache. I decided to go to the dance alone, something I’d never done before.

Tom and I danced all night. He was and still is a terrific dancer. Later he escorted me home and asked me to a Halloween party the following week.

On New Year’s Eve, Tom proposed and we were married on May 1, 1949.

It was all very romantic and after 56 years Tom still refers to himself as “the answer to a maiden’s prayer.”

During WWII, Tom had been a sergeant with the Army Corps of Engineers and served as combat engineer in both the European and Pacific theaters.

He owned a messenger service business called Top Cat in Merrick before retiring in 1990. I also retired that year as supervising nurse for the medical department at Grumman Aerospace Corp. We have three children and seven grandchildren.

Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2005

Happy marriage ‘helps fight flu’

Happily married people are more likely to fight off flu effectively, research suggests.

Conversely, the virus may be more difficult for those who are recently bereaved or divorced.

A team from the University of Birmingham found that stressful life events had an effect on the immune response to the annual flu jab.

This immune response is thought to be a good indication of the body’s capacity to fight back against the virus itself.

The Birmingham team examined levels of antibodies – produced by the body to combat disease – in the blood.

A higher increase in antibody levels indicates that the body’s immune system is better primed to fight off infection.

People who said they were happily married had much higher levels of antibodies in the blood than those who reported lower marital satisfaction.

Those that had suffered a bereavement in the year prior to vaccination had a poorer response than those who had not suffered bereavement.

More than 180 people aged over 65 from surgeries across Birmingham took part in the study.

Jabs important

Participants gave a blood sample prior to vaccination, then further samples at one month.

They also completed questionnaires to gauge exposure to stressful life events.

Lead researcher Dr Anna Phillips said: “We know that those aged over 65 are more at risk of the impact of flu.

“But this research shows that within that group, those that have been recently bereaved, or those that are single, divorced or widowed are more at risk that those who are in a happy marriage.

“It is especially important for these at risk groups to get their flu jabs.

“We would like to take this research further, to see whether interventions such as bereavement counselling or marriage counselling can improve the immune response in at risk groups.”

Dr John Moore-Gillon, president of the British Lung Foundation, said: “Many things can affect the immune system, and this research suggests that the state of someone’s mind may be one of them.

“It’s always difficult to completely exclude the possibility that it’s actually factors like subtle alterations in nutrition which are responsible for the differences seen in the immune responses.

“But the research certainly shows that we need to try and understand more about how the mind and the body interact in both health and disease.”

Miracle Monday: Love Across an Ocean

When you meet the love of your life, you just know. You know it’s right, you know it’s meant to be, you know you’re done searching.

Alan Hartley knew.

“Soon as I saw her, I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve got to get to know this lady,'” he says with a grin.

For Alan, that great moment came when he was 22-years-old and attending grad school in England, where he would meet a young American named Elizabeth.

“She’s got the prettiest smile I think I’ve ever seen in my life and the biggest, sparkly eyes,” he says.

She was studying abroad – as outgoing as Alan was shy – and had no romantic interest in the nameless guy who blended into the background.

“Finally, I’d known him for weeks and he finally said, my name is Alan,” remembers Elizabeth. “After that, I started noticing him like, ‘Don’t you remember me? I was the cute one, the one you like,'” she laughs. “He played me like a fiddle.”

A tune that hit it’s beat during spring break. Elizabeth had plans to visit Paris with a friend, but there was a problem – neither one of them spoke French, Alan did.

“He said, sure, he’d go be our tour guide and interpreter and everything and right before we left, the friend bailed out, had other plans and so it was just the two of us, so our real first date was this week in Paris,” Elizabeth recalls.

On that trip, Elizabeth fell for him. So much so, that one afternoon at the base of the Eiffel Tower an older Frenchman couldn’t help but notice.

“He came walking up to us very deliberately and he leaned down to him and handed him a stack of crepes and said something in French and then started kind of chuckling and walked away,” Elizabeth says. “I said, you know, ‘What was that all about?’ and he said apparently that we looked like we were so much in love we’d probably forgotten to eat that day.”

That feeling lasted five weeks before Elizabeth returned to the U.S. and their long distance relationship began.

“Every Friday he would walk to the next village at 11:00 at night and I would rush home from work and we would talk on the phone for a half hour every Friday night,” she says.

Months of long distance turned into years and eventually they decided to get married. They set the date for Easter weekend 1991. Alan booked plane tickets and applied for a visa, but one week before the wedding, everything fell apart.

The travel agency went bankrupt, the U.S. Embassy lost his passport and on his way to get a new one, a gust of wind blew away his birth certificate, leaving Alan desperate for a miracle.

“I got down on my knees in front of this Jamaican lady and said ‘Please!’ and she said, ‘Oh, come here, lovey’ and she took me around the back and processed everything that day,” says Alan.

He arrived in America just two days before he and Elizabeth would finally become husband and wife.

