Love Notes: Elena and Ernesto Duran

Elena and Ernesto Duran finally married after a decade of miscues. Elena wears the treasured pendant Ernesto bought on layaway after months of scrimping to surprise her on Mother’s Day more than 30 years ago. (Terrence Antonio James, Tribune Newspapers photo / July 26, 2012)

The first time Elena saw Ernesto Duran she was only 13.

It was the summer of 1962. She was visiting an aunt and many cousins in the small Mexican town of Tabasco Zacatecas, 70 miles west of Elena's hometown, the much larger Aguascalientes.

Elena and her girl cousins were sitting in the Tabasco plaza — the town square — laughing and giggling. Nearby, a group of boys was hanging out, trying to be cool.

Re-creating the scene, Elena says, "I saw this boy who had really rosy cheeks, gaunt, kind of skinny, and I said to my cousin, Delia, 'Who is that cute guy?' She said, 'Oh, his name is Ernesto.'"

Soon, "Ernesto was there staring at me. He had these long eyelashes and these beautiful eyes.

"I didn't see him again for 10 years."

One reason was that in 1964, Elena and her family moved to Chicago. But she was often in touch with her Tabasco relatives.

"I never wanted to ask directly about Ernesto. They'd make fun of you, 'Oh you like 'Nesto.' ... They would start teasing you." So she kept her interest in the young man with the long eyelashes to herself.

Then in December 1967, on a trip back to Mexico for her brother's wedding, Elena asked her Aunt Teresa about a long list of friends and relatives and — trying to act super-casual — she threw Ernesto's name in there.

"My aunt said, 'Oh, he got married.' I didn't ask nothing again … I said, 'OK'. That ended right there."

Well, not exactly.

Now it's early 1972, 10 years after their first — and only — meeting. Elena's Aunt Tina said that Ernesto wanted to get in touch after all those years.

"Ernesto's married," Elena told her. "No, he's not," Aunt Tina replied. "You better make sure," said Elena.

So Tina checked again with the Tabasco relatives and reported, "No, Ernesto is not married, never been married."

The earlier marriage report was all wrong.

So a decade after she first encountered Ernesto, then a gangly 16-year-old, the two started writing letters. (Elena saved them for many years until the basement flooded and ruined them.)

One letter said that "He was going to be 27 and he did not want to waste time. … He wanted to settle down."

She wrote back that she was going to be in Mexico in a few months for the state fair and he replied that he wanted to see her again.

"I said, 'Ernesto, you haven't seen me in 10 years. We have changed. What if you don't like me anymore?'"

Fearing rejection, Elena concocted a plan.