Life with Gracie: A UGA clinic manager, a doctor and her mailbox

“Oh, God, give me strength.”

It was a simple prayer but Jan. 15, 2015, had been a particularly horrible one for Charlotte Trice and she needed an answer.

She had passed the man and his three dogs walking her street a million times since moving into the neighborhood in 2008. They had exchanged a wave here and there but never said hello. He seemed friendly enough but Trice was in no mood to talk. What she needed was a glass of cabernet sauvignon.

“Oh, God, give me strength,” she murmured once more and then a strange thing happened.

She stopped the car, hopped out to retrieve the items in her Bogart mailbox, and followed the Emily Post nudging inside of her.

“Hi,” she said as the man approached.

“Hi, how are you?” he answered as he switched the dog leashes to his left hand and extended his right hand.

“I don’t think we’ve met,” he said to Trice from under the brim of his hat. “I’m Tad …”

Before he could say his last name, Trice blurted out, “Dr. Smith?”

“I’m Charlotte, Charlotte Trice, UGA Dental.”

For 10 years until his retirement, they had worked in the same University Health Center building, and yet in all that time, they’d only spoken to each other briefly once or twice. But she knew who he was. Everybody did. He was always in a bad mood.

“I didn’t see him a lot but, when I did, I’d just avoid him,” Trice said.

As the minutes ticked away that evening, Trice, manager of UGA’s Dental Clinic, wondered if it was OK to leave her car idling.

They had talked nearly 20 minutes and about what seemed like everything when Dr. Smith, who had been a family practice doctor, asked her about her day.

“It was horrible,” she told him. “I’m about to go in and have a glass of wine.”

“Maybe we could go out and have a glass together sometime. I’ll call you.”

With that, they parted. Smith and his dogs headed on down the road. Trice, up her driveway.

By the time she stepped from the January cold into her home, she was perfectly calm. A glass of wine was the furthest thing from her mind. Who knew the irascible curmudgeon could be so, well, nice and warm?

At work the next day, Trice spotted the head dentist working in the lab and sat down.

“Guess who kinda sorta asked me out last night,” she said.

The dentist just about fell off his seat, but he assured Trice that Tad Smith was a “really nice guy.”

That may have been true but Trice wouldn’t have any more sightings of the good doctor or his canine companions Annie, Neely and Nathan for two weeks.

She figured he was avoiding her, walking in another part of the neighborhood.

Then there they were.

“I waved and he waved,” Trice said. “I got home, started working out and my phone rang.”

Dr. Smith explained his disappearance. The night they met, he came down with a respiratory infection, and hadn’t walked the dogs since. Would she go out with him?

Trice suggested Carrabba’s. She had a $25 gift card. They went the next night.

She ordered Chicken Bryan. Tad ordered the Tuscan Grilled Pork Chop. They sipped water and iced tea.

Neither of them had been on a date in years. They nervously talked about life and family and careers. Tad, then 65, had retired seven years earlier from UGA and was working as a medical consultant in several clinics. He was trying to decide when to take Social Security benefits. He suggested she join him walking the dogs about the neighborhood.

Over the next few months, they walked regularly — 4 1/2 miles each day. They shared special moments from their childhoods. Tad told her about his days in medical school and the years he spent looking after his late wife and other ill relatives. He had never had kids, but Charlotte had a grown son. He knew her late father, an Athens psychiatrist, and described his earlier life of being invested in his work, travel, and love of antiques.

Looking back, Trice said, it explained Tad’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality. He could be excessively agitated when patients missed their appointments but was equally passionate in describing a painted gourd he admired.

“We really got to know each other,” Trice said.

And so another funny thing happened. Tad one day told her he wanted to marry her. Trice didn’t know about that.

“I’d been so screwed over by guys,” she said. “I was happy with just a friendship.”

The more she got to know him, the more she wanted to be with him. One day, she told him, yes, they should make it official.

“I wanted to marry on April 1 because I thought it was appropriate,” Trice said, laughing. “He suggested April 2. It was his mom’s birthday. He reasoned he wouldn’t forget it.”

It was a really good idea because April Fools’ Day brought rain but April 2 was perfect — sunshine, blue skies.

At 5:20 that evening, Tad and Charlotte were united in holy matrimony facing Trice’s mailbox, where they’d met just 15 months earlier.

“It was great,” Trice said of the ceremony. “We didn’t have any traffic.”

There was, however, an avalanche of traffic early this month when nearly 200 friends, family and UGA Health Center associates gathered at the Thomas Cotton Gin in Watkinsville to celebrate and congratulate the couple.

Early this week, Trice wondered out loud what might have happened had she decided to avoid speaking and got her mail later.

“I may not have ever talked to him,” she said of her husband. “When somebody crosses your path, you may want to say hey; you may never know how they’ll change your life.”

Or how you might change theirs. It could happen at your mailbox.

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