By Paul Yakes and Deborah Turner
Dixie and Paul Yakes in their Hawaiian
Paradise. ~ The former Dixie Lynn Foster, her mom Jerrie
Akin and sister Rita Shell were on a three-day cruise to
Grand Bahama Island when Air Force aviator Paul Yakes,
cruising with his 15-year-old daughter Jennifer, set his
sights on Dixie, recognizing her as his one true love with
her first “hello”. The couple moved to Hawaii after their
It was a chance meeting if there ever was one - the
kind one only reads about in love stories or sees in
romantic movies. But it was something far better than
chance - it was our destiny; it was our fate. Whatever you
choose to call it, one thing is for sure - our chance
meeting was the best day of my life.
Our story began on a three-day cruise from Ft. Lauderdale,
Florida to Grand Bahama Island on April 21st, 1999, but it
really started months before, as some cosmic force - or
maybe even divine intervention - worked to bring us
together that day, then time after time during the cruise
and beyond. Whatever the mystery, I thank God, I thank my
lucky stars, I feel I am the luckiest man on Earth.
I promised my lovely bride I would capture our story on
paper someday to share with the world. It is one of second
chances and starting over. It is not some made up fairy
tale, as you might at first believe; every word is true. I
hope you enjoy it.
Paul Yakes was beside himself with frustration. He had
long since put aside his own loneliness; his professional
duties left little time for a personal life, anyway. What
spare time he had, he devoted to the privilege and
responsibility of being the single-father of
fifteen-year-old Jennifer who, "as a teenager," he says,
"was required to dispute nearly every word that left my
An aviator in the U.S. Air Force, then stationed at Offutt
Air Force base near Omaha, Nebraska, Paul had traveled the
world - places like Moscow, Beijing, Warsaw, Athens, plus
many cities he had since forgotten as well as others he
wished he could forget. Recalling the fun and adventure of
his travels, he brainstormed that a cruise could be just
the ticket to bring him closer to his daughter.
"I thought some quality time alone with her would be
good," he reflects, "I knew I would have to act soon or
miss the opportunity forever. Her interests were changing
daily and I saw her going from my little girl to, well
something else; something far removed from the innocence
we fathers see in those little girls."
The surprise of a Caribbean cruise - three days and two
nights cruising out to Grand Bahama Island from Fort
Lauderdale, Florida - was enough to get her attention, but
after Paul's military duty forced the pair to change their
plans not just once, but twice, her interest waned, as
Paul admits, "Jennifer saw it as yet another
When the cruise date was finally established, fully two
months later than originally planned, Jennifer became
excited once again when she realized she would have to
miss a week of school for the trip. As an added bonus to
make up for the delays, Paul made arrangements to go to
Sea World in Orlando at the end of the cruise.
The day finally arrived and the father-daughter duo left
Omaha, flying directly to Fort Lauderdale where they spent
the evening exploring before heading for the port the next
"My first impression of the cruise ship was that it was
pretty small," recalls Paul, who notes the small size of
the ship meant there were fewer people aboard and
increased opportunities to "accidentally" encounter the
same people time and again.
When the purser opened the door to show the Yakes their
cabin, all three realized immediately a mistake had been
made, as there was only one queen-sized bed in the room.
Paul and Jennifer spent the next few hours waiting while
the necessary adjustment in their cabin assignment was
The change meant more than just a new room for the duo; it
altered their dinner arrangements as well. "Some cruise
lines have two primary dinner seatings; an early dinner
and late dinner seating," Paul explains, "After making
that change, we finally got to our cabin and, fortunately,
still had time to get ready for the late dinner seating."
Jennifer busied herself in a fun exploration of the ship,
her energy directed toward, her father declares, "the
possibility of meeting some cute boys." After she had
dressed up accordingly, the pair made their way to the
dinner line just outside the dining room, where those in
line waited for the early diners to finish their meal.
