I thought you’d never ask
It is said that good things come to those who wait. The author of that cliché might be tempted to use Fritz and Grace Miller as a case in point. They met when they were both eight years old, and got married 67 years later.
But it’s not true they spent all that time waiting for it to happen. They each lived full separate lives until chance brought them together again. Then, they didn’t wait. They were married within a year.
Grace Bacon was born in Hartford, Ohio, on May 7, 1917. Fritz was born 21 days later in Sharon. When Fritz was eight, his family moved to Hartford.
“That’s when I met Grace,” Fritz said. “I would go to church and sit down next to her. She would get up and walk away from me.”
But that didn’t stop Fritz.
“Off and on I would ride a bicycle down to her house, or go on horseback. When I was about 15 [in 1932], I bought a 1922 Model T for $10. Then I would drive that down to see Grace. There were no driving regulations then. I bought the car, paid for it. My folks weren’t there and they didn’t have to sign anything. You didn’t need any driver’s license.”
He and Grace were in the same grade until the beginning of high school. Fritz’s poor eyesight made it difficult for him to read, so he fell a year behind Grace and didn’t see her as much after that.
Fritz graduated from Hartford High School in 1936 and went to work at Kinsman Sand and Gravel. In November of that year, he started at Westinghouse as an apprentice draftsman.
A short time later Fritz was injured in an automobile accident. He fell in love with a nurse named Anna Kline, and married her when he was just 20 years old. She was a few years older than him.
“I wasn’t even dry behind the ears yet,” Fritz said.
Fritz and Anna had a son, Frederick, in 1942, and a daughter, Linda Ann, in 1948.
Fritz had attended Youngstown College to study drafting and mathematics, but he had other ideas about the kind of work he wanted to do.
“At Westinghouse I would sneak out of the office into the shop because I wanted to learn a trade. I became a machinist, then a tool and die maker. I worked in a few different places, then finally at Packard Electric.”
Fritz was a hard very worker. He worked constantly, never taking vacation or even days off for more than seven years. Then, in 1974, his marriage ended in divorce. He decided it was time for a change.
“I was like a kid in a candy store. I had a lot of fun. I bought two and a half lots in Holiday Camp Lands in Andover, and got a 35 foot fifth wheel RV. In the fall I would hook up and head for warmer weather, mostly Florida. When the birds started to return, I’d wait a week or two just to see if they knew what they were doing, then I’d head back to Andover. I stayed the summers up there. I had a couple of big motorcycles and some smaller ones that my grandchildren could ride.”
After working for Packard for 37 years, Fritz retired in 1982.
Meanwhile, Grace Bacon lived her own very different life.
As a child she was very conscious of her appearance.
“At home my mother made clothes for my sisters and me. The clothes press was tightly packed with all those dresses. When I took one out to wear that had a crease in it, even if I was only going to wear it around the house, I would iron it. My father wouldn’t let me buy lipstick, so I would moisten red cinnamon candies and use them to color my lips.”
Grace lived at home until she was 29. Then she got a job at the Sharon Store.
Through an acquaintance, she met Ralph Brock, an insurance agent who was looking for a secretary. Grace interviewed for the job, but didn’t accept it.
“He tried to ask me out. I refused him. But after he called the store numerous times I said okay. We started dating, and got married in April, 1947.”
Grace and Ralph moved to New Castle where he had an insurance agency. Unfortunately, he developed cancer and passed away just eight years later.
“Within one month I packed up from New Castle and moved back to Sharon. I started working at Whitmer-Smith in November, 1955. I was asked to go back into the ready-to-wear department where I became a buyer.”
It was the perfect job for the lady who had been fashion-conscious since she was a little girl. Her sense of fashion made her a valuable asset to Whitmer-Smith, especially after Sherman Jubelirer bought it. People would come into the store just to see what Grace was wearing, because they knew she would be wearing the latest style. She traveled frequently to New York and other cities to select merchandise for the store.
She had no children of her own, but her sister Esther’s daughters, Janet Day and Judith Nasser, were very close.
“They were like my own children,” she said.
On May 7, 1984, she went with Esther, Janet, and Judith to a Hartford High School alumni reunion. Fritz went to it, too.
“I saw Grace come in,” he said, “and I noticed that she wasn’t with a man. I walked up to her, spoke to her, and gave her a big kiss on the cheek, and there was a spark. I remembered it was her birthday, so I bribed the band to play Happy Birthday. I walked around so I could come up behind her. I bent over her shoulder, whispered in her ear and asked her out.”
Today Fritz and Grace disagree about her response. He says she said, “I thought you’d never ask.” Grace denies this. But whatever the specific words were, she agreed to go out with him.
On the way home she had second thoughts about it. She said to Esther, Janet, and Judith, “What did I do!? I told that guy I’d go out with him!’”
Fritz did not have second thoughts. The day after the reunion he called her and asked her out to dinner. She said yes.
She agreed to go to Schuster’s, he learned later, because she thought they wouldn’t be seen there.
“The cold feeling,” he said, “was because I was wearing about three or four different colors. I wasn’t dressed to suit her.”
“I spent all afternoon trying different things on,” Grace said, “so I would look good for him. I thought, honestly, I couldn’t go anywhere with him dressed like that and have anyone see me with him!”
Despite their differences, however, they had one thing in common: “We were nervous as a couple of high school kids.”
They continued to go out, and got married in 1985.
“And the rest,” Fritz says, “is history” – proving that good things can happen to people who know enough to grab onto a good thing when they see it without waiting for it to come to them.
Of course, that might take 67 years or so. But Fritz and Grace agree with another cliché: late is infinitely better than never.
By the way, under Grace’s guidance, Fritz’s fashion sense has improved. Now she’s happy to be seen with him anywhere. If you happen to run into them, you will most likely see them holding hands, as they almost always do when they’re out somewhere together.
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 1, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2007