Annette Callahan still remembers watching Bob Harvey pass notes to her friend in study hall, wondering if perhaps the boy she liked from afar on the football team was striking up a romance with someone else.
Of course, as she’d come to learn, it was actually Callahan that Harvey had eyes for — and he still does, as the high school sweethearts tied the knot last month more than 63 years after they went their separate ways as teens.
Callahan and Harvey, both 80, “went steady” as juniors at Gar-Field High School in Woodbridge, Virginia, attending school dances together and double dating with friends, Callahan tells PEOPLE.
“I remember I liked watching him play football, I liked walking off the field with him and holding his hand,” she says. “It was just kind of an innocent time. … I remember Bob and I would sit in the back seat of the car, and Bob would hold my hand, and we would talk and everything, but he would never kiss me. So this one evening, I thought, ‘I’m going to kiss him.’ He was all the way against the car door and I just leaned over and kissed him on the lips, and it was like he couldn’t believe it.”
Even so, their romance fizzled that summer after Callahan went on vacation with her aunt and uncle, and she was introduced to John Callahan, the man she’d go on to marry in 1961.
Though Harvey would still call her during their time apart, Callahan came back to school knowing she had to break it off — and she did, after Harvey met her at her locker with open arms, going in for a hug.
“I look back on that and think that was just terrible, it was so cold and blunt,” she says. “But I didn’t want to lead him on if I didn’t think I really loved him. His face really dropped when I told him I don’t want to date you anymore, but he didn’t say anything. He just turned and walked away.”
Eventually, Harvey met his own future wife, another girl from school, and they married in 1959.
The former sweethearts each had their own children — Callahan gave birth to four kids with her husband, while Harvey had two with his wife — and though he crossed her mind from time to time, Callahan says she had no phone number or address or way of tracking him down.
That all changed in 2018, when Harvey’s wife died and he was diagnosed with blood cancer.
After a year of intense chemotherapy, Harvey was granted a three-weak treatment break by his doctor, during which he set off on an aimless, mind-clearing road trip.
“On the way back from that, he had his radio on the ‘50s music, and they were playing music that we used to dance to, like ‘Chances Are’ and ‘Wonderful, Wonderful’ and ‘The Twelfth of Never,’” Callahan says. “And he said, ‘I had to pull off the freeway and just sit on the side of the road and just cry, because it made me think of you.’”
Struck by Cupid’s bow once again, Harvey decided then and there he would do whatever it took to track Callahan down. When he returned home, he searched her name on Google, and found John’s 2015 obituary.
“When Bob saw it, my husband had been gone for four and a half years. He thought, now he’s lost me again because I’m probably remarried,” she tells PEOPLE.
Of course, Callahan was not remarried, and was overjoyed when she received a letter in the mail from Harvey, who’d found her by calling the church listed in John’s obituary.
“I had really been trying to find him for about two years,” she says, noting that a cousin had recently brought her several photos of her and Bob attending prom together that she’d never seen before. “But I didn’t know where he was. I’d really been praying that god would help me find him again.”
She immediately dialed the number he’d written in the card, but was sent to voicemail, only to receive a phone call that evening from Harvey, who told her he was ready and willing to visit her the very next day.
“He called me and said, ‘Are you home?’ And I said, ‘Yes, where are you?’ And he said, ‘I’m on your driveway,’” she recalls of his initial visit, which took place in July. “So he got out of his car, and I opened the front door. He had pink and white carnations, and then he looked at me, and he said, ‘You’re beautiful. I love you.’ And he took my face in his hands and he said, ‘I’m going to kiss you whether you like it or not.’”
Harvey stayed the night, which turned into 10 days, which turned into ice cream lunch dates and trips to a local ‘50s-style diner.
He visited once again for 10 days in August, and during that visit, asked Callahan to marry him on a trip to the beach.
“We just wanted to keep it real simple,” she says of their wedding, which took place Oct. 19 at Central College Presbyterian Chapel in Westerville, Ohio. “But some of the family and other people and friends wanted to come, so we said okay. We had about 35 people there maybe.”
On her hand that day was the ring Harvey used to pop the question, a ’50s-era sparkler featuring three diamonds on either side.
“Bob says one side is his past, present and future, and the other three are my past, present and future,” says Callahan, “and the center diamond is our future together.”
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