A Simple Love Song

I’m on a plane awaiting takeoff. I’m departing Kansas City for Atlanta. My carry-on bag is above me in the tiny carry-on compartment—a compartment which, according to FAA regulations, is too small for carry-on bags.

There is a woman behind me trying to force her oversized roller-suitcase into storage by throwing her bodyweight against her luggage like a first-string tackle. Her efforts aren’t working because her carry-on is about the size of a 2008 Honda Civic.

But God love her, she’s trying.

A few of us passengers help her out, although we are not strong enough to bend the immutable laws of physics. In the process of helping, I meet the old man seated across the aisle from me. I’m guessing he’s late seventies. He’s in fantastic shape. Short. Wiry.

I can’t see his face to discern his age because we are all wearing masks. But his thin hair is white, slicked with either Brylcreem or industrial machine lubricant. He wears kelly green polyester trousers, unblemished sneakers, and a loud Hawaiian print shirt. I’m already in love with this guy.

“Hi, I’m Art,” he says cheerfully, and I smell nothing but Old Spice. “I’m ‘fine art,’ too.”

He laughs at his own joke. And after his Rodney Dangerfield opener I have a feeling Art is going to try to sell me a vacuum.

“I’m from Wisconsin,” he adds, leaving his statement open ended, waiting for me to respond with something biographical.

“I’m from Florida,” I say. “Flying to Savannah to meet my wife.”

He nods. “Wives are good.” He thumps his chest. “I was married fifty-nine years.”


“Oh you betcha.” He says the words like they’re all one syllable, a Wisconsinite to the core.

“Fifty-nine years,” I say. “That’s a rarity these days.”

“Oh, yeah. I learned a long time ago that marriage is really just an agreement between two adults. You don’t try to run her life, and you don’t try to run yours.”

He laughs again, making me fall much deeper in love with him. I have a lifelong affection for old men, and Art is one of the good ones.

We fall silent while the plane achieves liftoff. Suddenly, I’m doing mental math. If this man is in his seventies like I’m thinking, the numbers don’t add up.

“So wait,” I say. “Fifty-nine years of marriage? What were you, twelve when you got married?”

“Me? Hell. I’m ninety-three years old. Born in aught twenty-eight.”

And as if I couldn’t love him any more, then he tells me about his wife.

“She was Korean. Met her when I was in the Air Force. The last thing I thought I’d do is get married, but, hey, I fell in love. She was the prettiest woman you ever saw. I used to write her love songs.”

He goes on to tell me the whole love story. He tells me how he met her when he was a GI, and how he fell for her gentle spirit, her sable hair, and her devotion to her family. He speaks of how she grew up in horrific poverty, of how she was an incurable optimist in the face of loss.

“My wife was the strongest person I ever knew. She came through so much, and she was smart. Spoke four languages. And when she sang in Korean, it melted you.”

“Is that right.”

“Oh, you betcha. Shoulda tasted the food she’d cook. God, she was a spectacular cook. Sometimes your dinner still had its eyeballs, but it was always perfect.”

He pauses and looks out his window. About 40,000 feet below us is the Sunflower State. And there is something suddenly forlorn in his eyes.

“She was a great woman,” he says.


Our conversation finally fizzles. After all, we’re strangers. I read my legal thriller novel; he reads his “Guideposts” magazine and takes a short nap using a special pillow that wraps around his neck.

When he awakes he removes his neck pillow and we’re on to round two.

“So you have kids?” I ask.

“Two daughters. Both married. Both happy.”


“You betcha. Got eight of’em.” He’s beaming now. “I got great grandkids, too.”

“That’s a lot of grandkids.”

“Yeah, well, grandchildren are your reward for not killing your own kids.” He laughs privately, looks out the window again then he says in a quiet tone, “Oh, I can’t wait to see my family. You get my age, family is all that’s worth caring about.”

And just like that he’s done talking. He’s tired again. He sleeps. He gently snores.

After a few hours of reading, periodic napping, and just generally being miserable in a commercial airliner, the plane finally touches down. We deboard.

And I am impressed with how strong the old man is. He unloads his carry-on bag from the overhead compartment and hobbles through the passenger boarding bridge like a man twenty years his junior.

We livestock-like passengers filter into the crowded Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport terminal where I see two arrestingly beautiful middle-aged Asian American women waiting to meet the old man. The women confiscate his bag and throw their arms around the man.

“Dad,” they both say. And I only wish his best girl could see what I’m seeing now. For all I know, maybe she can.

As I walk past him on my way to my next terminal, he and I lock eyes briefly. “Nice meeting you,” the man says to me. “You take care now.”

