The story I want to share with you this week may not seem like it fits within the theme of this blog. John and Barbara MacDougall never celebrated a 50th wedding anniversary. They didn’t even make it half that far.
And if it wasn’t for a P.O. Box and a lot of determination, they may have never ended up together, living the rest of their lives alone.
But their story is remarkable. A story of love, regret and ultimately a happily ever after cut short by death.
I’ve never met John and Barbara MacDougall. The only reason I even know who they are is because of a letter. A letter I found buried among personal documents in a filing folder in my closet.
In 2008, I was an intern working at the Las Vegas Review Journal and I wrote a story about one of my high school teachers, who married her high school sweetheart. The story was published in the newspaper and Barbara read it.
She mailed me a letter (an actual, handwritten letter) detailing how my article reminded her about her own love story with her husband, John. I remember receiving the letter and my excitement over someone appreciating my work. But I don’t think I ever responded to Barbara, something I now regret immensely.
Here is what she wrote:
Your article in the Las Vegas Review Journal, May 6, 2008, brought back memories of my High School and College days dating John MacDougall. We met, when he was 16 and I was 17, at the city pool in July, 1945. The following February we went on our first date.
We went to different High Schools but the same College. We were both Life Guards, swam and dove on swim teams and took part in three spring water pageants at school.
Our senior year, John had to drop out because of lack of money. He was also going into the Marine Corps for three years. I had signed a teaching contract in our hometown.
We had never officially gone steady nor talked about life together in the future but I got up enough courage to tell him I loved him. No response. I asked him if he loved me. No response. We went our separate ways in May, 1950.
I married and was widowed in 1981 after 31 years of marriage. I had no intention of marrying again. In October, 1990, John’s mother found out I was a widow. She told John and he started looking for me. He lived in Colorado and I in California. I had a P.O. Box and an unlisted telephone number. After nine months, in July 1991, I received a very short note asking for my telephone number because he’d forgotten to ask me something back in 1950.
After nine months of letters and phone calls, we married in our hometown in Michigan in his 84-year-old mother’s church on June 27, 1992.
Finding lasting love can lead to an education. John went back to college in 2001 and graduated in May 2003 with Honors with a Degree of Bachelor of Science in Business Management from the University of Phoenix at age 74.
Enclosed are pictures of a Christmas Dance our senior year at Michigan State University in 1949 and our wedding picture in 1992.
With June coming soon and thoughts of love, lost lovers, found lovers and marriages, I would like to hear other stories of my older generation being as blessed as John and I have been for the last sixteen years.
Barbara L. MacDougall
I imagine that my high school self, completely absorbed in the drama of being a teenager and looking forward to college, didn’t appreciate this letter for what it truly was. I also hadn’t gone through any heartbreak up until that point. Now at age 26, with an appropriate amount of experience in heartbreak, re-reading this letter just brought me to tears.
At the end of the letter, she included her phone number. Hoping she hadn’t changed her number in the last nine years, I called. Her husband John answered.
After explaining who I was and why I was calling, John said “Yes I still have the same phone number, but I no longer have my Barbara.”
Barbara died in 2015. John says she became sick and moved to hospice care. But he wanted her at home so he could take care of her himself. Twenty days later, Barbara went into a coma.
John says on the eighth day of her coma, he wrote her this poem:
I watch you in your slumber and pretend you are asleep.
That tomorrow you’ll awaken from your dream that is so deep.
But I know it will not happen, no that morning cannot be.
Destiny will not allow it, that day I’ll never see.
And when you leave me Barbara I will weep a million tears,
Because I’ve loved you dearly through all these many years.
I’ll miss your face, I’ll miss your voice, the way you called my name,
The way you always held my hand, ‘twill never be the same.
But we will meet again my love when God decides it’s neigh,
For me to come and join you, up in Heaven, in the sky.
At this point in my conversation with John, I’m in full-blown tears. He said he often wrote her poems throughout their 23-year marriage.
And although they didn’t marry until later in life, John said he has loved her for 71 years.
“I’ll never get over it,” he said. “I’m in great shape. I’m going to be around for quite a while. I long for the day I can join her.”
John says he will turn 89 years old in July.
Before our conversation ended, there was one thing I really wanted John to explain. I had to know why Barbara wrote in her letter that when she told John she loved him, she received “no response.”
He said, “I was young, naive and stupid. I loved her dearly.”
And that kept them apart for 42 years. But ultimately, love won.