“You should have seen her in her wedding gown, she just looked lovely,” Alan says, grinning at Elizabeth.

Their long distance love affair, though, wasn’t over yet. Alan spent the next six months in England finishing school, then came home for good.

“When it was happening, we didn’t think anything of it. It was just hurdles all the way and we just kind of went over them, we didn’t think about it, we just went over them, as soon as they came, we went over them and when we look back – it seems like, how did we do that?” Alan says.

But they did – because as the saying goes – they both just knew. No matter what they had to overcome, the outgoing American girl was meant to be with the shy British boy.

“To this day, we’ve been married almost 15 years and he’s exactly who I thought he was. He’s still the nicest, kindest person and it just gets better and better,” says Elizabeth.

Thursday, Nov. 3, 2005

60 years later: Couple still in love after all these years

Sixty years ago, a young woman named Lois Plemmons fell in love with a serviceman four years her senior.

It was wartime, 1945, and Lois dated and wrote letters to Weldon Nations, a handsome young man who had captured her heart.

“He was my first true love, and I was his,” she said.

Time and war proved too great a barrier, and both married other people, within months of each other.

They raised families and had wonderful, long-term marriages. Neither gave the other much thought until their spouses died in recent years and both were left alone and heartbroken.

One of Lois’ relatives told her about Weldon’s wife who’d passed away last December. She reported he was living in Whittier, only 35 miles from Lois’ home in Robbinsville. Lois picked up the phone and dialed, not sure what to expect.

“I wanted to call and offer my condolences,” she said. “I’d passed through Whittier and kept wondering about him.”

Weldon was surprised to get her call. He thought she was either dead or far away, maybe in another state. He had no clue that for all these years, she’d been less than an hour away.

“I lived with my first wife 56 years, and she lived with her husband 55 years,” he said. “I didn’t know what had happened to her.”

The two agreed to meet. Destination: Weldon’s church in Whittier.

“That’s when we first saw each other again,” Lois said. “He looked good to me, and I think I looked good to him. We just hugged right there in church. It didn’t take long until we knew we loved each other.”

Weldon said he was pleased to become reacquainted with his former flame. While he had many happy years with his wife, her passing last December left him extremely sad and lonely.

“It’s hard going through this life alone, but it’s a blessing to be married again,” he said. “I love everything about her. I told her God would be pleased if we were married.”

Lois agreed and the two wed Sept. 25 at the Whittier Church of God. Lois glowed in a formal, lavender gown with a beaded bodice. She also wore a veil, as if she were a first-time bride.

The biggest news, besides the fact the two reconnected after 60 years apart, was the presence at the wedding of Weldon’s 103-year-old mother, Bessie Nations. They had sprung her from the rest home so she could attend the ceremony. It was the first time she’d ever seen one of her children get married. They had all run off and eloped back when they were young.

“She was so happy because she’d remembered my mother,” said Katre Farmer, the bride’s daughter.

“That was the best part of it that she came,” Lois said of Bessie’s attendance. “She just beamed and smiled. She was tickled to death and had been telling us she wanted to come and see us get married.”

The couple and their families are pleased the two have reunited at this stage in life.

“She’s happy, and I’m glad,” Katre said of her mother’s marriage. “My dad’s gone and life goes on. They feel like God led them to each other again in this life, and this is the way they are supposed to finish it out.”

Dorvan Farmer, Katre’s husband, said he’s been delighted at the affection Weldon shows his new bride.

“They have a tendency,” he said, “to play Huggy Bear, Kissy Face.”

Lois laughed when told about this, but never denied it.

“He’s a good Christian man, and we thank God for all of this, because we feel he’s the one who brought us together after these years.”

As far as their future, the two say the goal is to stay healthy. And alive.

“We don’t have any big plans,” Lois said.

“I just feel like she does,” Weldon said, “like it was a miracle that we got together to enjoy our old-age life.”

The couple will travel back and forth between the bride’s home in Robbinsville and the groom’s in Whittier. The only drawback to finding love again late in life is it’s too difficult to merge households, Katre said with a smile.

Lois said friends and strangers alike seem to approve of her new marriage. “We hold hands and people will smile and say, ‘You don’t see that much anymore.’ It seems to make people happy.”

Saturday, Oct. 29, 2005

Love Letters Returned To Widow, 91

A 91-year-old widow in New York state has regained possession of the love letters her late husband wrote her during World War Two.

And LaVerne Jenkins has a Tennessee woman to thank.

Gail Williamson was browsing inside an antiques store when she stumbled on the letters. Williamson says she was moved by “the sweetness and tenderness of them.” So, she says, she wrote down the name and address listed on them.

Williamson says when she went home, she and her husband turned on the computer and found a listing for T. Kayler Jenkins.

LaVerne Jenkins had kept the listing under her husband’s name even though he died of cancer in 1973.

Jenkins says she had no idea the letters were missing. She thought they were stored safely in the attic, with the others.

