They’re reunited after 60 years

Don’t expect this to be the stuff of fairy tales. It’s a love story, to be sure, but one made from the stuff of real life.

When 80-year-old Paul McKee stepped off a plane from Utah on Dec. 22, his one-time sweetheart hadn’t seen him since she was 16.

“I had lost contact with him,” said Helen Lund, 78, of Everett.

And that, McKee said, “was a mistake I made.”

They’re an unlikely pair.

Dan Bates / The Herald

Helen Lund, 78, of Everett and Paul McKee, 80, of Utah have rekindled a romance that went astray 60 years ago.

Lund, widowed 12 years ago, has lived in her north Everett home since 1951. She and her late husband, Bob, raised three children and had their own business. Glass by Lund Inc. is in its second generation, run by her son, Todd.

McKee, who’s at home in jeans and cowboy boots, has no deep roots. He was in the Army Air Corps in World War II and served in the Air Force until 1960. Life as a long-haul trucker took him “all over – Pennsylvania, California, Colorado, Oklahoma,” McKee said. He finally settled in Moab, Utah.

Along the way, he had four wives – “good ones, bad ones and in between” – and 17 children and stepchildren.

“He’s always been a happy-go-lucky person,” Lund said of the man she might have married.

“Life’s too short to be different,” McKee said.

Their romance began in 1942. Helen was 16, an Arlington High School student with a job at a drugstore. In the Army at 18, McKee was in Arlington working at a radar station, and also spent time at Neah Bay.

“She was a beautiful little lady,” McKee said.

Before being shipped out to war in Europe in 1944, McKee bought young Helen a ring. She still has it, somewhere. “I kept it all these years,” Lund said.

McKee, a gunner on a B-17 with the 487th Bombardment Group, was taken prisoner after his plane was downed in Germany. He was freed in 1945. He wouldn’t talk about the war or why he didn’t contact Lund back then.

“It’s the way life is,” he said. “There was the war, and life does funny things. I didn’t make it out of the service until 1960.”

Lund was saddened by his silence, but was happily married by 1948.

For 60 years, they didn’t see each another. “From 1944, that’s a long time,” Lund said.

But three years ago, McKee was in Western Washington delivering a motor home. By then, he was a widow. He called Lund’s brother, Harley Robb, in Arlington, who passed along a letter to his sister. So began their renewed relationship.

“I was very much surprised,” Lund said.

Their correspondence escalated from a letter a month to several a week, plus phone calls. “When he found me, he fell hard,” she said.

“Yeah, I guess,” McKee added.

Lund’s daughter, Robin Rigdon, hastened their reunion when she decided to share their story. “I wrote a letter last spring to Oprah, but we never heard back.”

They had better luck this month when Rigdon e-mailed a Seattle Christian radio station, KCMS 105.3 FM. For its “Home for the Holidays” contest, the station bought McKee’s round-trip airfare. He’ll be here until Wednesday.

Lund’s children knew nothing of McKee until several months after the letters began. They’ve given him a warm welcome. Todd Lund loaned him a truck to use during his stay. Helen Lund’s other daughter, Rene VanderVoet, took him to a Silvertips hockey game.

“I couldn’t ask for better treatment,” McKee said.

VanderVoet said McKee puts a spark in her mother’s life. “She’s giddy, like a schoolgirl,” she said.

Lund has had health problems, and “letters and phone calls from Paul have really helped,” Rigdon said.

There’s no fairy-tale ending, no plan for a wedding or a move.

“To be honest, I can’t picture my mother getting married again,” VanderVoet said.

“I can’t live up here, it’s too damp,” McKee said.

He likes Moab, a high desert town on the Colorado River near Canyonlands and Arches national parks.

“I’ll just make trips back and forth and harass her,” he said. “Whenever she gets tired of me, I’ll go back home.”

Regrets?

“I can’t say I regret any of it. Maybe I should,” McKee said. “Life’s life. She’s better off with what she’s done.”

Life being life, Lund didn’t disagree.

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or muhlsteinjulie@heraldnet.com

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