From the Heart: Two Guys Share Valentine’s Day Love Stories

Hal Johnson: ‘I still love her laugh’


I was 15 when I first saw Rhonda in high school, and it seemed like some higher power put a spotlight on her.

I was crestfallen when I learned that she had a boyfriend. The following year, though, we had a class together. That led to a few short conversations, but she sat next to a fellow cheerleader who monopolized spare moments. Still, I loved to hear Rhonda laugh.

Our senior year started, and she and I shared an English Comp class. The desks were arranged in a “U,” and Rhonda sat across from me. I tried not to stare. Once again, she sat next to a fellow cheerleader. Rhonda and Nancy liked to talk. A lot. Our teacher, Miss Klinger, obviously liked them both, but a month into the school year, she decided to move Rhonda across the room. Behind me.

I was overjoyed at first, but then the old shyness seemed to return. I worried that turning around to talk to her would do nothing but convince her that I was a dork. For a couple of days, I did little but say “hi.” One day, though, I heard her voice behind me: “Hal, you have grass on your back.” She reached up and brushed the grass off of my T-shirt. It broke the ice, and I wanted that moment to last forever.

A month into the school year, Rhonda’s boyfriend broke up with her. A week later, my girlfriend broke up with me. I kissed Rhonda for the first time a few days later. Soon, we were spending every available moment together, whether physically or on the phone.

High school graduation came, and after a blissful summer break, Rhonda went off to Loyola Marymount, and I went off to Army flight school to fly helicopters. It’s an old story, I guess: Boy meets girl, boy goes into the military, boy loses girl. I would soon utterly lose track of her.

Eighteen years after we broke up, I found her again. I was living in Ventura, while she lived in Redding. I flew up to Redding to visit her. We married five months later. It was the first marriage for both of us.

Sometimes, she’ll brush some hay off of my back, and I’ll feel transported back to that one day in English Comp when she brushed the grass off of my back. Her touch was magic back then, and it’s magic now.

And yeah, I still love to hear her laugh, even when it’s at me.


This print was misplaced after we evacuated for a fire. I was sure happy when I found it again, because it’s my favorite photo of my two favorite people in the world.

HalJohnsonB&WBorn and raised in Ventura County, Hal Johnson moved to Shasta County in 1994. After a 38-year career flying helicopters, he can now sometimes be spotted around the North State singing and wrestling his guitar into submission. He always feels funny writing about himself in the third person. Contact him at


Charlie Price: My Attraction To Joan Pechanec
Charlie Price and Joan Pechanec

Charlie Price and Joan Pechanec

I met Joan Pechanec by chance fifty years ago. I thought she was vivacious, smart, and thoroughly delightful. However, since both of us were in other relationships and living thirteen hundred miles apart, I didn’t consider dating.

Ten years later in the Bay Area, a friend invited me to join her visiting an old college roommate. The roommate turned out to be to be Joan Pechanec. That afternoon Joanie made the room shine! As we talked, I found her candid, perceptive, funny and irreverent. She spoke passionately about her psych work and was clearly determined to have as much fun as possible.

The more we talked, I realized she could/would understand anything I wanted to tell her, and that whatever we talked about, I would learn from the conversation. We were equals in confidence, in personal power, in education, and in values. I didn’t want a housewife or a mother, I wanted a mate that gave as good as she got.

I began to fear something would happen or I would do something stupid and ruin our friendship. Was this singular intimacy fragile, too good to be true?

I needed to visit my Arkansas family about 10 days after Joanie and I had reconnected. During that trip she continued to fill my thoughts. On a drive through the Ozarks I saw a roadside quilt shop and stopped on a whim. (Never done such a thing before or since.) In that store I saw an antique Quilt Made of Stars. WHOA! That quilt evoked the way I felt about Joanie. I bought it and I gave it to her when I got home. We looked at it and cried. I believe we were each seeing the representation of loveliness that was growing inside and between us. I’d never had such a powerful cherishing feeling before, but I have many many times since.

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Today we continue to say things we appreciate about each other as they occur and we set aside times for serious state-of-the-union talks. Fate has allowed us to evolve and change in similar directions and our couplehood remains fresh.

When we met, she was a psychotherapist and I ran a school. Now she’s an artist with a show at the airport and I’m a writer. We go to bed every night and wake up every morning lucky and in love. She is the best thing that ever happened to me.

charley_priceth.jpgCharlie Price is a business coach, consultant, writer, and Edgar Award Winning-Author of The Interrogation of Gabriel James, Dead Connection, Dead InvestigationDesert Angel, Lizard People, and Dead Girl Moon.

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8 Responses

  1. What a lovely Valentine for A News Cafe readers!  Thanks so much Hal and Charlie – wonderful stories.

  2. Avatar Cathy says:

    What sweet stories! Thanks for sharing them.

  3. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Two lovely stories.  It was nice to read these from the men’s point since love stories are generally from the distaff side.  Thanks for sharing.  Today is our 48th anniversary, and my husband named it our Valenversary.

  4. Avatar Karen C says:

    Both are really nice stories.  This caught my eye, from Charlie:  “. I didn’t want a housewife or a mother, I wanted a mate that gave as good as she got.”  He had it figured out a long time ago.  Wow, Charlie, you should open a school to teach other men!

  5. Avatar Patty says:

    Charlie, and I am so grateful you were “smitten” with my sister. It brought you into our family! Love you both enormously and I had never heard the story about the quilt! Happy Valentine’s Day and continue to cherish every moment!

  6. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

    I love these stories, and I love that they are about, not just young love, but the years of happiness and partnership that followed those first connections.  Thank you Hal and Charlie for honoring your wives with these words.


  7. A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

    Ahhhhh . . . . what a way to close Valentine’s Day.  I’m going to sleep on these histories.

  8. Avatar Barbara says:

    Great story and I’m glad to share it. Love your stories and her art!  The airport show is great, I wish every wall in there was covered with Joan’s vivid, dynamic work. I especially love the desert scene.