Cruising Straight Into Love...

This photo is a bit retro-- BUT I love the feeling of it for this essay!

A True Love Guest Post by the very sweet and funny Gwen

Note: This week I'm handing over my blog to five lovely souls who have shared their LOVE stories with me. I'd like to keep LOVE alive as an ongoing event, so if you have a story you'd like to share, please, pop me an email HERE and I'll post your story. Some of you may want to remain anonymous. And that's just fine. (I promise, stick a needle in my eye, to keep your identity hush-hush). Your story can be as long or as short as you want it to be. You can change names and locations. You can send me photos to post if you'd like. Mostly, though, and I speak from experience, writing and getting your story 'out there' feels just plain good. All I ask from you is that your story is about love, whether you are searching for it or have found it, that it delivers a positive message in the end, and that it is TRUE. Hey, in this crazy world of ours, we all need a little dash of HOPE. 

With that said...take it away, Gwen:


Ok, here goes.
At the ripe old age of 25 I had my fair share of blind dates, pairing up etc. from my well-meaning friends and family.  I was living the good life in Vancouver and enjoying my job, colleagues and beautiful surroundings.   
Life was perfect, or so I thought.
One day I received a phone call from a daughter of one of the men in my office.  I had seen her a few times when she had come into the office to see her father, whom I worked for as an administrative assistant at a large real estate development company downtown.  I wouldn’t say I knew her, just the usually 'Hi' sort of thing.
Anyway, I had known from speaking with her father that she was working for a cruise ship company, one of the many lines that came to run the Vancouver to Alaska routes. This was 1988 and the cruise ship industry on the west coast was really taking off.  I had never really had a conversation with the girl and we made some small talk.  Then she hit me with it – would I like to go with her on a 7 day cruise in the Caribbean. Employees, after working for so long were eligible for a free cruise if the ship wasn’t full and she had made arrangements to go with her friend, who pulled out at the last minute. It was kinda weird as I didn’t know her from a hole in the ground and I wasn’t really thinking of taking her up on the offer, but then I phoned my Mom and told her.  She thought if I didn’t take it I would be crazy as offers like this don’t come around in life.   

My Mom was a firm believer of ‘everything happens for a reason’ and I have always kept this motto and it has never let me down. Needless to say, after speaking with my Mom and checking with my colleagues at work since it was such short notice, we drove from Vancouver to Seattle for the red eye flight, consisting of a couple of plane changes on our way to Miami.  We didn’t get a wink of sleep, partly due to excitement and partly due to crappy flights.  We had to wait a little while before we were able to board the ship and by that time the jet lag and loss of sleep kicked in, but we were young and foolish as you are at that age and just kept going.  We explored the ship from top to bottom, interrupting the crew members swim time in one of the indoor pools.
The first night was ‘singles’ night in the disco (remember this is 1988) at the top of the ship.  Without a wink of sleep for over 24 hours and no real eating routine, we had a drink.  I was already feeling pretty weird from lack of sleep.  We were enjoying ourselves and there were some male crew members there as well, looking pretty dapper in their uniforms I must say.  There were two guys who kept looking our way and one of them came over and asked my friend to dance.  Feeling a little uncomfortable standing on my own, the other guy came over and I assumed he was going to ask me to dance. 
His first words to me were ‘I hope you don’t want to dance.’  
I thought this a bit odd as we were in a disco and I thought that’s what you usually do there.  It was a few months later that the reason he said this was he had just come back to the ship from being off and had been home in Holland.  He had gained some weight and had to borrow a friend’s pair of pants for his uniform and even those were a bit tight and he was worried something would happen. After knowing him for 27 years I now know he’s not a dancer.
We talked for a long time and then the lack of sleep and proper food kicked in and I had to go out on the deck to get some fresh air.  He followed me and I said I really wasn’t feeling well and he could just leave me out there for a bit.  Being a stubborn Dutchman, he stayed and I ended up ‘chucking my cookies’ over the railing, not realizing until it was too late that it was only to the deck below and not into the ocean.   I must have looked as awful as I felt, but he didn’t care and was not put off.  Apparently, he was one of the crew members who we had earlier walked in on at the pool and he remembered me.
The rest of the cruise was amazing, both for the beauty of the Caribbean and the wonderful things that happened. I was trying not to get too excited about this new relationship as I was a girl from Vancouver and he was a guy from The Netherlands. Over the duration on-board I received hand written notes (in broken English), flowers etc. to my cabin.  He had found out who our cabin boy was and made arrangements with him to deliver the notes so they would be there when I got back to the cabin and the first bouquet of flowers apparently came from the zoo in Granada, where he paid some local to ‘get’.    

