Great love stories transcend age and time. Just ask Mary Lois Cannon and Edwin Ash. When they marry on Aug. 1 in Green Valley, Ariz., their wedding will be 61 years later than they had originally planned.
Their story begins in 1935, when they met as students - she at Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, he at nearby Miami University of Ohio. Love blossomed, and the two became engaged. He couldn't afford a ring, so he gave her his watch.
After he entered medical school in Cincinnati, he hitchhiked back to Oxford every weekend so they could attend dances. "We never danced with anybody else," she says. "He was 'my' Ed."
"Her" Ed even hitchhiked to Chattanooga, Tenn., to meet her parents. And she traveled to Forest, Ohio, to meet his family.
So deep was their love that one afternoon when she was a senior, they walked along a street near his fraternity house and talked about getting married that same day. But her college refused to grant diplomas to married students, so they reluctantly waited.
After graduating in 1937, she took a job as a chemist in Cincinnati, and he continued his medical studies. One evening, when he arrived at her parents' home to pick her up for a fraternity event, her mother refused to let her attend. "Perhaps they were worried about drinking," she says.
Mrs. Cannon is discreetly vague about the breakup that followed, ending their three-year engagement. She later married a Presbyterian minister and gave birth to a son and a daughter. Dr. Ash married a music student, and they became parents of a son.
Fast-forward to early 1998. Cannon, a longtime widow, was traveling around the world on the cruise ship Crystal Symphony. One evening she and a friend attended a singles party.
"They always give prizes so people can get acquainted with other singles," she explains. "They drew Ed's name out of the pot. I said to my friend, 'I was engaged to him when I was in college.' I dashed over and said, 'Do you remember me? I was Lois Davis.' His jaw dropped. The tears started flowing from both of our eyes. He was my Ed who I had been engaged to all those years ago."
As the ship traveled from port to port, the couple spent hours each day catching up on the six decades since they parted. They discovered that they had both been on the same cruise last year, though their paths never crossed. They also quickly realized that old feelings were blooming anew.
"It's as though all that love for each other had been kindling, and when we got together on the ship it just burst into flame," she says. "We both do really love each other very much."
In this season of weddings, and in an era when many marriages end in divorce, their story is worth telling for two reasons. They both enjoyed long marriages and happy families. Ash, a widower, was married for 54 years, Cannon for 42. "I loved Tom and he loved Dorothy" she says, of their late spouses.
The couple's renewed affections also refute the stereotype that matters of the heart are the exclusive province of the young. Love may not always be lovelier the second time around, as the old song claims. But at the very least it may come with a fuller understanding of the consequences and a greater appreciation of the possibilities.
Ash, a retired surgeon in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., sums up the wonder of their reunion: "I never expected to see her again."
As they prepare for their wedding, which Mrs. Cannon says will be "completely family," well-wishing strangers might want to throw an invisible bouquet and chalk up one more victory for the institution of marriage. This is one shipboard romance that is anything but fleeting.