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Stories we miss. They met on a Greyhound bus on Christmas Day. They’ve been married for 60 years

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Stories we miss. They met on a Greyhound bus on Christmas Day. They’ve been married for 60 years

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Ruth Underwood woke up with a start, and realized – to her horror – that she’d fallen asleep on a stranger’s shoulder.

It was the evening of Christmas Day, 1962. Ruth was traveling via Greyhound bus from her parents’ house in Olympia, Washington to her home in Seattle, Washington.

She’d spent a fun, festive day with her family. But Ruth was working December 26, and needed to get back in time. She was 18, it was her first job, and she didn’t want to risk being late.

“So I took the Greyhound bus and I got on, and I sat down in the first seat that was available, which was next to this good-looking young man,” Ruth tells CNN Travel today.

“I promptly went to sleep and I woke up with my head on his shoulder.”

Still slightly bleary-eyed, Ruth blushed when she realized what had happened. She apologized to the stranger next to her, straightened her blouse and tried to regain some composure.

“Oh my goodness, I’m sorry,” she said.

But the man waved her apologies away, smiled and introduced himself.

This was 21-year-old Andy Weller. He’d been on the bus since Astoria, Oregon, and was heading to the military base at Fort Lewis, Washington, where he was stationed.

Andy had noticed Ruth as soon as she’d boarded the bus.

“I looked at her because I saw her beautiful red hair,” he tells CNN Travel today.

And he’d noticed when she’d fallen asleep on his shoulder. Andy hadn’t known what to do about it. Should he wake her? Was that rude? What if she missed her stop?

When the Greyhound reached Nisqually Hill on Interstate 5, not too far from Fort Lewis, Andy gently nudged Ruth.

“It took me a long time to even get up the gumption because I was shy,” he recalls. “I finally got enough nerve to say, at least, ‘Hi.’”

Over the next 20 minutes, as the bus traveled along Washington’s tree-lined highways, Andy and Ruth made conversation.

“We began to talk to one another,” says Ruth. “It was pretty frivolous. You know, ‘What is your name? And how are you doing? And where are you going?’ And just discovering that we were both headed back to our workplaces.”

There wasn’t enough time to go much beyond these introductions. But both Ruth and Andy enjoyed the conversation and each other’s company.

Then, the bus pulled up at Fort Lewis.

“This is me,” said Andy. He grabbed his bag and was about to get off, but then he paused.

“Shall we exchange addresses?” he suggested. Ruth readily agreed.

“So, as the bus stopped at Fort Lewis, I was giving him my address,” she recalls today. “The bus driver was a little annoyed. He says ‘I’ve got a schedule to keep up.’”

The two strangers parted ways, both hoping it wouldn’t be the last time they met.

Letters and uncertainties

Andy was a romantic. When he wrote to Ruth for the first time, he was already wondering if she might be “the one.”

But then he learned, via Ruth’s reply, that she was engaged to someone else – a man she’d known since childhood.

“He was in the Air Force. I hadn’t seen him or been around him for almost a year,” explains Ruth.

When Ruth met Andy, she still had every intention of marrying her childhood sweetheart. But she also had no qualms about giving Andy her address. There hadn’t been anything specifically romantic about their bus interactions, after all.

“He had asked for my address, and I thought, ‘Well, there was no harm in writing back and forth to someone,” says Ruth.

But Andy was less sure about the situation.

“I didn’t know where I fit in,” says Andy today. “I wrote her off.”

But then, out of the blue, Ruth’s fiancé ended the engagement.

“He broke up with me – which ended up being a very good thing,” she says.

Her ex-fiancé, it turned out, had met someone else.

Ruth was more shocked than upset. She remembers walking into the living room of her Seattle apartment and sharing the news with her roommate. Her friend’s response was pragmatic.

“She said, ‘You’re not going to just sit here in the apartment and do nothing, and be grumpy and gloomy,’” recalls Ruth.

The roommate suggested Ruth could go out with some of the men they knew in Seattle. Then Ruth’s friend remembered the man from the bus – Ruth should write to Andy and tell him she was single, Ruth’s roommate insisted.

“She said, ‘If you don’t pick up a pen and write to this fellow that you got that letter from, I’m going to have these others guys come and take you out every night.’” recalls Ruth.

“Well, I wasn’t a going-out person. Every night, that didn’t suit me. So, I wrote the letter.”

“So she did,” says Andy. “And so we got together.”

“We corresponded for quite a while,” says Ruth. “We always looked forward to the letters.”

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In letters sent back and forth, Ruth and Andy grew closer.

“We shared the things we enjoyed doing and shared the goals we were trying to achieve,” says Ruth.

A few weeks into their correspondence, Ruth told Andy she was thinking of moving back to Olympia, Washington, where her parents lived.

Andy suggested he could help Ruth move – it would be an opportunity to see her again,  and see if their epistolary connection translated to real life.

“I went over there,” says Andy. “I knocked on the door, she opened it. The rest is history.”

Their chemistry was apparent right away. Almost immediately, Andy asked Ruth what she was going to be doing on August 22.

“How should I know?” said Ruth. “Why?”

“Well, I thought we could get married that day,” said Andy.

“No way,” said Ruth, laughing.

But as they boarded another Greyhound bus together – this time traveling from Seattle to Olympia – Ruth felt more and more sure that she wanted Andy to be part of her life.

This certainty was only confirmed when “almost halfway between Seattle and Olympia, Andy began singing to me,” says Ruth.

“He sang to me most of the way back and serenaded me.”

From then on, Andy would come to visit Ruth in Olympia whenever he could. And whenever they were apart, Andy and Ruth continued their letter-writing correspondence.

