in Family Time, Historical Purposes

The Story of Us. Or, How a War and a Postage Stamp Led to, Well… to This!

We recently celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, and in the course of posting a lot about that on Facebook, we learned that many of our friends don’t know The Story of How We Met, and those who do are tactfully, generously and graciously allowing me to tell it myself.

In other words, they’re sitting back and waiting for me to write it. Finally.

We have recounted it out loud many, many times over the years. It makes people gasp, and sigh, and clasp their hands to their hearts while smiling kind of sappily.

It never gets old, and I have been urged repeatedly to write a book.

Y’all. I’m not writing a damn book about it. That’s what Nicholas Sparks is for.

But I’ve got a blog, so you get it here. Own Less, Sigh More.

Ready?

This. This is how it all started.

So… Remember when people used to write letters? Like with a pen, on stationery with coordinating envelopes?

I’m one of those people.

And one of those letters, written on a whim, to put off opening a college text book and studying, ended up in the hands of the man who would eventually…

… hand it to the man who would become my husband.

It’s like this:

Almost exactly 27 years ago, on August 7, 1990, President George H.W. Bush ordered an increase in military strength in the Persian Gulf, after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Hello, Operation Desert Shield, and aren’t you scary?

I was 21, and a senior studying journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. Nobody in my immediate family was serving in the armed forces at the time, nor could I think of any relative who had served during my lifetime.

I had no clue.

But I wanted to do something to make a difference, so when the newspaper published addresses for folks like me to send morale-boosting mail and care packages to “Any Service Member” deployed as part of Operation Desert Shield, I knew I’d found my gig.

I was not looking for a date, a boyfriend, or a husband. It wasn’t a mail order bride thing, and Match.com and Tinder didn’t even exist. I was going to get my degree and launch a long, successful career in magazine publishing, dammit. I had priorities.

That said, apparently I give good letter.

And this is the start of The One.

My opening salvo, dated September 6, 1990, found its way to mail call onboard the USS GUAM, and was randomly given to a married officer in his 40’s.

That man — who may not even know about the chain of events that followed — encountered then 24-year-old Ensign Tim Rohrer in a passageway, handed him my letter, and joked, “Here. This chick’s too old for me. You should write to her.”

Tim let it sit on his desk for several days. He was already struggling to keep up with correspondence from his own family, a few friends, and a school teacher and her kindergarten class somewhere in the midwest. He was on a ship at sea in the Persian Gulf during a war buildup, and he seriously did not have that kind of time.

But I guess some sort of paperwork or other junior officer drudgery came up that he wanted to put off doing, so the man picked up his own pen and paper, and answered my letter.

We corresponded for 8 months, through Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, through the ship’s safe return to its home port of Norfolk, VA, in April of 1991, and through my graduation from UT in May.

Yes, we’ve saved all those Gulf War letters that brought us together. They’re currently buried in our storage unit in San Antonio, along with the rest of our important artifacts, so I was unable to get my hands on them for this post.
Luckily, I’d scanned a copy of that first letter five years ago, for our 20th anniversary, and I still had it on my computer.

I flew from Texas to Virginia to meet Tim in June. We spent a week together, learning that we were just as compatible in person as we’d been on paper.

A month later, he called to ask me to move in with him in Norfolk.

Ten minutes after that, the Air Force called to offer me my first real job, a civilian position in public affairs at Scott AFB — in Illinois.

But I couldn’t let the story end.

I chose the guy.

Our “We’ve moved in together portrait” was taken on a real camera with real film, in a modest little 2-bedroom apartment we didn’t have enough stuff to furnish.
July 1991: no selfies.

I told my parents I’d made a big decision. They gave me their car, helped me pack it with all my things, and watched me drive away.

They understood — because they had a romantic story at their beginning too.

A year later, on July 18, 1992, Tim and I were married.

Simple dress.
Simple cakes.
Simple decor.
Shades of Owning Less to come…

Our first son was born in Monterey, CA, in 1995, and is now working in Washington state. Our second son was born in Annapolis, MD, in 1997, and is now a student at UT-Austin. (And to the best of our knowledge, he is not sending letters to any sailors.)

To rapidly condense the rest: 1 apartment, 4 sets of military quarters, 2 rented houses, 3 purchased houses, 7 states, 1 US territory, 3 dogs, 10 vehicles, 1 nursery school, 3 elementary schools, 4 middle schools, 3 high schools, 3 Cub Scout troops, 2 Boy Scout troops, 5 Navy promotions, 1 Navy retirement, and 1 RV later, we celebrated our 25th anniversary with a stay in the same room at the same B&B where we spent our wedding night.

The carriage house at the William Seward Inn, in Westfield NY.
Do not disturb.

Our story started with a letter.

And a war.

And the wrong guy.

And a whole lot of random gone right.

And we’ll keep writing it.

Because we like it.

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  1. Not sure I’d ever heard the whole story before. Thanks for finally writing it and sharing it!!
    We’ve always loved you guys and we love your story ❤️

  2. Love Love Love this story!!!
    I think I heard you tell it once at book club, but it’s wonderful to hear again with the added photos!!!
    Congratulations and Happy Anniversary!!!
    Love
    Michele

  3. I smiled throughout the entire story… and yes, i even shed a tear. You guys look so happy in all the photos. And still today. Thanks for sharing, you know I (we) are suckers for a good love story – and this one is one of the best. Love that your romance began in writing… as did ours, albeit the digital kind. Hand writing is so romantic!

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