When Williamson sent Jenkins the letters, Jenkins says “it was like Christmas.”

Sunday, Oct. 23, 2005

Meeting again years later – and still in love

Sixty years ago, a young woman named Lois Plemmons fell in love with a serviceman four years her senior.

It was wartime, 1945, and Lois dated and wrote letters to Weldon Nations, a handsome young man who had captured her heart.

“He was my first true love, and I was his,” she said.

Time and war proved too great a barrier, and both married other people, within months of each other.

They raised families and had wonderful, long-term marriages. Neither gave the other much thought until their spouses died in recent years and both were left alone and heartbroken.

One of Lois’s relatives told her about Weldon’s wife who’d passed away last December. She reported he was living in Whittier, only 35 miles from Lois’s home in Robbinsville.

Lois picked up the phone and dialed, not sure what to expect.

“I wanted to call and offer my condolences,” she said. “I’d passed through Whittier and kept wondering about him.”

Weldon was surprised to get her call. He thought she was either dead or far away, maybe in another state. He had no clue that for all these years, she’d been less than an hour away.

“I lived with my first wife 56 years, and she lived with her husband 55 years,” he said. “I didn’t know what had happened to her.”

The two agreed to meet. Destination: Weldon’s church in Whittier.

“That’s when we first saw each other again,” Lois said. “He looked good to me, and I think I looked good to him. We just hugged right there in church. It didn’t take long until we knew we loved each other.”

Weldon said he was pleased to become reacquainted with his former flame. While he had many happy years with his wife, her passing last December left him extremely sad and lonely.

“It’s hard going through this life alone, but it’s a blessing to be married again,” he said. “I love everything about her. I told her God would be pleased if we were married.”

Lois agreed and the two wed Sept. 25 at the Whittier Church of God. Lois glowed in a formal, lavender gown with a beaded bodice. She also wore a veil, as if she were a first-time bride.

The biggest news, besides the fact the two reconnected after 60 years apart, was the presence at the wedding of Weldon’s 103-year-old mother, Bessie Nations. They had sprung her from the rest home so she could attend the ceremony. It was the first time she’d ever seen one of her children get married. They had all run off and eloped back when they were young.

“She was so happy because she’d remembered my mother,” said Katre Farmer, the bride’s daughter.

“That was the best part of it that she came,” Lois said of Bessie’s attendance. “She just beamed and smiled. She was tickled to death and had been telling us she wanted to come and see us get married.”

The couple and their families are pleased the two have reunited at this stage in life.

“She’s happy and I’m glad,” Katre said of her mother’s marriage. “My dad’s gone and life goes on. They feel like God led them to each other again in this life, and this is the way they are supposed to finish it out.”

Dorvan Farmer, Katre’s husband, said he’s been delighted at the affection Weldon shows his new bride.

“They have a tendency,” he said, “to play Huggy Bear, Kissy Face.”

Lois laughed when told about this, but never denied it.

“He’s a good Christian man, and we thank God for all for all of this because we feel he’s the one who brought us together after these years.”

As far as their future, the two say the goal is to stay healthy. And alive.

“We don’t have any big plans,” Lois said.

“I just feel like she does,” Weldon said, “like it was a miracle that we got together to enjoy our old-age life.”

The couple will travel back and forth between the bride’s home in Robbinsville and the groom’s in Whittier. The only drawback to finding love again late in life, is it’s too difficult to merge households, Katre said with a smile.

Lois said friends and strangers alike seem to approve of her new marriage. “We hold hands and people will smile and say, ‘You don’t see that much anymore.’ It seems to make people happy.”

Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2005

Date-a-Dog: Your dog can get you a date…

If you are one of those ‘looosers’ who just can’t seem to get a date, try getting a pet, and Voila! love will bloom like never before, while you walk your pets together.

Singletons in Germany are using their pets to help them get a date after a new dating agency dubbed Date-a-Dog was set up.

Germans are now using their four-legged friends to meet a partner under the motto “a date on all fours”, reports Ananova.

The Date-a-Dog online dating agency, sponsored by dog food makers Pedigree, allows dog owners to post pictures of their pet pooches alongside a description of who they are.

Via Date-a-Dog they can then get in touch with someone from the same area and arrange to walk their dogs together.

And for those who do not own a dog but would like to date still, the website offers dogs for rent.

Monday, Oct. 10, 2005

Ditmers: A 75-year love story

For as long as he can remember, Harold Ditmer has awakened his wife each morning with a kiss.

In recent years they have been separated by medical circumstances a few times when one or the other had a problem.

“But God and fate always brought us always back together,” Harold said. “My beautiful bride is again at my side, and we are lucky to be here.”

And today Harold, who turned 95 in July, and his wife Mary, who will be 93 in November, are beginning a celebration of their 75th wedding anniversary.

Their youngest daughter, Kay Lauth, 62, will host a dinner at a restaurant for the two.

