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Flowery Branch man reunited with sweetheart after decades apart
Ernest Bragg and Mary Wade meet again Friday after more than 70 years apart. The former sweethearts were split up when Wade’s family moved to Michigan.

You don't need to know their life stories to know that Ernest Bragg and Mary Wade share a special bond.

If it isn't obvious by the nuzzling of a neck, or the hand placed reassuringly on a knee, then surely you can tell by their insistence on staying within arm's reach of each other.

"You're looking good," said Bragg, an 87-year-old Flowery Branch resident.

"You're trying to embarrass me," quipped 86-year-old Wade with a sly smile.

"But you aren't so bad yourself."

As easy as their conversation flows and how readily they exchange affectionate glances, you would think that the duo has been married for decades.

If either had the power to rewrite history, that would probably be true. Unfortunately, they have to settle for a harsher reality.

This weekend, was the first time that the couple has seen each other in nearly 70 years.

"Well, are you gonna hug me or what," Wade questioned sassily upon arriving at Bragg's home, after travelling from Ypsilanti, Mich., to see him.

"I'll do more than that," Bragg replied, before wrapping her in a tight hug and planting a kiss on her cheek.

Love is patient

The couple met as teenagers in Hall County in 1940.

"We met through family - my uncle married her aunt," Bragg said.

"If it wasn't for our families knowing each other, we never would've met because we lived on different sides of town, went to different schools and didn't have any friends in common."

About a year into their relationship, Wade's father decided to move their family to Michigan, with the hopes of finding better wages working in a car factory.

For a short while after that, the couple lost touch.

"I went into the Navy and they sent me to a (training) school in Detroit, it was pure coincidence that she was nearby," Bragg said.

"I went up to see her and took one of the sailors
with me. We took her and her sister, Margaret, to a movie in town. When I got back to the naval station in Atlanta, I got to pining for her, so I got leave and went up to see her again."

"I stayed with her and her folks for about four or five days. We had a real good time."

Shortly after, Bragg had to leave to serve in World War II. During his absence, the couple kept in touch through letters and photographs.

But one day, the mail stopped coming.

Love never fails

Eyes glistening with unshed tears and a voice unsteady with emotion, Wade recalls the cause of their extended absence.

"(Wade's mother) didn't want me to see her anymore. She got everyone to gang up on me - (Wade's) aunt and my uncle were some of the people against me and (Wade)," Bragg recalled.

"They all kept telling me that (Wade's mother) said that (Wade) was never going to get married and I was in effect spinning my wheels - wasting my time on (Wade)."

"I didn't know that," Wade said with a wistful look in her eye.

"After awhile, I guess I just succumbed to the pressure. I guess I determined that (Wade) and I weren't meant to be," Bragg recalled sadly.

"But here we are," said Wade, lightening the mood.

Love always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres

"I held out for a long time. Once, when I was working in New Jersey, someone sent me (Wade's) address, so I wrote her a Christmas card," Bragg said.

"I remember. I kept everything," Wade interjects.

"In it, I wrote that I loved her and that something had happened, but I wasn't sure what, and I made a big mistake long ago and had been sorry ever since," Bragg said.

"I guess she knew what I was talking about."

After that card, the duo lost touch again. Mary continued her career as a bank auditor and living with her mother - never to get married, never to have children. And Bragg also continued to work and eventually took a wife.

When his wife died from cancer nearly three years ago, Bragg realized how precious every breath is and decided to seek out the woman who once took his breath away.

"I knew she was up in Michigan somewhere, but I didn't know exactly where and I had no idea how to get in touch with her. One day, I ran into a cousin in Cleveland that probably knew of some of (her family's) addresses. He gave me her telephone number and I gave her a call," Bragg said.

"I called again a short time later and the phone was disconnected."

Unbeknownst to Bragg, due to her declining health, Wade had moved in with family.

Instead of being deterred by the nonfunctioning number, Bragg continued to pursue the woman who had slipped from his grasp so many years ago.

"I had to go back to Cleveland again to find my cousin for somebody's name to call that knew how to reach her. He gave me her brother Billy's number, who gave me her telephone number," Bragg said.

"It was a great relief to be able to reach her after I thought I'd lost her again."

The greatest of these is love

Bragg's own health issues prevented him from traveling to Michigan to see Wade as planned in November, so they made arrangements for her to come to him - escorted by her nieces, Debbie Egbert, Peggy Kett and Pat Dial.

"Because of this unrequited love story, I am more thankful for the love I am able to share with my husband of more than 34 years. How sad their lives must have been to never have had the happy ending until now," said Egbert, who also lives in Michigan.

"This just shows you that love never dies."

Although long distance can be too much of an obstacle for couples several decades their juniors, Wade and Bragg don't plan to lose touch again.

"She's my sweetheart," Bragg said.

"Always will be."

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