At 17, Christa Gordon dreamed of going to America. In 1957, her hometown of Kaiserlautern, like the rest of Germany, was still recovering from World War II.
To her, America represented big cars and people confident about their place in the world. One of those people was Gailord Gordon, a handsome 21-year-old U.S. Army private. Dressed in a civilian blazer, he stopped by her workplace on April 16, 1957. He hoped someone could direct him to what Christa heard as "jazz" club.
Christa worked in an agency that found homes for American workers, but she was the only clerk who had studied English. "There were four of us giggling," she remembers. She gave the young man directions, but he returned a short time later, saying he hadn't been looking for a "jazz" club. He showed her what he meant while walking her to catch her bus home: a shop selling chessboards.
"I had not learned the word 'chess,' but then I knew he meant 'Schach,' the German word for chess," she says.
Gailord, who maintained equipment for the Army's medical depot in Kaiserlautern, soon began turning up at her agency every Sunday evening. He'd walk her to a bus before going to play chess at a local club. He was an avid chess fan who once played future world chess champion Bobby Fischer.
When Gailord finally asked for a date, she didn't think her parents would approve, so she convinced friends of her parents to give a luncheon and invite her American friend. "That's how my parents met Gailord, thinking for many years that this is where Gailord and I met, too," she says.
They dated for the next year and a half, usually seeing each other on Sundays when he could get away from base. She learned he was just as enamored of her culture -- its people, language, drinking songs -- as she was of his.
"We fell in love and wanted to be married, so Gailord asked for my hand," Christa recalls. "My parents were not happy that their child may leave to move to the United States, but did agree."
The two tied the knot on Dec. 5, 1958, in Kaiserlautern's famous Stiftskirche, a Gothic church dating back to the 13th century. Gailord was able to extend his tour in Germany for another two years, but Christa finally had to say goodbye to her parents at the Frankfurt airport in 1960. "My mother wagged a finger at Gailord, saying, 'You promise to take good care of 'mein Kind.' "
While Christa's mother was heartbroken, Christa was excited to go to the United States. "My heart was there."
As it turns out, Gailord's 20-year Army career took them to many places in the United States and included a four-year return to Germany, at which time the couple also traveled through France and Italy. They eventually ended up in Pleasant Hill, with Gailord running the biomedical department for a company with a familiar name, Kaiser Permanente. He retired in 1995.
"I have had the most wonderful life with Gailord," she says, pointing to their family of two children and three grandchildren.
But in 2004, Gailord was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. As his physical and mental functions have declined, Christa has been his caregiver.
They celebrated their 55th anniversary in December, and Gailord, now 78, is in the late stages of the disease. He can't leave his bed, feed himself or speak, and Christa doesn't know what he remembers or understands.
But once in a while, while Christa tends to him, his hand will touch the back of her head, and she'll feel "goose bumps" like she did as a 17-year-old girl falling in love with the handsome G.I.
"He still knows me and his eyes sparkle when he sees me," she says. "He is still the great love of my life."
-- Martha Ross, Staff
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