“The anniversary is Tuesday, but we begin it all with an outing today,” Kay said. “Then some friends have special events planned.”

Kay won’t offer a hint, but said there is yet another very special occasion in the planning for Mary and Harold, who make their home at One Lincoln Park retirement center in Kettering.

“Shhh!,” Kay said. “We want to surprise them.”

Whatever Kay has planned, it should be interesting based on history.

To celebrate their 25th anniversary, the Ditmers flew to Paris, France, for a party. When they turned 50 they made a trip across the United States stopping to visit with friends and relatives, including the three children: son Harold Robert, daughter Carolyn Patricia Dixon, and, of course, Kay Lynn Lauth.

Then in 2002, to celebrate the 72nd anniversary, Harold and Mary took a ride in a 1926 Model T Ford Roadster that their daughter located and rented.

“What a wonderful surprise that was,” Harold remembered. “It brought back memories. When I was a young man of 18, I worked at NCR and made 32 cents an hour or about $12.50 a week. I managed to save enough to purchase 1926 Model T. I think it cost me about $250.”

About that time, he met 16-year-old Mary Elizabeth Harshbarger.

“She was a most beautiful farm girl,” he said, “We fell in love at first glance.”

Mary has said, “Harold was a charming and handsome man. He took my breath away, And on top of that, he had a nice car.”

In 1930, Mary and Harold said they eloped and exchanged vows at the courthouse in Newport, Ky.

“It took us about 10 days to tell the family,” Harold said. “But it didn’t take long for them to come around and give us their blessings.”

The two lived in Ludlow Falls for a while, but soon moved to Kettering and started a family.

“It was closer to my job at NCR, and just seemed the right thing to do,” Harold said. “I continued to rise in the company. I moved up from an errand boy, delivering messages on roller skates, to a position in the assembly department.

“Then I soon became a foreman of a department with over 700 employees and then eventually worked into a position as a supervisor and then chief inspector.”

Before he retired in 1970 at 60 he had become vice president in charge of manufacturing.

“I thank God for the privilege of working for such a great company,” Harold said.

After retirement, and while they were able, the two were involved in volunteer work, and did some traveling, visiting 44 countries.

In recent months, Mary fell and broke her hip for a third time, and is still in therapy for a small stroke on her right side, Harold said.

“But we are together on this important anniversary. And we still love each other as much as we did when we were teenagers. It’s been a wonderful life we have shared. We are very fortunate indeed.”

Love survives half-century of separation

In the closing days of World War II, Xuan fell in love with a Japanese soldier. He remained with her and fought in the resistance until he was ordered home. Thanh Phong meets a woman who has waited 50 years for her lover’s return.

The days of August 1945 will never fade in Nguyen Thi Xuan’s mind – when she fell in love, at the age of 21, with a 24-year-old Japanese soldier named Shimizu Yoshiharu.

Xuan, 81 and a resident of Vinh Thanh Village in Vinh Ngoc Commune of Dong Anh District in Ha Noi, has an extraordinarily acute mind and beautiful white hair. Her story starts in the year of 1944, when she worked at a Japanese restaurant in Hai Phong’s Grand Theatre. The two met in the restaurant, and talked on many occasions, and one day found they had fallen for each other. Through their conversations, their mutual affection gathered strength.

However, the couple was separated, and had to wait 50 years for a reunion.

During World War II, Shimizu had joined the military service under the general mobilisation order from the Japanese Government and was later dispatched to Viet Nam. His father and older brother died in the war. Only his mother and younger sister were left.

In August 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allies, and its army in Viet Nam had to withdraw. Shimizu went with the forces to Quang Ninh to take a ship back to Japan.

But Shimizu and four other Japanese troops decided they would stay, and rented a boat to return to Hai Phong. The five reported to the city authorities voluntarily, and asked to join the self-defence force of the port city to fight the French who had begun their re-occupation of Viet Nam. At the time, there were many Japanese, French, German and Italian soldiers who willingly joined the Vietnamese resistance army. This breed of soldier was known collectively as the “new Vietnamese”.

Xuan gave Shimizu a Vietnamese name: Nguyen Van Duc. They were married shortly thereafter.

He was transferred to Regiment 51 and then to Regiment 59, all the while fighting with the resistance force against the reoccupying French legions.

He also helped to train the nascent Vietnamese army in Thai Nguyen and Bac Giang provinces, and for his contributions gained membership with the Communist Party of Viet Nam in 1949. During these tumultuous years, Xuan travelled with her husband, bringing the children and serving as a first-aid worker, but after 1949, settled down with the children.

In the summer of 1954, after fighting in Dien Bien Phu, Duc asked for a two-month leave. Xuan and their two children lived in Thanh Hoa Province at the time, and cried with worry, hoping for Duc’s safe return.

Duc, a few days after requesting leave, told Xuan that he would soon go away for a new mission. A day before his departure, he took the family out to have photos taken. Xuan was, at the time, pregnant with their third child.