I smile. “You betcha.”


  1. Steve McCaleb - June 19, 2021 7:11 am

    There’s a world full of beautiful, touching stories out there my friend. And I’m glad you took time to listen to Art’s…..and I’m just as glad you chose to pass it on to us.Your kind attention to an elderly stranger is a glowing example of what my grandmother called “being raised right”. You’re a good man Sean Dietrich

  2. Christina - June 19, 2021 7:19 am

    True love knows no bounds.

  3. Sandi. - June 19, 2021 7:35 am

    Art from Wisconsin sounds like someone we would all like to meet. How fortunate that your path crossed with his, Sean, and vice versa. Sincere thanks for telling us about him. I bet he told his daughters about you!

  4. Melanie - June 19, 2021 9:38 am

    I bet Art sprinted the whole length of the walkway and beat the train. American Gold 🇺🇸 Thanks for sharing him with us.

  5. Patti - June 19, 2021 9:43 am

    Heart-warming! These are the kinds of encounters -and stories – that help keep us grounded. Thank you, Sean.

  6. Leigh Amiot - June 19, 2021 10:12 am

    Once again, I am smiling after reading one of your columns. Well done, you.

  7. Peggy Gaylord - June 19, 2021 10:22 am

    Hello! Love that you were in Kansas City! My corner of the world.

    • Jack - June 19, 2021 11:35 am

      That’s the “Show Me” State! Great piece, Sean!!

  8. Marianne Bryan - June 19, 2021 11:11 am

    A great story of love. ❤️

  9. Debbie g - June 19, 2021 11:59 am

    I love love stories you and Jamie are a great love story too.

  10. Elizabeth - June 19, 2021 12:19 pm

    Art is a very blessed man! What a perfect story to share on the eve of Father’s Day! I feel the love his 2 beautiful daughters have for him!!❣️Thanks for another real life story!😌 Looking forward to tomorrow!!🤗❤️

  11. joan moore - June 19, 2021 12:21 pm

    I love that you bring us heart warming stories of true love every day.

  12. Heidi - June 19, 2021 12:44 pm

    Melted this old heart….again.❤️

  13. Suellen - June 19, 2021 12:54 pm

    I learned several years ago that one of the reasons I hate flying is that they strap me in a seat for hours on end and expect me not to talk to anyone. I love people. I love hearing their stories. I’m sure I’ve aggravated a lot of people by talking to them but then you find someone like Art. You connect on a human level and the trip is made more pleasant. Thanks for sharing his story with us.

  14. DAVID A WILSON - June 19, 2021 1:42 pm

    The more I read your writing the better it gets! THANKS

  15. Molly - June 19, 2021 1:52 pm

    You did it again! Beautiful story. Thank you for telling Art’s story. Your words paint such a wonderful picture. Thank you!!

  16. Gaynell Lumsden - June 19, 2021 2:11 pm

    You are the Best Writer Sean!🤩

  17. Jan - June 19, 2021 4:17 pm

    Yes, you did it again … made me laugh and cry at the same time. Love, love, love Art’s story and the beautiful way you tell it. Thank you, Sean!

  18. Linda Moon - June 19, 2021 4:56 pm

    I know and love a man who’s a lot like the old man across the aisle from you. He’s one of the good ones, and thank God he no longer wears polyester trousers. I had loud laughs at the corny joke about “your own kids”….and that’s all I have to say about that. Take care of yourself, Sean. Your writings….and, well…..just you are good medicine for me, so stick around and I betcha I’ll make it to 93!

  19. MAM - June 19, 2021 6:22 pm

    Lovely and loving word stories are the best! Keep us reading and picturing these wonderful inspiring people stories, Sean. You shine!

  20. Aaron - June 19, 2021 7:57 pm

    As usual, another great story. Keep ’em coming. (How do you

    Just one thing I have to rant about: “About 40,000 feet below us is the Sunflower State.”

    If you flew from Kansas City to Atlanta, you didn’t fly over Kansas. You were over the Show Me State.

    Kansas City… is in Missouri.

  21. Karen Snyder - June 20, 2021 1:44 am

    Aaron, in Sean’s defense, there’s a Kansas City in each of those states, albeit the airport is in MO. 😉 Thanks, Sean, for another introduction to yet another of those folks we think of as ‘salt of the earth,’ like you. Lovely post.

  22. Susan Corbin - June 20, 2021 8:30 am

    Meeting people is a wonderment! We all have stories to tell.

  23. pdjpop - June 20, 2021 9:23 am

    A loving life observed.
    More please.

  24. Suzi - June 20, 2021 9:15 pm

    That “simple song” covers a multitude of rich stories


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