If you’ve heard this story before, then you know me pretty well. But I’ll tell it again, because it’s Valentine’s Day, and the story’s about finding love when I’d given up on it, and how that love has deepened over the last three decades.
It happened when I was a mere youth, 41 years old, a divorced father of two teenagers, and single for a decade. And I heard a voice.
“Aren’t you …?”
We were standing in the produce section at the Pikesville Giant, a fine Garden of Eden for finding an Eve, where this young woman, Suzy Ricklen, approached me and called me by somebody else’s name.
She was being cute, not that she needed help. She was — and still is — precious and adorable. I was writing newspaper columns back then, so she jokingly called me by some other columnist’s name.
And we started kibitzing.
And, as we pushed our carts and passed each other along each ensuing aisle, we stopped and kibitzed some more. I found her smart and funny and beautiful. She thought I was … I don’t know. Tall, maybe. In any case, aisle after aisle, we found each other endlessly amusing.
As it turned out, we were each veterans of previous lives. I’d had a 15-year marriage and a daughter and son who lived with me, and she’d previously had a decade-long marriage and a daughter at home who was beginning to approach adolescence.
But I hung back from asking her out.
For one thing, she looked too young for me. In her 20s, I imagined. (Actually, she was 38.) Also, having blown it on my first marriage, and then being single for about a decade after that while dating many of the women in North America, I pretty much considered myself a flop at romance.
And then, Suzy seemed to be slipping away.
Having finished her grocery shopping, she got in line to check out. So I slipped in behind her. Neither of us said a word. So, with my standard measure of self-confidence around women, I naturally assumed she was trying to escape without my following her.
But as she left, she gave me a little farewell wave, which I returned.
The cashier, a young woman with wisdom beyond her years, took in the situation and in a forthright manner announced, “That lady likes you.”
And I, with my usual keen insight into women, said, “She does?”
“Trust me,” the young lady said, “I’m a woman.”
“How fast can you get me out of here?” I said.
I caught Suzy in the parking lot and asked her out. Next month will be 27 years since we were wed. Our children are now middle-aged, and our grandchildren are miracles to behold.
So was our chance meeting. And so, against all odds, have been the last three decades. Everyone deserves at least one miracle this good.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.