On occasion of our 22nd wedding anniversary this past weekend, I thought my next story would be how Leah and I came to be a couple. As you begin to learn more about me, you probably are starting to see I’m a bit of a sentimentalist. Leah describes me as much more romantic than her. Well, you all that know her, do you blame me? … and those who don’t know her, well, if this sappy intro hasn’t dissuaded you otherwise, I invite you to read on…
I met Leah in December 1986 in Fresno at a mutual friend of ours Greg Bear’s Christmas party while I was back home from Annapolis. I remember her being very smartly dressed in a jacket with the sleeves rolled up halfway. She was quite attractive, a quality about her that remains with her to this day…. As a true blonde, she stood out as at the time many of Greg’s other friends had dark and generally jet black hair, dyed or otherwise. It so happens that I’ve always had a preference for blondes and so I was admittedly very attracted to her from first seeing her that night. Being that I was home from Annapolis, I felt a bit of an outsider at Greg’s party. Most everyone else were amongst his circle of friends from Fresno City College. Being that I’m less than comfortable in situations where I don’t know people in the room, I was mostly quiet that night, something Leah would share with me that she noticed about me. She would also share later that there was something different about me then the other guys I hung out with that gave her a sense that I could be trusted. In retrospect, I attribute that to here seeing Christ in me. Despite my not making Him the center of my life and increasingly becoming more self-willed, I believe the 6+ years of being a Christ-follower through High School is what Leah saw in me at the time. I’m absolutely certain that God had a plan in this, I just was oblivious to it at this point in my life. I just found her to be VERY attractive and that needs no further explanation…
For what I will share was a motive to see if I could get to talk to Leah at some point, I hung out later than most did that night albeit I never had the courage to introduce myself to her. In fact, we both ended up crashing there (… ok friends think PG not R please). It was just a wise thing not to be driving that late and so it was purely a means to end the night safely. Girls in one room, Boys in another. In fact, I remember I got the easy chair in the living room as my place to crash. In the later morning, the 6-8 of us hold-outs started to congregate together in one room as each us woke up. It was during that small talk that I think Leah and I made eye-contact and it did seem like she noticed me. I thought, “YES!” to myself, “…maybe it was ok to be the only one with a military style hair-cut in the room!” I don’t know if I actually ever really said anything specifically directed to her, but I was truly hoping she didn’t write me off as too “conservative” for her tastes given most of her and Greg’s other friends didn’t seem at all to relate to me.
The morning ended and we all dispersed. The next chance to meet Leah occurred a day or two after Christmas. I was hanging out at Greg’s house again, and Leah decided to drop by. She sat near me and we made small talk. I noticed she had a “menthylyptos” kind of fragrance to her and so I boldly asked her what that was. Leah then flirtatiously blew her breath my way explaining it was a cough drop as she was getting over a cold. Later she would share that was basically trying to make sure I knew she was interested. Well… friends, it worked!
Later in the week, my friend Greg suggested that we double date. He was going out with another girl at the time and suggested that maybe I ask Leah out. I was very excited about the chance to date Leah, so jumped on the opportunity to give her a call. Unfortunately, it turned out that Leah had other plans already the evening that was suggested, something at the time I took to mean she was really not interested after all. Though she consistently reminds me to this day that she truly had committed previously to attend a friend’s farewell party, I tease her to this day that I was expecting the next excuse to be a “… I have to wash my hair” tonight.
All was reconciled a few days later on New Year’s Eve. I was invited to a New Year’s Party and I was hopeful that Leah would be there. When I arrived, I went to grab a beer from the keg that was in the kitchen and low and behold there was Leah. We saw each other and it was clear to me at that moment she was truly happy that I made it. We basically made a connection as I poured her a beer and we’ve been inseparable ever since. “This Buds for you, Jerry”! It was raining that evening and at the stroke of midnight we decided to get a moment alone outside to bring in the New Year. Leah remembers that the song, “The Walk” by the Cure was playing earlier that evening…
I called you after midnight
Then ran until my heart burst
I passed the howling woman
And stood outside your door
I kissed you in the water
And made your dry lips sing
I saw you look like a Japanese baby
In an instant I remembered everything
… and so we kissed for the first time out in rain in the middle of the street. I was in heaven if for just a moment.
