Do you have those days that you have a thousand thoughts in your head? Are they thoughts of the past, present or future?
Subconscious voices grabbing your attention at the stop light, in the hallway or at the coffee shop..
Written by: Robert Lyle Wagner
Who knew that a lifelong relationship could begin in line at the coffee shop. Ok, I suppose it does happen to some people, but I would have never dreamt it would happen to me. Dr. Bruenner often told me to “think positive” or “train your mind to think happy thoughts” and other crazy things like that. So, maybe he’s onto something there.
I got to my coffee shop at 7:25am, the same as every day. I call it “my coffee shop” because I go there so often they should make me a company executive. I got in the order line, which was unusually long this morning. Looking around, I saw many tables were taken and it was pretty crowded. I felt a bump from behind, annoying, and heard her say nervously, “I’m so sorry. I dropped my wallet.”
She rose quickly, seemingly embarrassed, and started to apologize again but I calmly interrupted her and said, “That’s okay Miss, it happens.” That’s when I really looked at her for the first time. She was a little plain looking but very attractive to me. She wore little make-up, and had a port little nose, brown hair and eyes. She looked to be my age.
I thought I should take the opportunity to talk to her, hopefully she thought I was nice looking as well. Before either of us spoke again, I knew I’d spend my life with her.
“Do you come here often?”, I asked, using my quirky opening line that is guaranteed to get a curious look and eventually a chuckle. Well, in truth, I’d never actually said that to a woman. It was just the opening line I always imagined I’d say.
Her face scrunched a bit and she looked at me curiously and said, “What?”. I laughed and explained that was just a silly little line I say sometimes to strike up a conversation. I made a mental note to tell her much later that I’d never really said that to anyone before.
Wait for it… she thought briefly, and then issued the cutest little chuckle. There it is, “That’s cute,” she said.
“My name is Martha,” she said and extended her hand.
“I’m Walter. I haven’t seen you here before. I come here every morning,” I said, shaking her hand both firmly and delicately.
The line nudged forward, a little, getting closer to the order station.
“I just moved into my dorm at Bedford, my first year. I’m so excited. I guess that’s why I’m so clumsy this morning,” she said.
“Really?!” I replied. “I’m in my second year there studying chemical engineering. I had to survive dorm life last year but now I share an apartment with a couple of guys. What are you studying?”
“Philosophy. I thought I should pick something right away instead of just general studies, but, oh, looks like you’re next,” she said.
I turned around and saw the clerk looking at me and smiling.
“Oh, sorry. Double espresso and lemon scone,” I stated firmly. I thought about asking Martha if I could buy her coffee but that might sound tacky.
Instead, as I paid, I looked back and said, “Would you like to grab a table? I can tell you a little bit about Bedford.”
“Sure,” she replied and moved to the pickup counter.
On busy days, the pickup counter was tedious. When you watch the barista make coffee, each one takes forever. But this morning, the time flew by.
Waiting, I started telling her about the school; which professors were cool, which were pretentious jerks, and which local restaurants and bars were fun. We got a table in a few minutes and continued talking. She told me about herself. She was from a suburb of Chicago and had a wonderful family and wanted to stay in Illinois to be close to her family and friends. Bedford is a small community but very quaint and just two hours from Chicago. I told her my aspirations of researching and developing new ways of using chemicals to solve large world issues. Better water systems in Africa, more bountiful and nutritious crops and drugs that could cure horrible diseases.
We talked effortlessly, live we’d been friends since kindergarten. All of a sudden, she looked at the clock on the wall, jumped up and said, “Oh no, I can’t be late for my first class. I’m so sorry.”
As she got up, I told her I’d take care of her trash. She told me her last name and which dorm room she was staying in and said, “Please call, I’m so happy to meet someone I can talk to.” She dashed off and I watched her cross the street to the campus.
I don’t mind saying it was love at first sight. I knew right then I wanted to be with her for the rest of my life. Many years later, she confessed to having the same feelings on that fateful day.
I waited a couple of days to let her get settled into her new college life, then called her for our first date. We had a lovely multi-course Italian meal at a place just three blocks from campus. The next day, a Saturday, I have her a tour of campus. We spent hours together as I also took her around town showing her where I’d grown up. I introduced her to my parents, as a ‘friend’, but my Mom gave me that wry smile, knowing that I really liked this girl.
