Maria Brown's mother wasn't a typical 1950s Mexican housewife. That was a good thing for Maria, who, at 18, met a young American on vacation and, with her mother's blessing, agreed to marry him after knowing him only two weeks.

Of course, it helped that her mother, Emilia Neuman, was on the trip in late 1954 when Maria's momentous meeting with Bert Brown took place.

Mother and daughter had traveled from their home in Mexico City to spend the holidays in Veracruz, the lively port city on Mexico's east coast.

Some Americans had invited Maria's mother for drinks at their hotel. Maria came along. Another American, who lived in Veracruz, joined the group. With him were two young compatriots; one was Bert.

He was from Seattle, and he and his friend had left their jobs and sailed down the Pacific Coast to Puerto Vallarta. They were now in Veracruz, waiting to hop a cargo ship to Europe, where they planned to travel for a few months.

"Mother and I saw him on the beach, and we spent every day together, including Christmas and New Year's," Maria said. "Two weeks later, when my mother and I had to return home, Bert suddenly asked me to marry him. We had not even held hands."

When Maria broke the news, her mother didn't raise a fuss, as one might expect of most mothers. Instead, Emilia, a schoolteacher, said, "I thought that's what was going on," and received assurance that her daughter was in love. When Emilia talked to Bert, she mostly warned him: "She's a bit messy around the house."

Any wedding had to wait until Bert was done with his European adventure. He came to Mexico City in April 1955, in time for Maria's 19th birthday. He was in a hurry to marry, because he had to get back to the United States and find work; he was running out of money.

Emilia had already prepared Maria's father for the news of the nuptials. He was a prominent banker in Mexico City whom Emilia divorced when Maria was 1. "They had a good relationship, so if my mother thought Bert was OK, my father would agree," Maria recalls.

A romance born out of a sense of risk and adventure continued into nearly 40 years of marriage. After a honeymoon in Acapulco, the couple crossed the U.S. border on foot at Tijuana, then settled in San Diego, where Bert returned to construction, eventually for Bechtel Corp., the global engineering firm.

Bert held different supervisory positions for different projects around the United States and the world, including in remote locations in Thailand, Sudan, Pakistan, Brazil and Papua New Guinea. Unlike many Bechtel wives, Maria chose to accompany her husband and home-schooled their two children via correspondence courses.

The couple continued to travel even after Bert was first diagnosed with cancer in 1990, cruising the Amazon and visiting Machu Picchu. Bert died in 1994.

Maria, who now lives in San Mateo, says she had the most wonderful, adventurous life with Bert. She credits her stubborn, independent and open-minded mother for letting her marry the young American with wanderlust she met on vacation.

But she laughs at how, as a mother, she would have balked if her children had presented her with such a marital prospect. When she tells people how she and Bert met and got engaged, they say, "How on earth did your parents let you marry a person like that?"

If you want to share the story of how you and your partner or best friend met, send an email to mross@bayareanewsgroup.com with the subject line "how we met."