Clarence Purvis, a 90+-year-old gentleman, eats lunch daily with a picture of his late wife, and when he was asked why, everyone had to hold back their tears.
It was lunchtime in a small-town diner in Georgia, USA. A tall man in a suit rushed through the door, talking on his cell phone. His name was Travis Howard, and he seemed to be desperately looking for a table, but the place was at maximum capacity, and all the chairs appeared to be occupied. He only found one empty chair across the table from a man who seemed to be over 90 years old. He was having lunch alone but, for some reason, had two chairs at his table.
The man in the suit decided to wait a few minutes, but time passed, and nobody seemed to be with the older man. So, without saying anything, he took the empty chair from the table and carried it to the counter to sit down and have his meal. The older man got up and asked why he had taken his chair without asking permission. The young man just looked up and laughed slightly: “Why should I have to ask you for an unused chair, sir? It was empty, and you were clearly eating your lunch alone.”
The elder looked the man firmly in the eye and said he was not alone but accompanied by his wife, pointing to the picture frame on the table. There were two pictures in the picture frame, one in black and white of a young woman and a more recent one, in color, of an older lady. Travis Howard felt confused and didn’t exactly understand what was going on. Even though he was in a hurry, he gave the chair back to the older man because a family at a nearby table had just left, leaving four other chairs vacant. He sat back down and kept trying to figure out what was going on as he watched the man eat his lunch with a picture frame.
Eventually, the older man noticed the younger man’s stares and motioned for him to come closer. As he approached, the old man said: “Are you lost or just curious? I see that you keep staring at me, so please, take your chair and sit with us.”
The man was so curious that he forgot he was late for a meeting. He sat at the table with the man and his pictures, not knowing that he would soon be struggling to hold back tears from the story he was about to hear…
In 1948, 17-year-old Clarence Purvis was stepping out for his weekly visit to the barbershop. It seemed to be a day like any other – Clarence would do errands in the morning and work in the shoe shop with his father in the afternoon. But he had an odd feeling that this day would be a very special one…
Satisfied with his haircut, he left the barber shop and headed to work. It would be an outrage for him to go out in public without his hair cut and styled perfectly. The young man was anxious to get home because his mother was preparing his favorite meal for dinner, chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and gravy.
So, fifteen minutes before the hour, he took advantage of the fact that his father had gone home early and decided to start closing the shop. However, the door chime rang, indicating a new customer was entering the store. With his back still turned, Clarence said: “Sorry, we are closing now. Come back tomorrow…”. But when he turned around, he saw an amazingly beautiful young woman who appeared to be about his age and whom he had never seen before. Clarence was so enchanted by her beauty that he couldn’t even find the words.
“Good afternoon. I wonder if you could make an exception? I have a ball to go to tomorrow, but my heel just broke,” explained the young woman. Clarence promptly replied that he would make an exception and help her. She laughed, handed him the heels, and said she would be back for them at 10 o’clock the following day. The young man agreed, and his plans to close the store early were soon forgotten. The moment the woman walked out the door, he began to adjust her shoes, working hard to make them look as beautiful as possible. Clarence thought about how he could try to impress her the next day. “Where is this dance she’s going to tomorrow?” he thought.
When he got home and sat at the dinner table with his parents, he was filled with a unique energy that everyone noted. His mother asked, “That excited look on your face can’t just be for the food. Tell me, Clarence, what’s the real reason for that silly smile?” The young man said he had met the woman he was going to marry. His parents just laughed, remembering their heady, youthful days, and continued enjoying the pleasant dinner.
The next day, the young man arrived at the shoe store before his father. He had put on his best clothes and was anxious to meet the girl with the high heels again. The young man realized that he had been so nervous the day before that he had not even asked her name. Suddenly, the chime at the store’s entrance rang, and Clarence, who was in the back, ran to answer it. It was her, the beautiful mystery woman.
Clarence was a friendly fellow, and his playful manner helped him during the conversation with the young woman. He handed over the shoes and found out that her name was Carolyn. He also got the address and time of the dance. “We’ll see you there!” Carolyn said as she waved goodbye.
That afternoon, the young man hurried to his cousin’s house and borrowed a sharp suit that he had recently bought. Then, unbeknownst to his father, he “borrowed” the newly repaired shoes of a wealthy customer and felt ready to win over the woman of his dreams. Arriving at the dance, Clarence quickly spotted Carolyn from afar and greeted her shyly. Even though both were a little nervous, they had a great evening and danced late into the night. Yet, they needed a proper conversation, so they arranged to meet at a snack bar in the neighborhood the next day. From then on, everything went wonderfully well, and it wasn’t long before the two started dating and felt that nothing in the world could separate them. But unfortunately, war was approaching…
As US involvement in World War II increased and tensions heightened, young men like Clarence were drafted overnight and forced to drop everything instantly to enter the military. At a time when long-distance communication was done through letters, the young man could not even let his beloved know what was happening. It was his parents who notified Carolyn of his departure.
