Once upon a time, a long long time ago, Nancy Lynn Sagel was 16 years old and a student at Northeast High School in Philadelphia. Hal Kessler was 28 and her history teacher.
“It was 1960 when I met Nancy. She sat in row 7, seat 1,” said Hal. “In addition to being a good student, she was always upbeat even though she was subjected to me as a teacher.”
“He’s funny and warm and that’s the kind of teacher he was,” said Nancy. “Everybody loved him.”
That was the end of the story for many, many years.
Nancy, too, became a teacher. And at age 32, she married Elliot Florin. One day, “he left to play tennis and that was it,” she said. “He died early. He was 53.” She closed up her Nancy Lynn candy shop in Avalon, N.J., and with the help of friends, moved on.
After a long marriage, Hal’s wife fell sick and he cared for her for four years until her death in 2008.
But this is a Philadelphia fairy tale and it has a happy ending.
Over the decades, Nancy and Hal would occasionally bump into each other – once at Decatur elementary, where Nancy was teaching.
Hal joked to the staff, “’One of my former teachers is on the faculty!’ That got a laugh.”
Another time, they ran into each other at a funeral. “He was wearing a light khaki suit. I told my friends, ‘I saw Mr. Kessler today.’ ”
Then, after Hal’s wife died, they bumped into each other at the Genuardi’s market in Rockledge, about equidistant from his place in Elkins Park and hers in the city.
“It was one of the aisles where they have apple sauce and little packs of fruit,” Hal said.
“You remember that?” Nancy said, as the two told me their story at Le Bus in Manyunk.
“I asked Nancy for her phone number and email and she said, ‘I don’t go out with older men,’” Hal quipped. (He is a jokster… see my earlier blog about a guy who does nothing.)
That was 3 ½ years ago.
Last September, they went together to Nancy’s 50th high school reunion.
“He was the class reunion star,” Nancy said.
“Don’t put that in, it’s embarrassing,” he said.
“A lot of people knew; a lot of people didn’t know,” said Nancy, beaming. “It was the topic of conversation.”
What draws them together is their shared love of history, theater, movies, eating out and watching sports. “We’re both home bodies,” said Nancy.
They see each other almost every day, but have no problem doing a lot separately.
“When you find someone late in life,“ you also want to keep your own interests, said Nancy. “On Saturday night Hal babysat his grandkids and I went out with my friends. And I’m going with my girlfriends to Las Vegas."
But she’s decided not to go with friends to China for 21 days this spring.
“I can’t be away from him that long,” she said.
Tonight, Valentine’s Day, they plan to dine at Bridget’s steak house in Ambler. Just the two of them.
“I’ll probably have the steak,” said Nancy.
“I’m one of those people who go to steak restaurants and order salmon,” said Hal.
“We feel very comfortable with each other,” said Hal.
“I’ll sum it up better,” said Nancy. “I just adore him.”
“Ditto,” said Hal.
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