About 24 years ago, when I was working as the managing editor of Press-Republican Newspapers, I was surprised to find a valentine in the mailbox at Fifth and Peyton.
In it was a note from the little sister of a longtime high school friend—skillfully written, with just the right doses of flirtation and humor, and I was intrigued. So I screwed up my courage, called her, and we agreed to a date.
We went to Ristorante Chianti for dinner and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure afterward, but it was in between the two that Paula Mary Williams got the first hint of the destiny her valentine had set in motion.
Since we had some time to kill before the movie, I asked if she would mind going with me to a shindig announcing the election campaign of future Geneva Mayor Bill Ottilie. I had promised to make a cameo appearance and take a picture, and to my delight, the poor girl said yes.
I can't remember the venue, but there was a frenzy of activity, and we began to get separated as we moved through the crowd—a metaphor if ever there was one. Without looking or thinking, I reached back and found her hand, and it fit in mine most excellently, as Ted might say.
That Valentine's Day was the first time the pleasure of her company became mixed with my business, but it would not be the last.
Some of our early dates were restaurant reviews or play reviews or the political and social functions an editor was expected to attend in those days. On one memorable occasion, we saw a young and then-unknown Kathy Bates and her then-and-enduringly-unknown husband Tony Campisi in a two-person play, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, but through the years, Rick and Paula's excellent adventure has featured more stale speeches, plastic chicken dinners and spaghetti suppers than future Oscar winners.
Being the wife of a journalist has a lot less to do with Cupid's bow than the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune. And the trial is only magnified when your husband plies his trade in the town you live.
Your lamaze class becomes zany column fodder, your toddlers props for photo illustrations, your daughter's middle school promotion ceremony a writing assignment. You watch a high school football game in the stands, and your spouse is in the press box. You turn to your date for a little pleasant conversation at Dancing With the Geneva Stars, and he's sitting next to you but far away, taking notes or shooting video.
It's hard to find romance with a guy who associates "Deep Throat" with Hal Holbrook, not Linda Lovelace.
A guy so clueless he types the phrase "deep throat" in an Internet love letter, then leaves it in because he thinks it's so dang clever.
A guy who doesn't put his valentine in the mail but publishes it on his Patch, where true love can be excoriated by trolls and measured in page views.
But I am what I am, for better or worse, and what good is being the Patch editor if you can't use it to shout to the World Wide Web how much you love your wife? Twenty-four years ago, the most beautiful girl in the known universe sent me a valentine, and four years later to the day, we stood on a beach in Maui before two strangers and a Hawaiian minister with food stains on his sash and took our vows in a ceremony spoken in two tongues. As I recall, you laughed and cried.
I love you, Paula Mary Williams Nagel.
Aloha kekahi i kekahi.