Even at a young age Brenda McDaniel had had an eye for the bad boy. When Paul McMillen managed to get himself kicked out of kindergarten in Knights Ferry, fate must’ve earmarked their futures together, for these two sweethearts spent a lifetime crossing each other’s paths in one way or another and yet they led separate lives.
However, it seems fate is not a force to be thwarted because these two lovebirds have finally found each other for good and a wedding is on the calendar at the location where it all came together — the Oakdale Cowboy Museum.
Wait a minute, you say. Come again?
McMillen and McDaniel first caught each other’s eye in 1955 at James Marshall Elementary School in Modesto. They dated off and on, even won a dancing contest in junior high but eventually, they said goodbye to one another and went off to lead their own lives that included wives, husbands, kids, and the usual calendar of events that fill the landscape of a life.
“The last time we saw each other was for a 10-year class reunion,” McDaniel shared. “But I’d thought of him a lot over the years. He was funny and always in some kind of trouble.”
At that time McDaniel was going through a separation with her then-husband. She and McMillen spent the day fishing at Turlock Lake. The memory seared into McMillen’s mind as perfect.
“We took all five kids (his and hers) and I remember looking at Brenda and seeing the kids with all their fishing lines in the water and thinking how happy I was,” McMillen said.
McMillen remembers something else from that day — something that makes the perennial good girl McDaniel blush.
“I remember that kiss. In all my years, that kiss stayed with me. It was the lollapalooza of kisses,” he said.
But the timing wasn’t right for either of them and they moved on, secreting away that day as a happy, if not bittersweet memory to treasure and cherish privately.
Twenty-seven years passed and throughout those years, they tried to find one another through various means but came up empty.
“I got on Classmates.com trying to find Brenda,” McMillen said.
And McDaniel admitted each class reunion she hoped to find McMillen there but he only attended the one.
So what brought them together after so much time? The Cricket exhibit at the Cowboy Museum and Facebook.
McMillen attended the Cricket exhibit opening “Remembering Cricket” in his uncle Walt Taylor’s stead, and later that evening posted on Cricket’s Facebook page. A friend of McDaniel saw his comment and relayed that information to her. McDaniel then posted her own comment on the Facebook page.
When McMillen saw her post, his heart may have stuttered a bit in his excitement.
“When I saw her on Facebook, I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
A whirlwind courtship progressed as the two reconnected.
“He found me when I was jumping from state to state,” McDaniel said. “I’ve lived in four different states caregiving for my family.”
They spent hours — literally — on the phone. So much so that they had to upgrade their minutes on their cell phones. They shared their personal heartaches — from the death of McMillen’s previous wife to McDaniel’s ups and downs — and their wishful thinking and wonderings.
“We talked about how our lives would’ve turned out if we’d stayed together,” McDaniel said.
McMillen said, “After all this time we’ve made all the mistakes we’re going to make. It must be meant to be because here we are.”
The two are sharing an apartment in Oakdale, starting from scratch as if they were young adults again, forging a new life.
They’re adjusting to one another and each other’s habits but the love shining in their eyes hasn’t seemed to dull in spite of the passage of time.
“I know I love him and I’m in love with him,” McDaniel said, smiling. “He’s mellow and I love that about him. It’s so amazing that we’re together and happy.”
McMillen, a cheeky grin that matches the mischievous glint in his eye, said, “The same things that attracted me then, attract me now. She’s hot.”
His comment elicited a laugh from McDaniel as he added, “I promised her sons I’d sign a letter of intent. There aren’t any big plans. We just want to be with each other. We’re going to put some Velcro down. I want to get back in the community. It feels like coming home. It feels good everyday.”
McDaniel said of their circuitous route to finding one another, “It’s never too late. I didn’t plan to get back together. It just happened.”