We dated throughout the year, got actively involved together I campus events and helped encourage each other during finals each semester. We were always there for each other. The summer break was tough, but we talked every day by phone or text, and drove to see each other every 2-3 weeks. During my senior year, her junior, I asked her to marry me and she said “yes”. It was the happiest moment of my life. I knew I would have many happy moments in the years to come.
After my graduation, I went to work at a local business doing mail room work. I just wanted to see a little of life in the corporate world while Martha finished up her college degree. Six weeks after her graduation, we were married. A large wedding at the Presbyterian Church followed by a terrific reception. All our friends and family were there. Our parents got together and bought us airfare and a hotel stay in Hawaii. It was a magical honeymoon.
I did well at Bedford in chemical engineering and with one year of “business” experience I landed a job as a research assistant at Perry Synthetic Chemicals in Chicago. Martha was a 4.0 student in Philosophy and got a job at prestigious Northwestern University starting as an aide to an accomplished professor. She loved her work, but when our first child, Jonathan, was born, she decided her priority was to raise a family. Our first house was modest, and we were very happy together. Little Jonathan seemed to grow like a weed.
Two years later when Martha was pregnant with the twins, I was promoted to senior researcher do to my innovative work with degenerative diseases. The promotion and raise were very substantial, and we moved into a beautiful home on 10 acres. The twins came along just as we moved into the new house. Jonathan, Abigail and Elizabeth brought great joy into our lives, along with our 2 Golden Labradors, Midas and Goldie.
As the girls were entering kindergarten, I made my first breakthrough on a cure for a degenerative muscle disease. The company filed for a patent and began trials with the FDA to speed up a product to market that would help cure tens of thousands of people. With a million-dollar bonus, the company asked me to continue my work in the areas of regenerating damaged muscles, but also in curing bone diseases.
It was daunting work, but I had to balance my work life with my home life. I never missed a school play, concert or soccer match. Each night either Martha or I would read to the kids and help them with their homework.
As the kids were finishing high school, we moved onto a ranch, 200 acres, and added two horses to our busy lives. Everyone loved to ride around the property feeling like a cowgirl or cowboy of the old West, even though we were just 20 miles from Chicago.
After three more cures were developed from my team research, the company filed an application on my behalf for the Nobel Prize in Medicine. The trip to Europe was a dream come true. The kids couldn’t be there since their school work too precedence; Jonathan at Harvard studying BioSciences, and Abigail and Elizabeth both at Yale studying medicine. They at least watched the ceremony and my acceptance speech over the internet.
Life without the kids there was at times lonely but making most times exciting. Martha had returned to Northwestern once the girls started with high school and was now a full professor in the Human Arts College. With our credentials, we were afforded plenty of time off to be together and we began traveling together. Raising a family and building a career is time consuming, so now came the time to enjoy life.
Our life-long romance continued through another trip to Europe, Australia, New Zealand, China and Egypt. We bought a boathouse in South Florida. The kids and other family members used when we weren’t down there for a couple months each summer.
The grandkids loved the beach, wiggling their little toes in the sand and running to catch each wave. We flew to see them frequently and met them at the beach house each summer. The didn’t want me to do it, but I put money aside for each of the grandchildren for their college, at any place they chose. I suppose it was a pride thing, they wanted to provide for their own kids. I told them I understood, but what’s a grandfather for anyway.
Just after our 50th wedding anniversary, or oldest grandchild, Samuel, announced the birth of our first great-grandchild. Marth and I were delighted.
We gave the ranch to the kids and moved back into Chicago to a high-rise apartment. It was much easier to get around and be closer to our doctors, and our health eventually deteriorated.
As I wept at Martha’s funeral and knowing mine would come soon enough, I gathered my kids and encouraged them to continue to be happy with their families, that death was just a part of life.
I turned back to the counter… and placed my order, “Large, non-fat latte, extra hot.”
Just like every other day.
GUEST WRITER: Robert Lyle Wager
I hope you enjoyed the story…