Fontelle Harrod sometimes yearns to return to her family in Missouri, but… (Ken Hively / Los Angeles…)
May 3, 2009
1st day of the rest of my life
Your call was an answer to my prayer. I have been thinking of you everyday lately & many times over the years and regretting leaving you under the conditions at the time.
-- Bob Harrod
She sits alone on a sofa in the living room of his home, the curls of her short blond hair teased and sprayed in place. A 60-year-old diamond in a platinum setting is on her right ring finger. A white gold band is on the left.
A painting of Sassy, Bob's golden-haired Pomeranian, hangs on the wall. His fishing hats sit on the bookshelf. His cane leans against the door frame.
They were engaged 60 years ago. She was 15, he 21. But he left Missouri for California to serve in the Marines and they lost touch. He married, had children and was widowed, as was she.
But Fontelle never forgot Bob Harrod. She held on to the engagement ring he gave her, even wore it at times. Finally, last spring, she asked her daughter to look him up on the Internet.
It's been nine months since they tracked him down. Nine months since he wrote that letter, saying her call was an answer to his prayer and misspelling her name.
After eight weeks of chatting daily on the phone, Fontelle came to California. Their courtship lasted only days before they decided there was no time to waste and got married. She flew home to Missouri to pack up her things.
The years of wondering, the frequent but fleeting moments of imagining how life might have been different if she'd married her first love, were over. At 74, Fontelle Heeter -- now Fontelle Harrod -- was happy.
Then, two days before Fontelle was to move in, Bob Harrod disappeared.
So many times I wondered where you were, how you were, but it's so hard to locate someone and . . . if I did find you, could we get together? Or would it end in disappointment for one reason or another?
They met in early spring, 1949. A mutual friend set them up.
"When I first met him I looked in his eyes, right straight to his soul and he just seemed like a good person," Fontelle said. "I just felt he was a good man."
Black and white photos of the young couple sit on a coffee table. Here we are fishing, she says. Here he is wearing the beard he grew for the Kansas City centennial, she says.
Jan. 12, 1950, was Fontelle's 15th birthday. Bob gave her the diamond engagement ring.
But he had joined the Marine reserves and six months later was ordered to report to Camp Pendleton. She rode with him as far as Strong City, Kan. -- 130 miles away. Her brother drove her back.
She wrote letter after letter to a Southern California address he'd given her, but they all came back. She believes a woman Bob was staying with might have decided he ought to marry her niece and returned the letters before he could see them.
After a couple of months, Fontelle gave up. In his letter last May, Bob explained that he didn't know whether he'd "survive any military action," so he thought it unfair to hold her to a commitment.
She married in 1953 and the union lasted about a year -- just long enough for her to have a baby, she says.
"We were young. And I think Bob was married by then, too."
Fontelle's second husband died in 2006. A homemaker most of her life now left with no one to care for, she would wash clean clothes just to pass the time.
Her daughter, Leisa, needed just minutes on the Internet to find Bob. She picked up the phone, dialed and without giving her mother a chance to reconsider, handed it over. He answered.
"Is this the Bob Harrod that was raised in McFall, Missouri?" Fontelle asked.
I always wondered how to get in touch with you because you were my first love and always will be, nothing can change that. This last year has been very difficult for me, you will never know how many times I have thought of you.
He was, by all accounts, a lonely man when he got the call.
He'd married in 1951 and had three daughters. His wife, Georgia, died in 2008 after a prolonged illness. Bob had spent the last years of her life caring for her and rarely left the house, friends and neighbors said. After her death, Bob's dog, Sassy, was his constant companion, but the Pomeranian got sick in the spring and was put to sleep.
One person who stayed in touch with Bob was his barber -- a woman in her 40s who occasionally visited. The friendship was a source of frustration for his daughters, who thought he spent too much money on the woman, said his friend and neighbor Paul Estes. At the beginning of last year, Bob decided he needed some time away from his daughters and he asked them to leave him alone for six months, Estes said. It was during those months that Fontelle called.
Fontelle and Bob spoke nearly every day after the first call. They talked about the past -- about fishing and hay rides and drives through the town.
At the end of June, when she arrived at John Wayne Airport, she wore a hot pink jacket so Bob could recognize her. He was in white loafers and a Hawaiian print shirt.