July 30, 2009 in Washington Voices

Remembered kiss brings pair together decades later

By The Spokesman-Review
 
CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON photo

Chris and Roger Imes shared a kiss when they were much younger, parted ways and built separate lives. Forty-one years later, they married and now operate Lorien Herbs and Natural Foods at 11th Avenue and Perry Street.
(Full-size photo)

It’s been reported that the average person will spend an estimated 20,160 minutes kissing in a lifetime. But sometimes all it takes is one kiss to set destiny in motion. That’s what happened to Roger and Chris Imes.

“We met at Easter dinner in 1966 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” recalled Roger Imes. “We were immediately attracted to each other.” Imes, the son of an American serviceman stationed in Wales during World War II, had come to America to meet the father he never knew.

When he was a baby, his parents’ wartime marriage failed and his father moved back to America, leaving Roger and his older sister behind. Imes’ American grandfather had visited Wales to meet his grandchildren and urged them to visit him in America. That grandfather happened to be Chris Imes’ favorite uncle. “His second marriage was to my aunt,” she explained. And fate brought Chris and Roger together on Easter Sunday.

The enamored pair decided to escape the family and take a walk. “We ended up in Grandad’s car in his garage, because it was cold,” said Roger Imes. “We exchanged a passionate kiss.”

There probably would have been another if her father hadn’t discovered them. “Her dad came and hauled me out of the car,” said Imes. That’s when the 20-year-old Welshman discovered the vivacious beauty who’d caught his eye was only 16.

Forty years would pass before they saw each other again.

Wisconsin was just one stop on Imes’ journey – his father lived in California, so he continued on his way. Unfortunately, the longed-for reunion with his dad didn’t turn out the way he’d hoped. “He was remarried and had a new family.”

Imes returned to Wisconsin. It would take many years for him and his father to come to an understanding, but eventually they did. When his father died, Imes was there. “I was holding him and feeling thankful I’d made it on time,” he recalled.

Imes became a successful photographer, married and had a daughter. Chris, too, had married and moved to Spokane in 1976 with her husband and two children.

She was widowed at 34. “I was a single mom for 22 years,” she said. “I kissed a lot of frogs, but no prince.”

She loved her work at Lorien Herbs and Natural Foods and bought the business from her employers in 2000.

Meanwhile, after a divorce, Imes had returned to Wales, intending to spend the rest of his life there. “But I couldn’t seem to settle down,” he said.

Back in Spokane, Chris had written a list enumerating the qualities she wanted in a spouse, should she marry again. The list included a fondness for tea, cats, flowers, gardens and motorcycles. “While I was writing that list, Roger was preparing to come back to the U.S.,” she said.

He had decided to take the trip of a lifetime go in “search of his bliss.” With a small budget and a pass to the nation’s parks, he flew back to America. He retrieved his car from a sheep pen in Wisconsin where he’d left it, threw a tent in the back and set off.

“I ended up at my aunt and uncle’s in California,” he said. “While I was there a letter came from Chris’ dad.” He’d included a picture of Chris and a guy she was dating. “As soon as I saw that photo I said, ‘Oh, my God. I remember that kiss!’ ”

But her dad had written on the back of the picture that he hoped Chris would be marrying the gentleman soon.

Once again, Imes continued on his journey across America. But when his uncle grew gravely ill, Imes, an experienced Hospice volunteer, traveled back to California to care for him. While going through condolence letters following her husband’s death, Imes’ aunt found another letter from Chris’ dad. Since there was no mention of a recent marriage, Imes decided to give Chris a call.

When she arrived home from work that evening she found a strange message on her answering machine. “This is a voice from your past,” a man with a distinctive accent intoned. He left a number, but no name, and Chris wasn’t about to return a stranger’s call.

Fortunately, Imes’ aunt had overheard him placing the call and told him, “You’re going to have to try that again!” So, the next evening he called and left another message – this time he included his name.

Chris said, “When I heard the name Roger Imes, I knew immediately who it was. I returned that call.”

They discovered they had more in common than a passionate kiss shared four decades earlier.

“We had so much to talk about,” said Chris. They began to call each other and write letters on a regular basis. “I had the list,” Chris said, laughing. “And one by one I began to check stuff off!”

On Valentine’s Day 2006, Imes flew to Spokane. “We knew at the airport the connection was there,” he said. They spent a week together, and then he returned to California, packed up his belongings and drove back to Spokane, five days later.

The couple married on Aug. 11, 2007. They are still awestruck at how they found each other again after so many years.

“I’m reminded every day what a mystery this is,” Roger Imes said.

“We are so content,” said Chris. “We enjoy our tea together and play with the kitties. We are so lucky.”

The power of that unforgettable kiss can’t be denied. Imes marveled, “Just when I’m thinking the journey is the adventure, I found Chris.” From across the table, his wife returned his fond gaze.

“You found home,” she said.

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