Absence not only makes the heart grow fonder, it can make the heart go flutter, a Lawrence woman discovered after her correspondence with a Persian Gulf war veteran led to a marriage proposal.
After reading an Ann Landers column last February about supporting the U.S. troops during the war, Jennifer Winters called a Kansas City support group and was given five names of soldiers to write to. One of those names was that of Pfc. Kevin Stewart, who, unknown to Winters, also is a Lawrence native.
She wrote the five soldiers. Stewart wrote back, sending her a little sand along with the note.
"I thought, `This is desert material,'" Winters said. "This man is really there."
While the sand was impressive, Winters said she was "floored" that Stewart was from Lawrence, too. But their hometown wasn't the only thing they had in common.
WINTERS WAS completing her degree in theater and film at Kansas University at the time. Stewart had taken similar course work while at KU.
"That was another similarity it was too weird," she said with a laugh.
Their common ground kept growing. They later discovered they had worked briefly at the same day-care center at the same time, but had not met. Also, their fathers have known each other for years through playing in local bands.
The correspondence continued. Stewart was stationed along the Iraqi border for a couple months after the war ended, and one day Winters received three letters from him.
"My friends were telling me, `Oh, Jen, it sounds like this guy is hooked on you,'" she said. "I really didn't think much of it."
But really she did.
"ACTUALLY, there were undertones. The more I heard from him, the more attracted to him I became," Winters said. "But I really kept that to myself a lot of the time. I was more cautious because I thought, `When would I ever get to meet this individual anyway.'"
Sooner than she thought, as it turned out.
Stewart's unit was returned to Germany in the summer. He asked Winters to please keep writing him. A June letter told her that he was coming to Lawrence in July.
Their first date, July 6, was not too late for fireworks.
"It was wonderful," Winters said. "He came in and embraced me with this huge hug, this incredible smile, and we talked for hours . . . and found we had so much in common. He told me within that first week that he was in love with me, which I think at first caught me a little bit off guard.
"But yet, I was really finding that I was really attracted to him."
THEY SPENT a lot of time together during his two-week stay. Their parting made her realize how she felt toward him.
"I started bawling when he left, and I was very surprised," Winters said. "I felt I knew him through his letters. He has the kind of personality such a sensitivity about him, he's a man of integrity, he has a lot of admirable qualities."
About a week later, Stewart's mother called Winters, and Winters told her "send him my love." Once Stewart heard the "L" word, he immediately called Winters for an interpretation. It wasn't a figure of speech, she replied.
The two began calling each other, to the tune of $1,000 in August. Fortunately for their bank accounts, his unit was shipped to Georgia Fort Stewart, no less and he was able to return to Lawrence for Labor Day, this time talking marriage.
"HE SAID, `I'm going to be asking you to marry me at Christmastime. I want you to be thinking about it,'" she said.
Winters did think about it, especially after a "very serious" call in November in which Stewart repeated his intentions.
Stewart returned to Lawrence on Dec. 21. They were engaged Dec. 23.
No wedding date is set, but their dreams are in place. Stewart's hitch ends in 1994. He'd like to get to a business degree, and they'd love to run a theater and maybe own a production company.
Should their theater present a love story someday, they'll be hard-pressed to top their courtship.
"Kevin and I really feel it's almost a divine arrangement, that God just kind of threw us together," she said. "There's too many coincidences, too many ways we were connected."