Lost & Found

WORDS: Stoney Stamper
IMAGES: courtesy Stoney and April Stamper

They say February is synonymous with love, romance and little pink heart candies, so I thought that I could tell you about my own fairytale romance. It’s a pretty good story, actually. One of those stories that ALMOST never happened, but by some miraculous twist of fate, everything fell right into place.

Our story begins where most enduring love stories begin. In an Indian casino bar. Well, to be fair, we should back up a little bit, and say that our story begins like most love stories these days, on Facebook, where we had reconnected after a dozen years apart, and where we’d made this plan to rendezvous at the Indian casino bar. But then, that still wouldn’t be QUITE accurate. Our story started many years ago. Well before Facebook. Or laptop computers. Or even cell phones. Let’s turn back the clocks to 1988.

I grew up in a little place called Murphy, Oklahoma. It’s between Locust Grove and Chouteau, off of Highway 412. Growing up, I lived in only two different houses, and they were only about 400 yards from one another. No matter how long I’ve been gone, when I think of home, Murphy is what I think of.

When I was ten, this little girl moved in with her family just down the road a ways. She was a few years younger than me. A little cute brunette, with a few freckles. And she was spunky. Her name was April Skinner.

We rode Bus #5 to school together, and back home, every day. She went to our church at Murphy Church of God, where my grandpa was the preacher. So we saw each other almost every day. We were friends. However, she had a WICKED mad crush on me, and she wasn’t that subtle about it. She flirted with me, A LOT. She smiled at me, A LOT. We had a close mutual friend who was always the go between. Even on into our teenage years, there was always a ploy. They thought I didn’t know what was going on, but I did.

When we went on trips with the church, it was always the three of us together, with April in the middle. One time, we went to Eureka Springs, Arkansas to watch the Great Passion Play, and it was frigging freezing. How CONVENIENT. They had a blanket we could cover up with, but we needed to cuddle. For the warmth.

Another time, the church had a lock-in for the youth group. A lock-in is like a big sleepover in the church, and you play games and watch movies and stuff all night long. April likes to bring this incident up, OFTEN, although there is still rampant speculation about where the alleged incident occurred, in the fellowship hall or the sanctuary. We spent time in both. I was fourteen, almost fifteen. She was thirteen.

After several hours most of the kids started winding down, around three or four in the morning. The sleeping bags, blankets, pillows and such were spread out on the floor to make pallets for us all to lie on. April and I lay near one another. Very near. Too near. Near enough that we probably should’ve been reprimanded because of the nearness that we shared in the House of the Lord. And we ALMOST kissed. ALMOST. We had a moment. But I didn’t do it. Maybe I pulled a Tony Romo and choked right at the end of the game. I don’t know. All I know is, she still bitches about it twenty years later.

Then she moved away when she was fourteen, and I didn’t see her again until our friend, Jennifer, got married. She was a bridesmaid; I was an usher. She looked more grown up, and very pretty. Except she had this weird, short haircut and it was maroon. But hey, it was the nineties. We all had funky haircuts back then.

At the wedding she barely paid attention to me. I tried smiling, saying hello, but she was undoubtedly doing her best to ignore me. She’ll even admit it now; she was trying to be cool. So, I saw her for a bit, and then never again for another twelve long years.

Then one day I got a friend request on Facebook. It was from a lady named April Johnston. She looked fairly familiar, but different. But I knew those eyes and smile. I messaged her and asked, “Is this April Skinner?” to which she emphatically replied, “YES!”

We chatted briefly, and then a few months went by with no contact. Then one day I was drinking beer on a patio in Fort Worth and posted a picture of me giving a thumbs-up. She saw it, thought I looked cute, and “liked” the picture. And then she “liked” EVERY OTHER picture I had on Facebook. My phone pretty much exploded and melted down from all the notifications.

So, from a dude’s perspective, you’ve got to weigh your options. From looking at her pictures I knew she was hot. But after liking on all of my photos, I was a little worried she might have a little Single White Female in her. Or remember the lady on Fatal Attraction who boiled the bunny rabbit? Yeah, scary stuff. Thankfully she turned out to be the most awesome chick that I’ve ever known. And she was even hotter in person than in the pictures that I saw on Facebook.

But, there was a catch. She had two daughters, and I just so happened to be terrified of kids. But, I really liked her, so I buckled down and decided to give it a go. And so our courtship began. However, we lived three hours apart and only saw each other on weekends. So, I would make the drive to her house in northern Oklahoma, from southern Oklahoma, every Friday night. Back then, romance was easy. Things were simpler. It was just the two of us since the girls were usually elsewhere for the weekend. However, once we married, and we began sharing our lives, and home, together as a family, romance became much harder to find. Abby and Emma needed their mom, a lot. And getting her alone for more than five minutes at a time was a rarity. That was quite an adjustment for me. I was used to having her all to myself. And not only was I having to compete for her attention, I was losing.

Eventually, I learned that the girls just needed their mom, and I had better learn how to adapt, or die. So, that’s exactly what we did. We adapted. We learned to take advantage of our moments alone, no matter when they were, and sometimes, no matter where we were. For instance, we can’t go back to Walmart now. But that’s another story, for another time.

If the girls went outside to play and we knew we had a few minutes, we’d lock the bedroom door and have some quick mommy/daddy time. If they took a nap, we’d lock the door and “take a nap,” ourselves. On the rare occasion that they went to a friend’s house, or to a movie, or anywhere that took them out of the house for more than half an hour, Katie bar the door! Daddy’s gonna try and wake the neighbors.

Our sneaky tactics paid off. The romance in our lives is almost embarrassingly strong, and thankfully, in the years we’ve been together, we’ve only come close to being caught in an embarrassing situation that could possibly cause a need for some therapy one time. We now have a new house, and our bedroom is on the complete opposite side of the house from the girls. That has definitely helped our love life out.

I think one of the cool and unique aspects of our relationship is that we have known each other nearly all of our lives. As small children, as teenagers, and as adults. Yet, it still took us so long to find each other, and I believe that keeps us from ever taking this thing that we have for granted. We still text all day long like teenagers. She still sits in my lap and kisses me and asks me about my day, even to our daughters’ chagrin. And we end every phone call with “I love you.” Yeah, I know. We may be “that” couple, and I’m sorry if we make you feel a tad queasy. But we’re happy, so you are just going to have to deal with it. We’ll do our best to keep the PDA at a minimum.

It’s been twenty-five years since we first met. Thankfully, she turned out not to be rabbit boilin’ crazy, just crazy enough to live with and put up with me. I could’ve never imagined way back then, the impact she would someday have on my life. Or that all these years later, she’d finally be MY forever Valentine. I couldn’t have guessed any of that. But I guess that’s the cool thing about life. It’ll work itself out, if you’ll just relax and let it.

Stoney Stamper is the author of the popular parenting blog, The Daddy Diaries. He and his wife April have three daughters: Abby, Emma and Gracee. Originally from northeast Oklahoma, the Stampers now live in Tyler, Texas. For your daily dose of The Daddy Diaries, visit Stoney on Facebook or on his website, thedaddydiaries.net.

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