“We saw each other every weekend, so much of our letter-writing consisted of what we did during the week, and how we were missing each other,” recalls Ruth.

On weekends, Andy would borrow an army buddy’s car, pick Ruth up and they’d head to Squaxin Park on the city’s waterfront.

“We’d hold hands and walk together and talk together,” says Andy.

“I just got to know him,” says Ruth. “And I liked what I saw.”

An unorthodox proposal

Here's Ruth and Andy, pictured in 1963.

On July 4, 1963, Ruth and Andy were spending the holiday together when Ruth suddenly handed Andy a thick white envelope.

It was a wedding invite. Andy stared at Ruth in shock.

“I was wondering if she was marrying the other guy,” he says, referring to Ruth’s ex-fiancé.

“I started reading it. And of course, I was kind of distraught at the moment – until I got down to the part that said that she was marrying me.”

Ruth had the idea when she was alone one day, during the week, thinking about Andy and the idea of a future with him. He’d mentioned marriage again a few times.

“I got to thinking, ‘I really do love this man.’ And so I went to the printers and I had wedding invitations printed up,” recalls Ruth.

Ruth had no idea about the wedding venue or really any of the details. But she knew when it would take place. There was no question about it – August 22, the date Andy had suggested on their second meeting.

When she handed him the invite, Andy was overwhelmed, then delighted. He hugged Ruth tightly.

And a couple of months later, on August 22, 1963, Andy and Ruth got married in Olympia, Washington, at the church Ruth attended as a child. Ruth took Andy’s name, becoming Ruth Weller.

The couple extended the wedding invite to all the local churchgoers. They expected about 100 guests, but in the end numbers were closer to 200 – all the people who’d watched Ruth grow up wanted to be there to toast her and Andy.

Thanks to the ballooning numbers, on the day, Ruth realized they didn’t have enough wedding cake for all their attendees. They had to scramble to find more.

“We had all kinds of different kinds of cakes,” recalls Ruth.. It worked out, and was a special celebration.

Ruth and Andy were excited to begin married life together. But they were both very young, and their first few years together were a learning curve.

“Neither one of us had really dated a whole lot – like I said, I was engaged to another young man, but I had not dated many other young men,” says Ruth. “And so we basically did grow up together during that time.”

The couple were also both busy with their jobs. Ruth worked for the state of Washington, Andy left the army and also started working for Washington state, in the licensing department.

The couple realized that they have, as Ruth puts it, “very different personalities.” But they had a similar way of looking at the world and felt like a team from the beginning. It was “magic”, says Ruth.

That first Christmas, the anniversary of their meeting, the couple celebrated by going to the 88 cent store together, to do their Christmas shopping.

“We were just married and things were tight,” says Andy.

They giggled as they walked around the store, buying small gifts for their loved ones. It was their first time giving gifts as a couple, and felt special.

Then, they got together with their family.

“We always had a close family and just had lots of fun and fellowship with one another,” says Ruth. “My parents loved Andy.”

In time, Ruth and Andy had three children. They moved from Olympia, Washington to Yakima, Washington.

They loved being parents.

“Andy’s a wonderful person. He’s attentive. He’s always been there for us, his family, in every way,” says Ruth.

“She was always there with the children, guiding them, directing them,” says Andy.

“But has it always been easy? No,” says Ruth.

Ruth and Andy’s daughter Joanne was born with Maffuci syndrome, a rare bone disorder, and needed a lot of extra care when she was young.

“She grew up to be a very brilliant young woman. She was a 911 dispatcher for several years. She gave us a lovely grandson,” says Ruth.

Joanne sadly passed away a few years ago.

“We’ve been through things like that – that a lot of other people don’t have to face and don’t have to figure out how to get through,” says Ruth. “It is true that I believe that it’s made us stronger in one another.”

Over their decades together, Ruth and Andy have supported one another through the hard times and cheered each other on during the good.

The key, says Ruth, is “when you find the one that’s the right one, hang on tight.”

“Yes, you have to go through hard times,” she says. “But remember, you go through good times, too. And those are the ones that you hold on to and that you keep close to you. And you remember. Those are the things that keep you going.”

Feeling thankful

Here's a recent photo of Ruth and Andy, who've been married for over 60 years.

Over the decades, Ruth and Andy began to associate their love story with one particular song, “I Say a Little Prayer,” first recorded by Dionne Warwick in 1967, and later released by Aretha Franklin the following year.

Andy would often sing the lyrics to Ruth. The song still resonates with them both today, as they regularly give thanks for one another’s presence in their lives.

“It is a little unusual to meet someone on a Greyhound bus that you’ve never met before and make a connection,” says Ruth. “Actually it’s a miracle that would happen, even – two total strangers come together and end up being married to one another. And being married for as long as we have.”

This past August, Ruth, who is now 79, and Andy, who is 82, celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.

Their wedding anniversary is an important day to them both – but so is Christmas Day.

“Every Christmas Day we reminisce,” says Ruth. “We look across the table and know what the other’s thinking.”

This Christmas, the couple will celebrate the day with their loved ones by their side. Ruth and Andy remain close to their family, which now numbers four grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

“I love being alive and seeing all our grandchildren growing up and their families, and their great-grandchildren,” says Andy.

“It’s absolutely wonderful,” says Ruth. “Their hugs are just so important to us, especially at this age.

“We are looking forward to being together this Christmas, 61 years after we first met,” she continues. “I’m sure we will reminisce, laugh, joke, and be teased about our chance meeting those 61 years ago on Christmas Day, 1962.”

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By MC

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