I kept my guard up, just enjoying his company as I knew I would be leaving the ship in a few days.
The night before we were to disembark back in Fort Lauderdale was very difficult.  He had been serenading me with his guitar playing and much conversation when it hit me that I really didn’t want this to end, but telling myself that how could things work out as we lived thousands of kilometers away from each other.  We exchanged addresses and talked about contacting each other as you do in these situations not thinking really anything more about it as I had gone through some rough relationships in the not so distant past and didn’t hold up much hope for this one. I left the ship at the beginning of March, 1988.
After returning to my wonderful life in Vancouver with lots of stories and my vacation romance to share with my colleagues, I began to think daily of this Dutchman and dream (as you do) that it would be great to see him again.  I wasn’t going to make the first move and never contacted him and I never heard from him either, thinking he had found someone else on another ship.
Months passed and May came around.  This was a time in our office that we had our annual Managers meeting where our Managers came from Western Canada to our big meeting.  For years, this meeting had been held in our own building on West Georgia Street in Vancouver.  For some weird reason, I can’t remember, our President decided this year it would be held in the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre, which also houses the Vancouver Cruise Ship Facility where the ships dock on their way to and from Alaska. The day came for the meeting and the facility was buzzing with excitement as it was also the first cruise ship departure of the new sailing season.  There were hundreds (if not more) of people there and all TV stations reporting on the cruise ship season etc.  I had gone downstairs to the main area at lunch to walk around and noticed the ship that was docked was the one I had been on in the Caribbean.  My heart went all weird and I walked up to the ‘crew’ desk and asked if the man I met was on the ship.  

 I’m not sure what the answer was (as I’m sure they aren’t allowed to tell you) but I went and wrote a quick note and put it in an envelope.  I took the envelope back to the desk and they said they would make sure Douwe (the man I met) would get it.
I was standing at the elevator to head back up to the meeting and noticed some guys running towards the ship out of the corner of my eye.  Turning my head, and without even thinking, I yelled his name.   
The next few minutes was a bit of a blur and felt like it was all happening in slow motion. He turned and yelled my name and we both ran toward each other and just like in the movies, he picked me up and spun me around.  I’ll never forget that moment.   

We kissed and chatted quickly as he had to be back on board by a certain time or he would be sent back to Holland.  We made arrangements that at a certain time after the meeting I would go up on one of the decks of the cruise ship facility (amazing facility if you haven’t seen it, looks like a ship) and he would be waiting on the top deck of the ship.
Well, we both kept our promise and after pushing my way through the crowds as the ship was about to leave for Alaska I made it to the railing.  Yup, there he was waiving frantically, as I was as well.  Of course we couldn’t yell loud enough and resorted to hand signals.  I kinda understood that he would call me, not knowing from where and when but that was good enough for me.  The ship departed with much fanfare, streamers, music and lots of people etc.  Just like in the movies.
I went back to my life.  The ship left Vancouver on a Thursday and on Sunday my phone rang.  He was outside a pizza place in Juno Alaska.  This eventually became a regular phone booth on Sundays where he would call me and on Thursdays I would meet him in Vancouver.  My company was great as they gave me some extra time over lunch (time I made up) to go and spend some time with him.
This became a regular event – Sunday phone call from Alaska and Thursdays in Vancouver until his contract ended in October.  He stayed with me in North Vancouver for a little while and we traveled over to Vancouver Island where I had spent 7 years.  I wanted him to see and experience it as he loved the outdoors.  He couldn’t stay long as he had to head back to The Netherlands for family events already planned.
We spoke via telephone (no email then or texting) and, perhaps I shouldn’t mention this, but I was always so nervous that he might be the one and I was falling in Love with him that I would have to get off the phone for a minute to ‘chuck my cookies’ before continuing the conversation.
He flew directly from The Netherlands to Florida for another contract so I wasn’t able to see him in person for a long time.  We kept in constant contact and he wrote me many, many letters (which I still have, of course).  
Christmas came around and I drove to my parents through a snowstorm (unusual for the lower mainland).  My parents lived just over an hour outside Vancouver so I left my basement apartment in North Vancouver for Maple Ridge.  I had only arrived to my parents' home for about 10 minutes when the phone rang.  It was my friend (her and her husband owned the house where I lived in the basement).  She said a nice Dutchman had come to the door with a little box!  My heart nearly came out of my mouth thinking Douwe managed to get off the ship, fly to Vancouver and deliver a gift...