The following morning, Duc paced throughout the house, looking, with much pain on his face, at Xuan. He said he had to go away, but promised to return soon.

Only on the day of his departure did he tell her the truth: the Japanese Government had ordered the repatriation of all Japanese serving with the Vietnamese army. Xuan, however, didn’t imagine that the separation would last for half a century.

The following years of the fierce American War in Viet Nam separated them completely from communicating. She, alone, took the three children back to her home in Dong Anh of Ha Noi to start a new life. Overcoming the hardships throughout those years, she continued to write to Duc regularly, without knowing if the letters would even reach him.

She continued for the entire 50 years of separation, sending letters through the address of Shimizu’s friend in Japan, receiving no response. She had a beautifully embroidered pillow with his jacket hidden inside. Night after night, she took the pillow to bed and cried quietly, whispering words of love to her absent husband.

Xuan was resigned to never hearing from her husband again until early this year, when a group of Japanese reporters sauntered to her doorstep. They told her that her husband was still alive and handed her a handkerchief that he sent as a gift – for her tears.

Unfortunately, Duc has been paralysed for some time and cannot travel, and Xuan doesn’t have the finances to go to Japan to see him. However, the reporters exchanged videos between the two, so they have at least seen each other.

Their children, who Xuan raised alone, are now working and on their own. August 19 was the star-crossed lovers’ 60th anniversary. They haven’t seen one another for 50 years, but their love still shines.

Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2005

Reunited… after a family row kept us apart for 50 years

A BROTHER and sister have had a joyful reunion after being kept apart for more than 50 years by a family row.

Elsie Bailey, aged 82, had not seen Bill Smith, 79, since their mother’s funeral in 1953.

But this week there were tears and hugs when Bill turned up on the doorstep of her home in Longford Road, Kingstanding.

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He tracked her down using the Government’s Traceline service.

The family went their separate ways in the 1950s because Bill and their two other brothers disapproved of Elsie’s choice of husband.

Despite their opposition Elsie went on to marry Joseph and have eight children,14 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.

Meanwhile Bill moved to Northern Ireland and married Mary and had four children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Bill, who has his own business repairing trailers in County Antrim, said: “I always wondered where our brothers and sisters were, but as the years went by they moved around and we lost contact.

“But it played on my mind and I kept saying to my daughter Elainer ‘I really should try and find Elsie’.

“She got so sick of me going on about it that a couple of weeks ago she said ‘Oh Dad, just do it’.

“I contacted Traceline and told them her name, date of birth and that I thought she lived in Kingstanding.

“They told me to write a letter to Elsie and they would pass it onto her.”

Elsie, who worked as a cleaner up until she was 72, said: “I got the letter and rang him immediately I was so thrilled to hear from him.

“As soon as I heard his voice I burst into tears and then Bill did and we cried down the phone.”

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff with Your Family: Simple Ways to Keep Loved Ones and Household Chaos from Taking Over Your Life
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Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff with Your Family: Simple Ways to Keep Loved Ones and Household Chaos from Taking Over Your Life
Bill immediately booked a flight and came over.

“I gave her such a big hug I nearly squashed her and we haven’t stopped talking since,” he said.

“I’ve never stopped regretting losing touch with Elsie.”

Elsie’s children are: Pat Spooner, 59, who now lives in Cheshire; Josephine Bridgwater, 56, in Lincoln and Malcolm, 52, in Kent.

Still living in Birmingham are John, 55, in Erdington, and Michael, 48, Andrew, 60, and twins Maxine Bailey and Mark, both 41, all living in Great Barr.

Now Elsie and Bill are trying to trace the two other brothers they have lost touch with who are believed to be in Redditch or Droitwich.

Harry would be around 74 and Horace would be 87. He had two children Susan, who married a teacher, and Vernon Smith.

Their other brother Alf died aged 27 in World War Two.

Saturday, Oct. 1, 2005

Married women silenty suffer sexually

Married women are more likely to have sexual problems than married men or single women, research suggests.

Researchers from University College London analysed data from a survey of 11,000 adults, giving a snapshot of what is happening in UK bedrooms.

Juggling caring for small children with maintaining a sexual relationship was highlighted as a problem by many.

The Sexually Transmitted Infections journal study also found communication issues were linked to sex difficulties.

The Natsal survey involved men and women aged between 16 and 44 who were interviewed between 1999 and 2001.

Women were significantly more likely than men to say that they had experienced a short or longer term problem with their sex lives over the past year.

Suffering in silence

Married or cohabiting women were more likely to have problems than single members of their gender, as were mothers with young children at home.

Problems cited by married women included not feeling like they were in control of decision-making in their lives, not using a reliable form of contraception, having small children around the house and not being able to talk to their partner.

But men who were married or cohabiting were significantly less likely to say they had sexual problems compared with single men.

Men who drank more than the recommended weekly units of alcohol, and those who had had a sexually transmitted infection within the previous five years, were more likely to report problems with their sex lives.