"It was in that line that I first laid eyes on my future
bride," Paul sighs. "There she was - right in front of me
- with her sister and her mother. Little did I know then
that the love of my life was only three feet away. I can
still remember the way she had her hair pinned up. I
remember the dress she wore; a simple black dress with
white flowers. Her brown eyes smiled as she said hello in
the most beautiful southern accent I have ever heard. My
heart started to melt from that very moment, and does so
to this very day every time she speaks. That was the most
important five seconds of my life, for in it I knew she
was the one."
Picking up on the conversation between the three ladies,
Paul casually offered a comment of his own, much to the
delight of the women. The laughter broke the ice among the
newly acquainted group and soon it was time for dinner.
While the ladies were escorted to their assigned table,
Paul and Jennifer faced some confusion due to their cabin
and dinner reassignment. "We got the full tour of the
dining room only to end up at the same table with - you
guessed it - these three, beautiful, southern ladies,"
beams Paul, still baffled by a string of coincidences that
was just beginning to become apparent.
Laughing off their astonishment, the five introduced
themselves to each other. "That's when I first learned her
name; the name of my angel," says Paul, starry-eyed.
"Dinner was wonderful, I think, for I had a really hard
time keeping my eyes off her. At first she didn't say much
but as dinner progressed we were all talking about our
jobs and homes and all those things people tend to talk
about when they are thrown together in a situation like we
While Paul basked in the glow of his new-found heaven,
Jennifer couldn't wait for dinner to end so she could
check out the rest of the ship, "for boys, of course,"
says her dad. Paul reluctantly excused himself to venture
with Jennifer to the disco in the belly of the ship. "It
wasn't long before I realized she didn't want me around,
especially when she spotted two of 'them'," says Paul,
rolling his eyes, "Creatures even stranger than a teenage
girl - teenage boys! I did my fatherly duty and recited my
rules again and then thought that she'd be all right.
Where could she go? We were at sea. So I loosened the
leash and allowed her to have free run of the ship - with
a curfew of course."
Alone now on a cruise ship steaming its way toward Grand
Bahama, Paul barely had time to feel sorry for himself
when he looked up to find his three dinner companions
headed for the disco. After Paul explained how he had lost
his daughter to the lures of companions her own age, the
ladies invited him to join them. "For the next several
hours we talked, danced and just enjoyed the time
together," Paul reminisces, "I did not want that evening
The ship cruised through the night as happy memories of
the evening finally gave way to dreams. By morning's
light, the ship had docked at Grand Bahama Island.
As the last day of the cruise began, snorkeling was the
first order of business on the Yakes' agenda. Onboard the
busy snorkeling boat, Paul scanned the crowd - there she
was again! - too far away for conversation. "We never
really got close enough to talk but once we got in the
water I made every effort I could to get close to her,"
The rest of the day he spent with Jennifer, exploring
Grand Bahama's many attractions before heading back to the
ship for the evening's special onboard treat, the
Captain's dinner, described by Paul as "a special event
where the waiters dance and entertain the guests and
everyone metaphorically 'lets their hair down'."
"I think we were already comfortable with each other," he
smiles, "The conversation was light and friendly. After
dinner my daughter took advantage of her last night of
freedom and started her quest again, so I joined this
wonderful group of ladies once more."
The foursome enjoyed a couple of Las-Vegas style shows,
then wound up in the karaoke room where they challenged
each other to sing. "No one took the challenge but
everyone thought, 'Why not, I'll never see her or him
again?' How I wish to this day that they'd sung the song
they debated doing for a moment or two - 'Mama, He's
Crazy' by the Judds," he says.
As the evening wore on, the group returned to the disco,
but soon, Paul recalls, "it was just the two of us, alone
in a room full of people and noise. But none of that
mattered for she was all I could see or hear. I intended
to make the most of every moment I had with this angel; I
thought I would never see her again after tonight. We
stayed until the disco closed and ended up lounging on one
of the decks into the wee hours of the night. It was
perfect; there we were lying next to one another on deck
chairs, all alone, cruising the beautiful Caribbean
beneath the stars. I thought how wonderful it would have
been if only we'd met years sooner."
