February 15, 2019

Reflection / John F. Fink

My Valentine story

John F. FinkMy Valentine story clearly shows that God works in mysterious ways, and what might seem like coincidences are truly his providence.

It begins with three little girls who were born in the early 1930s—two of them in Philadelphia and one in Miami. In Philadelphia, Marie Waldron and Anne Shields were playmates and best friends through high school. But they attended different colleges and, as happens so frequently, saw each other less often and eventually lost contact with each other.

Meanwhile, in Miami, Connie Grimm was growing up. When she was in middle school, her life was changed considerably when her family moved to Knightstown, Ind. In high school, she fell in love with Julius (Judie) Winchester. After graduation, they married and moved to New Castle.

Back in Philadelphia, Anne was studying to become a nurse. Marie earned a scholarship to Rosemont College, to which she commuted by bus and train two hours each way. But she somehow still found time to become involved in the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). Unlike today’s CYO, the CYO in those days was mainly for college students and young adults.

By this time, I graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1953. Before I was called to active duty in the Air Force the following January, I worked for Our Sunday Visitor in Huntington, Ind. My duties included writing a weekly column called “Youth Organized.” I had also become involved in the CYO at both the parish and diocesan level.

In November of 1953, I went to Boston for the annual national CYO convention, representing the Diocese of Fort Wayne and also to collect information for my column. Marie was at the same convention, one of two representatives from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. We met while I was checking into the hotel. We had dinner together that night. I was smitten.

We began a long-distance romance. After I went on active duty in the Air Force in January 1954, I was assigned to the headquarters for the Technical Training Air Force in Gulfport, Miss. During that summer, Marie came down to Gulfport where I found a job for her as a waitress. By the end of the summer, we decided to marry.

We did so on May 31, 1955, the day after Memorial Day, on a Tuesday. I took advantage of the long weekend plus a three-day pass from the Air Force, saving leave time for a honeymoon five months later.

We moved into a small cottage on the beach at Gulfport for nine months before moving to Huntington in January 1956, and I resumed work at Our Sunday Visitor. We began our family that would eventually total three girls and four boys.

Meanwhile, Anne Shields had met a Notre Dame classmate of mine, Chuck Stimming, from Indianapolis. They married and Anne moved to Indianapolis. They, too, began a family that would eventually total two girls and two boys.

Connie and Judie had six children, three boys and three girls. Judie was becoming a successful contractor, getting more and more work in Indianapolis. Connie, too, was commuting to Indianapolis from New Castle to work in a jewelry store. They moved to Indianapolis.

The Stimmings and the Winchesters soon became friends, especially since their children were involved in various activities together. They vacationed together and saw each other frequently.

Then, in 1984, Marie and I moved to Indianapolis when I became editor of The Criterion. We moved into a house only two blocks from where the Stimmings lived, although we had no idea that they lived there. Anne and Marie saw each other during a Mass at St. Luke the Evangelist Church. It seemed that all the years they were apart faded immediately, and they quickly renewed their friendship. Although I had known Chuck only casually while we were classmates at Notre Dame, we became much closer in Indianapolis.

Through the Stimmings, we met Judie and Connie. Soon, though, Judie contracted the illness that was to kill him in 1986. Connie struggled through Judie’s illness that lasted over a year, and then, as a widow with a handicapped son, had to figure out how to support them. She became a teacher’s assistant at St. Pius X School in Indianapolis, a job she continued for 26 years.

The three little girls who started out in Philadelphia and Miami were now together in Indianapolis as women. They became very close. But then Anne was afflicted with the illness that killed her. Marie and Connie were pallbearers at Anne’s funeral.

With Anne gone, Marie and Connie became even closer, and they were joined by another friend of Connie’s. Often, I would take all three women out to dinner, referring to them as my harem, so I got to know both Connie and Janet.

Marie died on May 17, 2010, two weeks before our 55th wedding anniversary. I didn’t know it at the time, but learned it later from my son Dave who overheard the conversation, that, while on her deathbed, Marie told Connie to take care of me after her death. When Connie later confirmed the conversation, she said that she assured Marie that she would, but she had no idea how she was going to do that. I think that Marie knew though.

It took me six months after Marie’s death before I called Connie and asked her to go out with me. We began dating and were married on July 13, 2012, roughly two years and two months after Marie’s death and 26 years after Judie’s death. I was 80 years old. Connie was … not.

Thus, I’m the luckiest, or most fortunate, man in the world to have had two wonderful women love me and marry me. As I said at the beginning, God works in strange ways. A man in Indiana weds a woman from Philadelphia whom he met in Boston, and then, later, marries a woman who was born in Miami whom he would never have met if it hadn’t been for the friendship between those two little girls in Philadelphia.

(John F. Fink is editor emeritus of The Criterion.)

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