Experts suggest the link with STIs might be that some can cause pelvic pain, premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction.

Having a chlamydia infection may also link to feelings of stigmatisation, guilt, regret and “dirtiness” in men.

The quality of the first sexual experience was identified as important for both genders, with those reporting a poor first experience more likely to report subsequent problems.

Partnership issues

Dr Catherine Mercer, of the UCL Centre for Sexual Health and HIV research, told the BBC News website: “Some of the results we have found are logical.

“But this is the first time we have data which we can use to develop appropriate advice and to give options.

“This is representative data from the UK population – it’s not just people attending STI clinics.”

She added: “It’s communication which was seen to be really important. A lot of people weren’t able to talk about sex with their partners.

“Sexual dysfunction isn’t always an individual’s problem. It may be about a partnership issue.”

David Goldmeier and colleagues, of the Jane Wadsworth Sexual Function Clinic at St Mary’s Hospital, London, writing in Sexually Transmitted Infections, said: “Despite its prevalence, sexual dysfunction is often endured in silence.

“Studies in both the US and UK suggest that as many as 54% of women and 35% of men have problems, but fewer than 11% of men and 21% of women seek help.”

They said the study gave an in-depth view of the sexual complaints in society.

Little Miss Cupid: 7 yo sets uncle up with teacher

YOUNG Amy Guy played cupid for her favourite uncle by setting him up with her teacher – and now they’ve tied the knot.

Matchmaker Amy, seven, thought Jamie McQuillan was lonely and tried to get him to meet Rebecca Morgan many times, even though they lived 200 miles apart.

Jamie, 31, said: “She kept on about it to me… I used to visit her dad – my brother-in-law Kenny – a lot.

“One day Amy invited me to school to show me pictures of her dog Dexter. Amy showed it to me on her classroom wall and then said: ‘Turn around and see who’s there’. It was Rebecca.”

Two weeks later the pair recognised each other on a night out in Chester and hit it off. They arranged to go on a date and eventually married in Buckley, Flintshire, this July.

Delighted Amy was a bridesmaid. She said yesterday: “Miss Morgan is very pretty and great fun, I knew my uncle would fancy her.

“The problem was getting the two of them together, but once I managed it, they fell in love – I knew they would.” Rebecca, 28, worked at Amy’s school in Buckley but Jamie was living in Sunderland. She said: “Amy was in my class and talked about her uncle all the time.

“She would say: ‘I’m going to Sunderland – maybe I will come back with flowers from uncle Jamie for you’.”

Jamie gave up his insurance job in Sunderland, and now works in Ellesmere Port, just a few miles from the couple’s home.

And now they are expecting their first child. Rebecca said: “The baby is due later this year. As long as the baby is healthy we are not bothered if it is a boy or a girl.”

Monday, Sep. 26, 2005

Red Cross volunteer helps Katrina refugees to wed

A couple who fled New Orleans to avoid Hurricane Katrina got married in Wisconsin, with the help of an American Red Cross volunteer.

Jessica Luebke and her fiance, Dahlak Keleta, tied the knot Saturday at the Paddock Lake home of her parents, Tom and Sharon Luebke.

The Red Cross volunteer, Jacklyn VanHeirseele, met the couple as she was interviewing Katrina evacuees in Racine County.

VanHeirseele had recently started a wedding and event-planning business and been ordained in the Universal Life Church, so she helped them make the necessary arrangements and was even able to officiate at the ceremony. She did it as a gift for the couple.

“It’s hard to believe that someone who doesn’t even know you, who never met you before, could do something so kind,” Luebke said. “We are just so lucky considering what so many people went through.”

The couple had planned to be wed at a historic New Orleans mansion before 100 or more people before Katrina hit, but instead held the ceremony before a small group of relatives and friends.

“The most important part is that we’re here together, and we’ve got each other right now,” Keleta said.

VanHeirseele said she was happy to help.

“There are things that come past you, and your eyes are either open to them or they’re not,” she said. “When you’re receptive to what comes to you, life is so much more rewarding.”

Sunday, Sep. 25, 2005

Manchester couple has clear memories of years spent in Taiwan

Peter and Lee Prommel can’t help but get excited when they talk about the three years the couple worked as missionaries.

Lee Prommel can’t stop laughing as she tells a tale of being attacked by a turkey.

Peter Prommel still shakes his head in amazement as he recalls how twin beds where stacked upon each other and a ladder then placed on the top bunk so that a streetlight bulb could be replaced in Taitung, where the couple were working.

The memories are clear, crisp and vivid, almost if they had happened yesterday.

Yet the 84-year-old Peter’s and 81-year-old Lee’s life-changing three years in Taiwan occurred more than two decades ago.

“It happened a long time ago, but it seems like yesterday,” Lee Prommel says. “I guess it’s because what happened back then is still a part of our lives today.”

