Melanie Young, 57, is big on reunions. She's planned three at the high school she attended in Maryland. "Everyone I know -- whatever age they are -- if they're single, I say 'Go to your reunions!'" That's because 17 years ago, at a high school reunion, Melanie's life changed forever for the better.
Back in the summer of '73, she was Melanie Blair -- a "hippie art student" in Frederick, Maryland. Melanie had been friends with a boy in the band named Dale Young throughout high school, but on the night of graduation, when all the seniors went up to a fire pond in the mountains to drink beer and celebrate, they became something more.
"The next day everyone went to Ocean City for beach week," Melanie recalled. "We spent that week and most of the summer together. Then, toward the end of summer, he said, 'I met this girl so we're breaking up.' Dale went off to the Air Force and I went off to art school." She saw him the following summer -- but he was still with the other girl.
And then 20 years went by.
Melanie got out of school, married and divorced, lived in Canada and California, and eventually settled in Virginia, where she worked as an interior design consultant for a granite and natural stone contractor. Dale got out of the Air Force, moved back to his hometown and became a home improvement contractor. They met again at their 20th high school reunion: Melanie saw Dale walk in and felt the old spark. But their reunion wasn't meant to be -- at least not that night.
"He was with a date and I wasn't. My girlfriends and I were partying, 38 years old and acting like we were 16," Melanie said. "I asked him to dance and he said no."
Two years later, on the eve of her 40th birthday, single and living in a very expensive part of northern Virginia, Melanie had an epiphany: "I thought, 'Why the hell am I killing myself to live in Falls Church?'" Within six weeks she had transferred her job to Maryland, and moved back to her hometown, where her brother and sister still lived. She arrived just in time for her high school's "40th birthday reunion." ("My class has a lot of reunions," Melanie laughed.)
This time, Dale was alone. "We spent that evening together and the next night we went out," Melanie recalled. "That was late August. We got married the following January."
When Dale -- who everyone thought was a confirmed bachelor -- told his widowed grandmother MeeMaw he was marrying, she took off her wedding band and handed it to him. "Use that to marry Melanie," she said.
The couple wed in a simple ceremony at the courthouse. "We were both 40, we had been on our own, working hard and scrambling to get by," said Melanie. "We didn't have a lot of pomp and circumstance -- it wasn't important to us. We went out to lunch, went and told his parents and my mother and stepfather. Then we drove to West Virginia to a big hotel for the weekend. We had to sneak in the dog."
That was 17 years ago. Over the years Dale has told Melanie he wished they had stayed together from the beginning. "But this wouldn't have happened," she said of their happy reunion. "We were 18, we were stupid, we didn't know what we were doing. We needed the life experience to make things work. For me it was a chance to have something come to fruition that was so good for such a short time. I remember when we first got back together, it was the same feeling I had back in high school. And it's never gone away."
Today they live in the mountains with a cat, a pack of dogs and a gaggle of free-range chickens. "I'm the chicken whisperer," Melanie joked. "They follow me around. They live in a small pen next to dogs, so everybody gets along. We're really homebodies -- Dale put in beautiful patio and we hang with the dogs and chickens. We've built this happy and easy life together."
And eventually, Dale owned up to why he refused to dance with Melanie at the 20th reunion. "He told me, 'That woman I was dating at the time -- she was crazy! She would have beat you up if I danced with you,'" Melanie laughed. "He swears he went to the next reunion hoping I would be there. So after this much time together, I've decided to believe him."