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IN PIECES, THEN NEW LIVES

After difficult pasts, a couple build on their common threads.

"I got my diamond the night of senior prom," Linda said.

She and her husband lived in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Florida, South Carolina and then New Hampshire again. They had one son and were married five days short of 29 years. One day she came home, and he was on the floor.

"That happened in 1995 and I was like, 'Where do I go from here? What do I do now?' "

- - -

"I came home on leave and we had a church wedding," Dick said. "We met in school in Boston. She was going to school to become a nurse. I wanted to settle down. I wanted to straighten out." He and his wife were married 31 years. "She got MS. She couldn't walk no more, so I quit and I took care of her. Fed her. Bathed her. Clothed her.

"I lost everything.

"I had nothing."

He drove a limo for a while in Vegas, then drove an 18-wheeler cross country, long days spent hauling beer, metal and golf balls, waiting for the sun to set.

- - -

"It was a dating service through a country radio station," Linda said. "I met a lot of jerks. A lot of jerks."

No more angry divorced men, she thought. She decided to look only for widowers. He did the same thing. Widows only.

Their first date was at a bowling alley in New Hampshire. They ate steak and cheese subs.

"She got me into bike riding," he said.

"We'd go to country concerts," she said.

They went to see lighthouses. They drove down to Boston. They walked along York Beach in Maine, most every single Sunday, even in the winter. That's where she asked him to marry her.

He took a stick and scratched letters in the sand that were 2 feet tall.

YES.

They got married in 1999 and moved down here in 2000.

"I said, 'Why don't we open a business?' " he said. "She said, 'Okay, what?' And I said, 'I don't know. What are your hobbies?' "

Quilting.

"My son," she said, "he kept saying, 'Mom, open your own business.' He kept saying, 'Mom, you can do it, you can do it.' "

"We sat down, maybe four, five, six nights in a row," Dick said, "and we said, 'We're going to do this, we're going to do that.' "

"We didn't have a shop yet, and I was already buying," she said.

"We both quit work and spent all our time on this," he said.

"We came in and ripped up carpet," he said.

"And painted," she said, "and put up wallpaper, and cleaned."

Sew Bee It opened in June 2005. The store is next to a bail bondsman and down from a Spanish restaurant in an aging strip center on U.S. 41. It sells and fixes sewing machines, stocks high-quality fabrics and offers quilting classes.

She's 58 and he's 68. She learned most of what she knows from her mother - dressmaking, curtains, pillows, home decor, making things nice - and she's organized. He's a Navy vet, a loud, stout-drinking Irishman who can build a cabinet and cook a fine meal. He built all the cabinets in here and he cooks dinners in the back.

Linda and Dick Kelley sat in their store one recent evening and told their story.

"This shop is an extension of us," he said. "It's our two personalities put together."

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Linda's son, Jeff Calkowski, lives down the road and owns Accurate Signs. He and his wife, Amy, already had a teenage son, Dylan, when Amy found out two years ago that she was pregnant again, this time with a girl. Jeff called his mother. "Jeff said, 'Mom, what do we do?' " Linda said, "and I said, 'You start all over.' "

Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4617.

Have an Encounter?

Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. Sometimes they will play out far from the tumult of the daily news; sometimes they may be part of the news. To comment or suggest an idea for a story, contact editor Mike Wilson at mike@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2924.

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