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Couples share tales of romance

Brigitte Laurent and Sebastopol sculptor Patrick Amiot at their home in Sebastopol. Patrick recalls back in 1982 when they first moved to Vancouver, spending their first Valentine's Day in their little one-room apartment with no furniture.

ALVIN JORNADA / PD
Published: Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 8:34 p.m.

How we fell in love. Those five words are the stuff of legend in any worthwhile relationship. He remembers it this way, she remembers it that way.

Over time, the story evolves with each retelling.

It's the beginning of the movie. Her hair was “this big” — cue the outstretched hands. His cologne was so heavy she had to roll down the car window.

Friends and relatives know how it opens. The chance meeting or the awkward set-up. There's the first-date scene and eventually the meet-the-parents scene. The soundtrack fades in and out.

As Valentine's Days come and go, some may brand it a Hallmark holiday or complain it's only one day out of the year. But the spirit is still all about love.

Here's a trip down memory lane with a few Sonoma County couples who still remember how they fell in love, long after Cupid drew back his bow.

Charlie and Lisa Palmer

These days, star chef Charlie Palmer and his wife, Lisa, oversee an empire of restaurants and hotels that started with Aureole in Manhattan before spawning Charlie Palmer Steakhouses around the country, along with Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg and the Burritt Room in San Francisco.

But back in 1990 in Manhattan, he was a young, hot chef turning heads with daring oil infusions and she was the general manager at Jean-Georges restaurant.

They hardly knew each other when he invited her to his annual Halloween party. She politely declined, saying she'd be too busy working that night. So he sent a car to pick her up.

Now more than two decades later (this March they'll celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary at the Pigs and Pinot soiree at Hotel Healdsburg), they have four sons and have relocated from New York to Healdsburg.

Here's the way Lisa remembers the early days:

First meeting: “He would come into Jean-Georges with his pastry chef or whoever. And he always came in with a beautiful girl, so I thought, oh well, he seems like a nice guy.”

First date: “After Halloween, he invited me on a date and I kind of blew him off. Well, I had plans, so I told him yes, if gave me some notice. He picked me up in a Rolls Royce and I had no idea where we were going. We went to a (New York) Giants game. And for dinner, we went to Alison on Dominick. It was this kind of sexy downtown restaurant with dark lighting and blue velvet — it was perfect.”

First Valentine's Day: “When you're in the restaurant business, you never go out on Valentine's Day or really any holidays. But I do remember in 1991, when we were kind of dating, after a busy Valentine's at work, we met up and went to this place called the Wicked Wolf and had a burger and a beer at like 1 a.m.”

Plans for this Valentine's Day: “Every year, it's always a surprise. But I do know this much — there are always yellow roses.”

Best advice for staying together: “A big thing is respect. Respect the person you marry. But keep it fun. We have four kids — it's a blast. I married a guy who would rather be with his family than anybody else, so that's kind of what's done it for us. We have that focus.”

Patrick Amiot

and Brigitte Laurent

Every Valentine's Day, Patrick makes a piece of art for his wife. When you're a prolific junkyard sculptor (you can't drive through Sebastopol without seeing his work), that's how you show your affection. One year, it was an ice-cream cone sculpture with a heart in it. Another year, he said he made “a giant painting of me giving her a bouquet of flowers that are all made of car tail-lights and there's a sign that says, 'LOVE.'”

With a few twists and turns worthy of a made-for-TV movie, here's how Patrick remembers the beginning of the rest of their life together:

The courtship: “I was living in Quebec and she was my roommate's sister. But the catch is she had a twin sister. So first I dated (Brigitte's) twin sister, Judith, for a year and a half. Then I realized I picked the wrong one. When I made my feelings known to Brigitte, she didn't want to see me because I was her sister's boyfriend. Then Brigitte was involved in a terrible car accident with her older sister who died in the crash. Brigitte was in a coma for a long time and when she came out of it, she sort of let go and let me approach her.”

First Date: “When she got out of the hospital, we went to a bar and I had to carry her on my shoulder because she was in such poor shape. We hung out at the bar and that was it — from that moment on, we were inseparable.”

First Valentine's Day: “In 1982, I had convinced her to live in Vancouver with me. I'd hustled and gotten us both jobs — she was a butcher and I was a baker. So for our first Valentine's Day, we hung together in our little one-room apartment with no furniture. We got something from the butcher shop and something from the bakery and that was it.”

