Before they had even been introduced, John French shared his most personal struggles with Elise Trucks.
"There was this amazing man telling his life story," Elise said. On holiday break from grad school in London, she had dropped in on his West Palm Beach support group while visiting her parents. "I was enthralled."
Elise found the tall, red-haired Navy vet "incredibly noble" and wanted to know more. They exchanged Facebook info, and on her return visit nine months later, she met the self-employed information technology specialist for tea.
Recounting their "miracles of survival," said Elise, she was as drawn to his quiet strength as he was to her ready laugh. John drank to escape a difficult childhood. Her upbringing contributed to substance abuse starting at age 14.
He is 32 and has been in recovery 13 years; Elise, who turns 33 today, for five.
Many more cups of tea nourished trust she once thought unattainable. "I never thought I'd get married," said Elise, who became a counseling assistant at a Palm Beach treatment center. "I didn't know how to have a healthy relationship. I didn't know how to live."
Differences complemented. Yin to her yang, John is reticent, she bubbles. He's punctual, she ticks to flextime. She recast her antiwar philosophy when John told her it was reading Plato's The Republic and Lycurgus at St. John's College in Annapolis that inspired him to join the U.S. Navy. A medical discharge for an intestinal disorder ended his career in 2005.
John was equally taken by the party girl with degrees from Columbia University and Courtauld Institute of Art.
They could tell each other anything. Well, almost.
"I found out who her dad was on Facebook," John said. "Someone wrote they had seen Butch Trucks at a concert at Jones Beach.
"So I Googled him."
According to the Internet, John was dating the daughter of the drummer and member of the Allman Brothers Band. The icons of sex, drugs and Southern rock 'n' roll raised the bar for 1970s dissipation. The band broke up before Elise was born, reunited in 1989, and she fully participated in '90s excesses.
Elise wasn't hiding her rock lineage. "It just never came up. Better to discuss poetry and literature, especially the Ancients."
Eventually, John heard all the band's infamous tales. He heard highlights of his girlfriend's summers traveling with the band: Canadian customs searches at the border, sitting on B.B. King's lap and playing with other band offspring: Elijah Blue Allman, son of Cher and Gregg Allman; Duane Betts, son of famed guitarist Dickey Betts; and her older brother Seth Trucks. Not your typical family vacation.
"It looks like a lot of fun until someone ends up in rehab or worse," Elise said.
Her father's motto — "At least it was never boring" — still rang true when the couple traveled with him and her mother, Melinda Trucks. They had a blast when the band played its 200th show at the Beacon Theatre in New York. And what a reception at the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards in Los Angeles in March.
No need to be nervous seeking Butch's approval to marry his daughter. "His answer was, 'It's about . . . time,' " said John.
The proposal came in the guise of a word puzzle he composed in a jewelry box holding a heart-shaped diamond. "A year to the day of going out for tea."
Last year, John came to work at the Tampa Bay Times, formerly the St. Petersburg Times, as digital operations manager. Elise joined him in St. Petersburg two months later, now an adjunct professor in the University of Tampa art department.
They married April 28 at Holy Trinity Church in West Palm Beach, with a black-tie reception at the Sailfish Club. The Lee Boys band never took a break. Especially not when a certain famous drummer sat in.
The honeymooners cruised from the Azores to Amsterdam, followed by a week in southern France, where the bride's parents own a home.
As the song goes, after years of rambling through troubles, they're "tryin' to make a livin' and doing the best (they) can."
Amy Scherzer can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3332.