As the Manchester couple, who will be married 62 years in October, like to tell it, it was God’s calling that led them to Taiwan.

It was 1978 and the couple was living in North Jersey. Attending church one Sunday, the couple heard a missionary speak of the need for help, possibly an older couple to assist him and his wife, who were directors of a children’s home in Taiwan.

Called the Home of Onesiphorus (now Kids Alive), the home ministered to the mental, physical and spiritual needs of handicapped children of school age.

The director, John Ford, showed slides “not just of a single home, but of a compound that consisted of three dormitories, (that) housed 80 children, plus three house mothers in each,” Lee Prommel explains. As the slides also showed, there was also a building with offices for the director, receptionist and nurse, as well as an indoor recreational area. In addition, the compound featured a laundry building, outdoor swimming pool, baseball field and chapel.

“Needless to say, we were impressed,” Peter Prommel recalls. “So after the service, we asked John Ford what he needed.”

The missionary’s response stunned the couple, who were in their 50s at the time.

“We’re badly in need of a nurse and a bus driver,” the couple recall Ford replying.

What Ford didn’t know — couldn’t know — was that Lee Prommel was a registered nurse, and Peter Prommel drove a school bus for special-needs children.

“We immediately decided that God was leading us to a mission field in Taiwan,” Peter Prommel says. “And we knew that it fit into what we could do at this stage in our lives.”

With their two sons, David and Robert, out of the house with families of their own, Lee and Peter Prommel spent the next two years raising financial support for their missionary work, selling their North Haledon home, packing up personal and household items to ship to Taiwan, selling or giving away larger items to friends and neighbors.

“Some people thought we were a little crazy,” Peter Prommel says. “But we knew we weren’t.”

And while their life was comfortable, working in Taiwan, Lee Prommel says, gave the couple a chance “to have our life count for something.”

Before heading to Taiwan in February 1980, the Prommels took a weeklong vacation in Bermuda. While there, they met up with a couple from Pennsylvania.

In the course of the conversation, the Prommels’ missionary work came up, as did the other couple’s desire to adopt a child, perhaps a child from Taiwan.

“At the end of the week, the couple gave us their address and telephone number,” Lee Prommel says, “and we went our separate ways, perhaps forever, perhaps not.”

In late February the couple boarded a China Airlines 747 plane. After 21 hours, including two stopovers and waiting time in Customs, the duo arrived in Taipai.

After a daylong tour of Taipai, which Peter Prommel describes as “New York City-like,” the couple once again boarded a plane. This time, their destination was Taitung and the Home of Onesiphorus.

Mary Ellen Ford picked up the Prommels and her husband, John, at the small airport in a 20-passenger bus. After a short tour of Taitung, she started on the 14-mile drive to their destination.

“There at the gates of this beautiful group of white homes, dormitories, offices and chapels was a group of Chinese kids singing, “There’s a welcome here, there’s a Christian welcome here,’ ” Lee recalls, tears welling in her eyes. “We were overwhelmed.”

After spending some time with the Fords, the Prommels returned to Taipei for a six-week crash course in Mandarin Chinese. “We learned enough to communicate, but we could never hold a conversation,” Peter Prommel says. “I think we were a little old to learn.”

Returning to the home, the couple quickly fell in love with the work they were doing. More quickly, they fell in love with the children.

“Many of the children were there because they had polio,” Lee Prommel explains, “and in many cases, their families couldn’t or wouldn’t deal with it.”

As a nurse, Lee was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to the home’s 80 children. Peter would bus the children to three different schools as well as the hospital when needed. He also delivered hot lunches to the school and brought the kids back to the home after school.

“After school was playtime, and though many of the kids wore braces and used crutches, nothing could keep them from swimming, playing on the playground or playing baseball,” Peter says. “Their spirit was just remarkable.”

The children’s love of life led the couple to secretly pay for the surgery for one young girl, who got around on her hands and knees.

“Seeing her walk with braces, that was the most wonderful sight,” Lee says. “She was a little girl that deserved a chance.”

After being in Taiwan for two years, the Prommels heard about a young, unmarried Taiwanese woman who was considering putting her baby up for adoption. The Prommels immediately thought of the couple from Pennsylvania. The couple had applied to the home where the baby was going to be placed, and soon learned they had been selected as the adoptive parents.

Shortly after the birth of the baby, the Prommels approached John Ford and told the director that they would love to bring the baby to the United States and give her to the couple.

And at the end of 1982, the Prommels returned to the United States and placed the baby in the arms of her parents at John F. Kennedy International Airport. After a brief visit in the States, the couple returned to Taiwan for another 18 months, continuing their work with the children.

The couple returned to the United States for good in mid-1983 with a lifetime of memories and pictures.

There’s the story of Lee coming face-to-face with a cobra and being knocked down by a motorcycle. There was the earthquake, the hottest summer on record and the coldest winter on record.

There are pictures of Peter driving the bus and Lee in her nursing uniform. And there are pictures of the children — literally hundreds of pictures.