Plans for this Valentine's Day: “All I know is I'll be making her something.”

Best advice for staying together: “It's all about trust and spending quality time together. I work with her every day. We're always together. We're the equivalent of a couple that's been together 200 years. The longest I've ever been away from her was three weeks and it was horrible.”

Charlie and

Henrietta Musselwhite

He's the world-famous bluesman and she's his nurturing manager. Together, they're a force of nature.

It's been 32 years since the Geyserville couple tied the knot, so long ago that the North Beach club where they got married (Mooney's Irish Pub) is no longer in business.

But they both remember it like it was yesterday. It was on a Monday, because the bar was closed that day. And John Lee Hooker was Charlie's best man.

“We were both pretty wild back then, so people were taking bets on how long this marriage would last,” says Henrietta.

Looking back on their life together, here's the way she remembers it:

First meeting: “It was 1967. My boyfriend at the time had an old friend that Charlie hired to play piano back when he first moved out here from Chicago. So the boyfriend and I and the piano player go over to Charlie's house in Berkeley to meet him and Charlie and I looked at each other and it was just love at first sight. And the piano player sees this and goes, 'Oh no!'”

First date: “It was at Mandrake's in Berkeley on University Avenue. Charlie was playing with Big Joe Williams that night. After the show, we went to this little neighborhood cafe that was open late and when Charlie went to the bathroom, Big Joe was across the table from me and he looks at me and goes, 'So, do you love him?' I said, 'Well yeah, I do.' So that was OK with Big Joe.”

First Valentine's Day: It's hard to remember because we didn't do Valentine's Day a lot back then. But I remember it was in the early '80s and we went to see Little Joe Blue at the Ritz in Richmond, where we were living at the time. Little Joe always bought us drinks and dinner and took care of us. In those days we had no money, we were broke, so that was a great night.

Plans for this Valentine's Day: “Well, Charlie's playing the Raven that night in Healdsburg. So our soundcheck's at 5 p.m. and dinner will be catered by Ravenous. Just watching the man I love up on stage doing his thing is enough for me.”

Best advice for staying together: “I really think if you love somebody and don't try to control their destiny but just work on your own, then your relationship develops along parallel paths. You don't have to turn out to be the same person. You just have to turn out to respect the other person.”

Mark and Terri Stark

“I'd never asked out anyone in my entire life,” says Terri.

Then along came Mark. She was 25, he was 36. He turned her down twice.

His excuse? “I was going through a pretty rough divorce at the time.”

But she wasn't taking no for an answer. “I even told my mom, 'I met the guy I'm gonna marry,'” she remembers.

Fourteen years after they tied the knot, the Santa Rosa couple gets to spend plenty of time together, running five super-popular restaurants in Sonoma County — Stark's, Willi's Wine Bar, Willi's Seafood and Raw Bar, Monti's and Bravas.

“So it's a good thing we're in love,” says Mark.

Here's how they remember the early days:

First meeting: “We met at a restaurant in Palo Alto called California Cafe where we both worked,” says Terri. “Mark was the chef and I was hired to start their catering division. And immediately I could just feel there was something there.”

The non-dates: “I first asked him out for drinks with people from work and he said, no. Then I attempted to ask him out for sushi and he said he wasn't ready to do that. So then the third time, we were catering an event at this huge Woodside mansion and I invited him to Thanksgiving.”

Or as Mark remembers it — “It was almost a pity date — she felt sorry for me because I had no one to spend Thanskgiving with.”

First date: “Finally, he says to me, 'If I were to ask you out to sushi on Sunday, would you say, 'yes?'” Terri remembers. “The funny thing is when we were working together he always wore two-inch clogs. So when he comes to pick me up, I had a heels and he had on topsiders. So I open up my front door and I'm taller than him. It was really awkward right from the get-go. So I said, hold on, and I went and changed my shoes and everything was fine.”

First Valentine's Day: “I think we went to the California Cafe in Los Gatos,” says Mark. “We had free money from work — 'dining bucks.'”

Plans for this Valentine's Day: “Usually we try to go away for a night. We don't do anything on Valentine's Day, but we'll do something before or a couple of days after.”

Best advice for staying together: “A sense of humor,” says Terri, and Mark adds, “You gotta have someone you can laugh with. If we weren't laughing together, man it would be a long road.”

Bay Area freelancer John Beck writes about entertainment for The Press Democrat. You can reach him at 280-8014, john@sideshowvideo.com and follow on Twitter @becksay.

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