With my flight back to Annapolis was scheduled for January 4th, we spent the next three days together nearly non-stop. We had our first real date together for lunch at The Golden, a chinese restaurant in the Tower District in Fresno, a place we go to this day on occasion where our anniversary lands on a weekday that I’m at work downtown. We also went to Roeding Park to just spend the day in each other’s arms. It seemed much too quick when it came time to pack my bags and head back east to school for the Winter/Spring semester. I promised Leah I would see her again that summer when I was back in town and we said our good-bye’s.
Now I know most would not believe this, but it is a matter of record that Leah will affirm to this day that she fell in love with me over those three days in early January 1987. I know this because it was something she wrote and told me in a letter after I returned to Annapolis. I wasn’t expecting this, so I was quite taken aback by her taking such a risk emotionally only having just gotten to know me over such a short period. I’d say something self serving now like, “… what’s not to love?”, but those who know us both and would quickly remind me that I was truly the lucky one. Maybe I could have taken advantage of that situation, but it actually made me quite beholden to Leah that she trusted me that much to tell me that in a letter so boldly and matter of factly.
We called one another frequently those months during the winter. With each call, I began to feel the same about her that she did about me and eventually I decided to ask her to come visit me in Annapolis and be my “Ring Dance” date. This event is when Juniors at the Naval Academy become Seniors as the graduating class get their diplomas and commissions in the US Navy. At that point, the new Seniors get to wear their class ring and the christening of that moment occurs when each midshipman brings a date to a dance and they both dip the ring into a brass bowl filled with the waters from the Seven Seas. It’s a ceremony rich in tradition and is one of many events that make going to Annapolis a very special experience. I gave Leah a week to think about whether she was up to coming and during the following week’s call, she said she would love to come. I told her I would arrange for the flight and we could split the cost. Feeling bold, I suggested that maybe to save the cost of the return flight, that maybe she would consider driving across country with me? I had purchased a 1981 Corvette and planned to drive it back home that summer and it seemed a perfect opportunity to do this with Leah. I again gave her another week to think about it and hoped that she would take a chance on me… She apparently asked Greg about me and he apparently endorsed me as someone he trusted… thankfully! When I called back, I was elated to hear that she accepted that invitation as well.
Leah came out in May 1987 for Commissioning Week. We had an awesome time with all the graduation week festivities including the Ring Dance. I took her out to dinner that evening at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. She stayed at a “drag house”, the name of the places where dates of midshipman stayed when they were in town. The owner of the house she stayed out was an elderly couple who themselves dated when the husband went to Annapolis. It was truly a very special week and I have very fond memories of the time and how beautiful I remember Leah looked in her Ring Dance dress.
After graduation week, we began our journey back to Fresno by car. We took the highway out of Annapolis heading west through Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia eventually getting on Highway 40 which we took the rest of the way across the country. We stopped at my grandmother’s house and my uncle’s as well in Carthage, Tennessee where my Dad had grown up. When the weather permitted, I took the T-tops off the corvette and we enjoyed feeling free as the wind blew by. What an awesome trip that turned out to be. We both agreed that we must have been destined for each other, because after a 5 day trip where there was just the two of us 10-12 hours a day driving, we figured we would really be anxious to get home if we found out we weren’t really all that compatible. It turned out to be quite the opposite as neither of us can remember an awkward moment or time where we didn’t feel like the trip didn’t go perfectly. The only anxious moment I had was arriving in Fresno wondering how my Mom was going to react to my being on the road with this woman who she had never met as yet… My mom being Japanese, I feared, would not take kindly to Leah a blond american. It worked out after all and so I was relieved.
There are many follow up stories to ‘How I met Leah…”, ones I’ll save for another day. As you read in my inaugural story, God had a much bigger plan in bringing Leah into my life than I would have ever imagined. SHE would later bring me BACK to HIM in a way only the one who truly loves you can. So I’m eternally grateful to HIM for bringing HER to me, a woman that only GRACE could explain why she would find ME as lovable as HE did… and like HIM, I would die for HER as my partner, my best friend, and most of all my first love in this life. (Ephesians 5:25)