“They were such a big part of our life, the part that gave us meaning,” Lee says.

There’s also pictures of the little girl that they brought to the United States, the little girl who is now getting married next summer.

“And we’re invited to the wedding,” Lee says. “That’s wonderful.”

As residents of Crestwood Manor, an assisted living facility, the trips Lee and Peter Prommel take these days are closer to home — a visit to their great-granddaughter in North Jersey, a weekend in Lancaster.

“We have our memories,” says Peter, who leads the choir at Crestwood Manor, just as he led the choir at the children’s home. “And we know in our hearts that we did what God wanted us to do.”

“And for that,” his wife adds softly, “we are truly blessed.”

Saturday, Sep. 24, 2005

Spouse support cuts job stresses

Going home to a hug from a supportive spouse – male or female – brings down blood pressure boosted by a nightmare day at work, a study finds.

The University of Toronto study, presented to an American Heart Association meeting, monitored 216 men and women for a year.

Those with stressful jobs but close relationships saw blood pressure fall.

In separate research, British heart experts are investigating a stress enzyme linked to heart damage.

The British Heart Foundation research was announced to mark World Heart Day.

Scientists will investigate the role of 11HSD1, a fat cell enzyme which controls levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Animal studies showed having higher levels of this enzyme were linked to an increased risk of obesity.

‘Marital cohesion’

In the Canadian research, researchers monitored doctors, nurses, administrators, maintenance workers and visitors at the University of Toronto Health Sciences Center.

All were aged 40 to 65, employed, and had been living with a partner for the previous six months.

At the beginning of the study, everyone’s blood pressure was monitored for 24 hours over the course of a working day.

No one in the study was being treated for high blood pressure.

Participants were also assessed to see how demanding their jobs were.

The key components of job strain were found to be a highly demanding job where the person had little control over what they did.

Another test was used to evaluate “marital cohesion”.

The same checks were carried out a year later.

Those who had a demanding job combined with support at home saw a small fall in blood pressure levels over the year.

The researchers say the findings are significant because blood pressure tends to rise as people age.

Those who had stressful jobs and a lack of support at home did see the expected rise.

Some challenge ‘good’

Professor Sheldon Tobe, who led the study, said: “Job strain had a significant impact, both clinically and statistically, on blood pressure.”

He added: “The medical model of healthcare does not include job strain, but stress at work and at home can modify the health of patients.”

Professor Tobe said: “The amount of support given at home in the relationship is a major definition of marital cohesion. ”

He added people who had high job strain and/or low marital cohesion – or if a happy relationship had deteriorated, they should see their family doctor for a blood pressure check.

Dr Charmaine Griffiths, spokesperson for the British Heart Foundation, said: “A degree of challenge is necessary for us to feel motivated and enthusiastic, but too much stress can cause ill health.

“Getting the balance right and having emotional support, whether from loved ones or friends, helps us cope with stress in a positive way.”

Thursday, Sep. 22, 2005

Soldier to marry her rescue hero

A SOLDIER is to wed an Army colleague from Manchester who rescued her from a baying mob in Iraq.

Gunner Natalie Savage, 20, from Thornaby, Teesside, feared she was going to die until Lance Bombardier James Day, 22, moved in to help her.

The rescue sparked a romance and they will walk down the aisle next year.

The Royal Artillery gunner was thrown from an Army Land Rover when it hit a pothole in Basra.

She broke bones in her back and was paralysed from the waist down.

As she lay helplessly on the ground, a gang of Iraqi men kicked her.

But in jumped James, the Land Rover driver, to rescue his colleague.

As he held Natalie in his arms, awaiting Army medics, James burst into tears thinking the 20-year-old was going to die in the street.

Later, in hospital, she was told she might never walk again, but within weeks, she regained full use of her legs.

When she was transferred home to a hospital in Birmingham, James flew back and told Natalie he loved her.

Despite knowing of each other in the same regiment, the two had only spoken briefly before the incident.


Now the smitten squaddies are to be married in February and are expecting their first child, a girl they plan to name Paige.

Natalie admitted the moment that sparked their love was not the most romantic.

She said: “We were escorting some Kuwaiti women when we hit the pothole driving past Basra Palace.

“It was an open-top Land Rover and I was flung out. I broke my back when I landed, but I was still awake.

“These Iraqi men came out and were kicking me. James came running out and took my helmet off and as soon as the men realised I was a woman, they stopped attacking me and started to help.

“James was crying his eyes out. He thought he’d killed me, he was saying he was really sorry – but I told him I was all right.

“It’s not the way you would expect to meet your future husband.

“After I was transferred to Birmingham, James came to see me and told me the same day that he loved me and we just hit it off.”

James then popped the question when the couple were on leave in Paris in January.

Their regiment is now based in Guterslogh, Germany, where Natalie and James plan to wed in February.

Both plan to continue serving with the Army in Germany.

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