On the last day of a family cruise to Mexico, 16-year-old Kim Nunemaker asked the cute boy who had barely spoken to her during the voyage to take a picture with her and her younger brother.
She had been urged by her aunt to approach the young man, who had followed her around for days but lacked the nerve to make much conversation. John Powell, then 18, had been smitten by her bright blue eyes and her smile and agreed to the picture.
He had been taken by the way Kim looked at him.
The aunt then slyly took the younger sibling out of the picture and snapped one of the teenagers awkwardly standing next to each other before disembarking.
Kim asked John if he would like a copy of the photo, as this was in the era long before “tagging” and cell phones, and they swapped mailing addresses. She headed to Indiana with her family, and he took off for California with his. A few weeks later, she mailed him a copy of the photo along with a letter on her stationery. He mailed her a Christmas card a few months later. She sent him one, too.
Months passed, and he sent her a picture of himself in the back of a limo from his senior prom. On the back, he wrote: Wish you were here.
John’s father suggested that the subject of his crush was “geographically undesirable.” They were separated by thousands of miles, and there were plenty of women in California. Both of the teenagers realized the impracticality of their situation and lost touch after those few exchanges. They both went about their separate lives, off to college, into their careers, then eventually marriages to other people.
It was decades later that John, a retired sheriff’s deputy who had been separated from his wife, stumbled across that old photo and Kim’s letter in a box he hadn’t looked at in years. He got misty eyed, remembering the intensity of the youthful crush. He decided to reach out to her, say hello and see how she was doing.
Kim, now an art teacher at Kirkwood High School, recognized his face the minute his profile picture popped up next to his Facebook message:
“Is this the woman I should have married 25 years ago?”
Her heart dropped to her stomach, and she caught her breath.
“I felt like I was 16 all over again,” Kim said, who was divorced.
She looked in the photo album she had made of that long ago family trip, where she had that same photo he had found. She confirmed it was the same person.
“Yes, I remember you,” she wrote back. “You’re pretty hard to forget.”
From that minute on, they were constantly communicating — texting and talking on the phone for hours. After a few months, he invited her to meet at his sister’s timeshare in Florida, where he was headed with his daughter to visit with family. She agreed.
John saw Kim at the airport for the first time after 26 years.
“When I saw her, I thought, ‘Oh, boy, I’m going to marry her,’” he said. She had a feeling fate had brought them together.
“We just hit it off,” she said.
Two days later, it was time for her to return to St. Louis. She told him that she wasn’t going to leave her job and move, and she didn’t want a long-distance relationship. John, who was in the process of selling his house, changed his and his daughter’s return flights to St. Louis, and they spent the next week with Kim.
When they left, he said he planned to pack up his stuff and move to St. Louis. Sure enough, he sold his house, loaded up a truck and drove back to Missouri. He moved in with her, and for the next couple of years they made up for those lost years.
John bought a lake house at the Lake of the Ozarks. One weekend they were sitting on the boat dock when he pretended to fall into the lake.
When he crawled out of the water, he held out a ring to Kim.
“You make me really happy,” he said. “I think we’re supposed to be together.”
She said yes.
Kim decided they should get married on a cruise ship and found one that departed from California and stopped at the same ports in the Mexican Riviera they traveled with their families. They were married nearly 30 years to the date from when they first met.
They’ve changed over the decades, of course. But John recognized the same things that drew him to her as a teen — her smile, her eyes.
“She gave me the exact same look,” he said.
He had not forgotten the way she looked at him. Kim Powell said she still got butterflies around him. Like teenagers.