During the war, Clarence tried to exchange letters with his parents and with Carolyn, but because he was moved around constantly due to the intensity of the confrontation, this was almost impossible. Yet, he never stopped thinking about her, not even for a day! The young man returned after a hard ten months in combat. Because of the crisis that was devastating the country, his father closed the old shoe store and moved the family to another town.
By a treacherous stroke of fate, he could not find Carolyn at all. He went to his old hometown and asked everyone he could about the woman, but no one knew where she was. Apparently, Carolyn had also moved away, but he didn’t let that hinder him and continued searching for her for more than ten years. He didn’t even consider dating others while he searched. His parents and friends thought the man was going crazy, but he just replied that he was crazy, crazy in love.
By the age of 28, Clarence had become a skilled mechanic. He had learned to repair cars during the war and decided to invest in a new business with his father. When a customer’s motorcycle broke down in the middle of a trip, Clarence traveled across the country to California to repair it. He had always wanted to visit the state, and this would be the perfect opportunity.
After the repair, the veteran took advantage of a nearby barber shop to give his hair and beard a treat. He entered, sat down on a stool, and picked a magazine to read while waiting his turn. While he waited, he noticed that people in California were quite fond of talking about their lives. After hearing the most varied stories from other customers, an older man looked at Clarence and asked him, “What about you, boy? What’s your story?”
Clarence shyly told how he had fallen in love, but he never found his beloved again because of the war. Since returning from the frontlines more than ten years ago, he has been looking for the love of his life. The young man told this expecting to hear laughter from the other men; after all, he thought his story was a little silly, and no one ever truly understood him. Only he knew how strong his love for Carolyn was. But, instead of laughter, he noticed a similar expression on all their faces, as if they were shocked by something.
The barber stared at Clarence and motioned him to step forward and sit in the chair. He obeyed the man, and as he sat down, he heard the most wonderful news in his life… The barber began to cut his hair. As the hair fell to the floor, he revealed that his daughter had also been obsessed, searching for a mysterious man for over 10 years. Not a day went by without her talking about it. “Her name is Carolyn, but I guess you already know that, don’t you, Clarence? Because apparently, you are the man she is looking for,” said the man with scissors clicking in his hand.
The incredible coincidence was surreal. The barber was, in fact, Carolyn’s father! He explained that they moved to California as the war got worse. Because the move had caused her to lose contact with the one true love of her life, his daughter went months without speaking to him. “At the time, I thought she was making a big deal out of nothing. She was still young and had her whole life ahead of her; there would be other men. But seeing you now, I can understand that I was wrong, very wrong,” said the barber.
Clarence hadn’t said a word yet; he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. When the barber finished the haircut, Clarence politely asked if he could ask him a question. The man said yes, and the boy promptly asked if he could marry his daughter. Even though he had not seen Carolyn for over 10 years, Clarence did not think twice and was firm in his request, which was soon accepted by the woman’s father.
It did not take long for the couple to reunite, and it was magical. It felt as if they had never been separated. Despite so many years apart, the couple’s connection had the same intensity as years ago, perhaps more. After their long-delayed reunion, the couple quickly got married and decided to return to the town where they met, where everything began. There, they set up a mechanic shop, with Carolyn taking care of the books. Clarence never left Carolyn’s side. They remained together until she died in 2013, having lived through 55 magical years of marriage.
After Carolyn’s death, the now older man has lunch daily at the modest diner where they first met. He carries a picture frame with Carolyn’s pictures so that she is always with him during meals, as she had been for so many decades. As a result, the man and his photo wife are well known to everyone in the establishment. Clarence also visits her grave almost daily, leaving flowers and keeping the tomb clean and tidy. He gently kisses Carolyn’s picture on the tombstone every time he goes there as if it were a ritual.
“I go to the cemetery over 300 times a year,” he says. “That’s how much I love her; that’s how much I miss her. And I know she would do the same for me.”
When he finally finishes telling his story and gets up from his chair in the cafeteria, Clarence looks at the younger man in the suit and realizes he has been crying. The older man touches him on the shoulder, picks up his picture frame and hat, says goodbye to all the diner staff, and leaves. Then, with a friendly smile and wave, he says, “See you tomorrow.”
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