Paul's daydreams were interrupted when his angel's mother
appeared. "I think she was checking on her little girl,
but did so under the guise of making sure we had our
customs forms filled out before we docked back at Ft.
Lauderdale," Paul grins.
It was the same form Paul had filled out countless times
before during his travels, so he sat beside his angel as
she began filling out her form, asking him questions about
it along the way.
"My real motive was actually to help myself," he admits.
"By doing this I was able to learn her address - or so I
The couple finally said goodnight around 4:00 a.m. and
went to their separate cabins. Paul's sleep was restless
as the ship relentlessly chugged toward Fort Lauderdale
and the final goodbye.
"My heart was heavy because I knew this trip was over and
I'd never see her again," Paul relates. "I told her how
happy I was to have met her and how much fun I'd had, but
I wanted so much to tell her that I wanted to see her
again. At that point I wanted to take her in my arms and
hold her and kiss her and never let her go. Instead, since
we had an audience, we said good-bye and went our separate
The drive to Orlando was long and quiet. "I hardly spoke
to my daughter because I was so lost in thought, wondering
why I had not told this angel how I felt. I couldn't help
but think I had lost my one chance at real happiness," he
Back home, thoughts of her echoed constantly through his
mind, until finally he decided, "Why not find her, or at
"I knew her name and I knew her address - or so I
thought," he says. "I tried the Internet and I tried the
phone book but I kept coming to dead ends. Finally I wrote
a simple note telling her how much I enjoyed my time with
her and how I wished we'd had more. I also included my
telephone number, just in case she wanted to call. I then
pressed my memory hard to remember her address from the
customs forms and came to the best conclusion I could. I
was sure of the street and pretty sure of the town. I
looked at a map of Tennessee and found two towns with
similar names and decided that she was from McKinnon. Yes,
I was sure it was McKinnon. I addressed my letter and sent
it, sans zip code. But in the back of my mind I doubted it
would ever find her."
Three days later Paul was busily preparing for another
flight out of the country when the phone rang. Already
halfway out the door, he debated answering it at all.
"Fortunately," he smiles, "I picked up and on the other
end of the line I heard my gorgeous angel laughing and
saying my name. When she finally settled down she
explained the humor - I could imagine her laughter had
even brought tears to her eyes - and I could not believe
my ears. She had just received my letter that addressed to
her; I at least got that part right. The street address
was wrong and there was no zip code. Worse, I had
addressed it to the wrong town. My angel, my salvation, my
Dixie Lynn was not from McKinnon, Tennessee. She was your
hometown girl from McKenzie. We laughed together for a
while and then both admitted we had made a mistake by not
exchanging our numbers, but oh! what a story we now had. I
am forever grateful to our postal service for finding the
love of my life when I had let her get away so quickly."
Paul Yakes and Dixie Lynn Foster nurtured their
relationship by phone for several months until he was
finally able to visit her upon his retirement from the Air
Force in December 1999.
We were reunited on the day after Christmas when I
made my trek from Nebraska to Tennessee - the second best
trip I've made in my life. It seemed so natural to hold
Our relationship immediately took off. I proposed to her
exactly one year after the first time I saw her standing
in that late-dinner line on our little three day cruise
from Ft. Lauderdale. We married in Huntingdon, Tennessee
on October 7, 2000. I have been in love with her ever
since and look forward to spending every day of the rest
of my life with her.
So... if there is a moral to this love story it is this:
There really is such a thing as love at first sight - we
are proof of that often-argued fact. There must be such a
thing as fate or destiny, and there truly is such a thing
as divine intervention. Finally, when you see someone that
truly catches your eye, go for it. You may never have
another chance. I nearly missed mine.