But no, it wasn’t him as he was still on contract on the ship in the Caribbean.  It was a friend and co-worker who also had a girlfriend in North Vancouver.  He had come to spend Christmas with her as he didn’t’ have to go back on the ship over that time.  Douwe had given him the gift and asked him to bring it to my house, I had just missed him.
Needless to say, my Mom and I hopped in the car and drove back to North Vancouver.  My friend was so excited and couldn’t wait for me to open the gift.  There was a letter with it, of course so I read that first, keeping everyone in suspense.  I was a little nervous to open the box as it was small and could really only contain two things – earrings or a ring!  (he had given me a beautiful gold pendant of the ship we met on for my birthday in June).
The box contained a ring!  It’s a beautiful emerald and diamond ring.  There were no strings attached, just a ring.  I can’t tell you how this made me feel and I really couldn’t believe this was all happening to me.
His plans were to finish his contract on the ship, go back to Holland and get a job.  We had briefly discussed a similar scenario as I had dual citizenship with England and the only real way he could stay in Canada was for us to get married, but we never wanted that to be the reason for marriage so I decided I would follow him to Holland once he got settled.  He already had an apartment there so it was just a matter of getting a job on land. 
He had worked 4-1/2 years on board and felt it was time for a land job.  He would phone me and tell me he wanted to live in a house together with a white picket fence etc.  All those wonderful things you want to hear.  He got himself a very good job and began in August of 1989.
I quit my amazing job with amazing people in Vancouver who gave me a very memorable send off!!! 

It was very hard to leave everything I had in Vancouver, but felt deep down it was the thing I was supposed to do.  Very, very difficult to leave my parents as I’m sure it was difficult for them to leave theirs 34 years previous when they left England to go to Canada.  My Father had left in 1954 to find a job in Canada and get settled before sending for my Mom in 1955.  Funny how -- sometimes -- history repeats itself.
I arrived to my new life in Arnhem, Holland in September, 1989. At first I spent my time getting used to the different culture and language, but then found myself working for an American computer company in Nijmegen and meeting lots of new friends.
In October Douwe and I drove to a small town in Germany, where I had grown up when my Father was in the Canadian Army.  It was an amazing time as I had never been back to any base I had lived.  Memories flooded in and it was a very special time.  Armed with only a photograph and address of a gas station & house where we lived as our house on base wasn’t ready for us.  We found the same gas station, went inside and with Douwe’s broken German we found the son of the lady (who I called Grandma) in the photograph.  He remembered our family and quickly took Douwe and me through to the house at the back.  We were taken on a full tour with him explaining and neither of us really understanding all his German.  We learned they had done a lot of renovating over the years, but he showed me my bedroom etc.  Lots of memories, but when I asked him about the lady in the photograph his eyes filled with tears as apparently I was a couple of months too late.  She had recently passed away.
I later found out that Douwe’s plan was to propose to me while on that mini vacation, however his nerves and the emotions of the trip got the best of him.
November 17, 1989: after walking in the woods near the Castle in Rosendaal and nearly being attacked by running wild boar (Douwe was wearing a red jacket and we tried hiding behind a tree when we heard them approaching) he got down on one knee and proposed.  Of course I said yes and was bursting to tell someone what had just happened so I stopped a couple of people who were in the area and told them. 

After accepting their congratulations, I’m sure they thought I was a crazy Canadian.
August 17, 1990: we married in the small town where we lived – Dodewaard, The Netherlands.  In Holland a civil ceremony is the only legal one so we were wed in the Town Hall, which looks almost like a castle with a winding staircase inside.  It was a magical ceremony and we loved every minute of it.  We were fortunate to have many friends, English family members and my Parents and sister, with her three daughters join us for our special day.
June 24, 1992 was the day we flew to Canada to begin our next adventure.  Douwe had permanent resident status and we began applying for jobs while living with my sister in Nova Scotia.  A busy summer paid off with a job in Ontario, which began September 28, 1992.
Although we have lived in Ontario and Douwe has worked for the same company since that time, we have moved 5 times and had a wonderful daughter along the way.
This year marks our 25th Wedding Anniversary and our plans had been to return to Holland and celebrate with a couple who have been with us the entire journey. As the above proves, life doesn’t always plan out the way you’d thought and due to Douwe’s parents both being ill over the past year and our daughter going into post-secondary school in the fall, money has fallen short.  We have decided that Douwe go back by himself to visit with his parents and we will go back to celebrate at another time.  Things do happen for a reason and shortly after we had decided this, we received a message from our friends who we were to celebrate with that they are separating. 
This latest news comes as a shock and saddens both of us.  Our friends have also had an amazing journey.  They flew from Amsterdam in 1993 to visit us in our new country.  While at the airport they mailed cards to everyone to invite them to a celebration at a restaurant in Arnhem at a later date.  You see, they hadn’t told anyone, not even their parents and while they were here in Canada they got married!!!
We have experienced many ups and downs as married couples do over the past 25 years, but our Love has endured and I am looking forward to taking some time for reflection this year – rereading the letters, looking at photographs etc., reliving our journey together and looking forward to the next 25!

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Book News: 

Don't forget to enter my GIVEAWAY! Five copies of my memoir are up for grabs!  Also, the ebook of Seven Letters from Paris is priced at $2.99 on Amazon US, Canada, and UK (Kindle) and B&N (Nook) until March 3rd! Grab a copy today!

xox and bisous from Toulouse


See you tomorrow with another TRUE LOVE STORY! 

For other essays like this, see the below 'related posts' and enjoy...


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