It was the summer of 1938 and Fred Stobaugh was thirsty. Nothing would quench that thirst like a cold root beer, so he headed to the local A&W Root Beer stand on the east side of Peoria.
Out skated a young carhop named Lorraine to take his order. But there was more than just an icy mug of root beer that passed between them that day. As Fred reminisced, “She was real timid like, but I fell in love with her right then and there. She was just the prettiest girl I ever saw.”
Such was the beginning of a love story that would span the next 75 years. Time smiled kindly upon Fred and Lorraine as they eventually married, raised a family and spent their Golden Years together. But it was when they hit their 90s that their magical timepiece began to wind down. Lorraine took ill and passed away in April of 2013.
One would think that was the end of this love story. Ninety-six-year-old Fred would continue on for a short lonely time and soon, he, too, would pass. But not this love story.
Some weeks after her death, Fred decided to write a song for his beloved wife. He would call it, “Oh, Sweet Lorraine.” Here’s how he described what happened: “After she passed away, I was sitting in the front room one evening by myself, and it just came right to me. I just kept humming it and singing it … it just fit her.”
Fred later heard of a local songwriting contest in Peoria and, on a whim, mailed in a letter with his lyrics attached. In his letter, he said he didn’t care if he won the contest, he just wanted people to know how much he loved Lorraine.
The producer of the contest was so touched by Fred’s letter that he offered to professionally record the song for him. Later, he brought Fred a copy to listen to. Listening to the opening notes, Fred began to smile.
“Oh, sweet Lorraine,” the words went, “I wish we could do all the good times over again.” “Oh, sweet Lorraine,” they continued, “life only goes around once but never again.”
A soft refrain added, “But the memories will always linger on, oh, sweet Lorraine, no I don’t wanna move on … Oh, the memories will always linger on, oh, sweet Lorraine, that’s why I wrote you this song.”
By the end of the song all Fred could say was, “It was wonderful … just wonderful,” as he tearfully covered his mouth with a shaky hand and thankfully patted the producer on the arm.
Later Fred said, “It was a wonderful 75 years … I just often think it’s kinda unreal … dreaming or something … but it was real … I really, really miss her… just don’t seem right.”
Fred’s song was placed on YouTube and has been watched almost five million times. It hit number five on the iTunes chart, even passing up megastar Justin Timberlake. He even became the oldest artist to appear on the Billboard Hot 100.
But Fred’s song wasn’t about setting recording records. It never was. All he wanted to do was tell people how much he loved his wife. And that he did.
So it appears that the love story of Fred and Lorraine is not over after all. It is like Fred explained, “The song really helps me … it just seemed like she’s just sort of with me.”
But more than that, Fred’s song is an inspiration to those of us husbands who are fortunate enough to still have our Lorraines with us. For Fred reminds us that, although true love is timeless, it is also ever so fragile. May we handle it with care while it is still within our grasp. Sweet memories, my friends.
• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. Husbands and wives, please watch “A Letter From Fred” together on the Internet. Bring a Kleenex and a hug. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.