The couple who met on a train on Christmas day
(CNN) – On Christmas morning 2011, Linda Wenger boarded a Metro-North train from New York’s Grand Central Station for Katonah.
She was about 50 years old and had been divorced for 10 years. Her daughters always spent the holidays with her ex-husband: Wenger is Jewish, so she didn’t have much in common with Christmas, while her ex’s new partner was celebrating.
Wenger’s sister’s family also celebrates Christmas, so she always traveled to her home in Connecticut on December 25th. And she always traveled alone.
Wenger had a very successful marketing career for a non-profit organization. He settled for his career and his life in New York.
But when the train left the Manhattan terminal, he found himself pondering.
“It could have been a little melancholy,” Wenger recalls.
There were only a handful of other people in Wenger’s carriage, including a man of the same age, who was sitting in front.
He watched as he pulled wallpaper and paint samples out of a bag, spreading them on the table in front of him.
“I just got that good vibe from him,” Wenger recalls. “I thought, ‘It’s kind of cute. And it’s sunny on Christmas Day.'”
He thought he had probably sat down in front of her to start a friendly conversation, but he seemed quite absorbed in his work.
As the city receded into the distance, Wenger considered whether to open a conversation.
Then the stranger pulled out a particular floral wallpaper.
“Oh, that’s William Morris, isn’t it?” he said, recognizing one of the complex patterns that characterize the work of the Victorian artist.
The man looked up and smiled.
It was Michael McTwigan, a New Yorker in the early ’60s who had been separated from his wife for a year or so.
He was on his way to volunteering for a Christmas food drive in Katonah. His boss lived in that area and told him about the event, which was intended to feed about 300 people during the holidays.
“It was Christmas Day and I thought, ‘Well, it would be nice to do something and I’m all alone, so what can I do to make it useful?'” McTwigan told CNN Travel today.
She spent time on the train looking at wallpaper samples as a favor for a friend, who wanted an impression that matched the color of her apartment’s paint. McTwigan, a former art critic with an aesthetic eye, had offered to help.
When Wenger mentioned William Morris, McTwigan was shocked. He suggested that he should have some artistic training to recognize the print.
Wenger explained that he had been a student of art history at university. McTwigan told him about his artistic background and added that he was now in marketing.
Wenger said he also worked in marketing, for a large lung cancer research charity. They began to talk about the joys and sorrows of their shared profession.
As they talked about their lives and their plans for Christmas Day, the two realized that they shared a love of art, similar careers, and a desire to help others: Wenger with his job and McTwigan with his your volunteering.
“When he told me what he was doing, I said,‘ My God, this must be the best character reference I’ve ever had. Right? Someone will do something so selfless on Christmas Day, “said Wenger.
McTwigan was enthusiastic about Wenger: he had realized that while she was not downplayed in her career, she talked more about her connections to people than her successes.
He felt he was “very sensitive and intuitive.”
“Sensitive in the sense of being aware of the feelings or moods of others, or whatever, and open to understanding what other people are feeling,” he says now. “She put people first, somehow that was more important than anything else.”
Once the two started talking, their conversation did not stop, and as the train ran through the New York camp, they realized that they were enjoying each other’s company immensely.
“He had a very friendly, sweet atmosphere,” Wenger says. “And I thought, ‘Okay, that’s something.’ I felt something between us.”
The trip from Grand Central to Katonah takes just over an hour. In a very short time they were throwing themselves towards the small platform of Katonah, surrounded by trees.
When the train stopped, Wenger reached into his bag and handed McTwigan his business card.
Then they both got off the train together and went down the station stairs to ground level, where Wenger’s mother was waiting for her to pick her up.
Wenger and McTwigan went hand in hand to say goodbye. When his hands touched, McTwigan stretched out Wenger’s arm higher and held him for a moment.
“Nice to meet you,” he said, smiling.
Wenger calls the gesture “the sweetest thing.”
“I definitely had flaps,” he says now.
When Wenger got into his mother’s car, and later, while talking to his sister and the rest of his family, he shared what had happened on the train.
“I met this very interesting man,” he explained.
“Yes, there was something between you,” Wenger’s mother said, laughing: she had seen the car’s persistent handshake.
“I was a little excited about it,” Wenger says.
McTwigan also kept thinking about meeting the train.
“I absolutely wanted to see Linda again,” she says. “There was no doubt in my head.”
A first date in New York
During the Christmas and New Year period, the two exchanged a handful of emails.
McTwigan then asked if Wenger would like to meet when they both return to the city. He suggested a live event in New York, led by the story group The Moth.
When real people got up on stage and told their stories, Wenger and McTwigan resumed their conversation where it had ended at Katonah station.
They had a series of later meetings in New York City. Some, they say, were more successful than others: an emerging guitar concert suggested by McTwigan became a bit awkward when they realized the music was quite experimental.
“We didn’t know each other well enough to tell us, ‘This is really awful,'” Wenger said, laughing.
But then the two went to Joe’s Pub in the East Village, where a jazz singer was serenading the crowd.
“We were laughing and dancing, and that broke the ice completely,” Wenger says.
They say they did their courtship day in and day out and tried to have no expectations.
The two had been married before, and were about to fall in love again with excitement and trepidation.
“Let’s go slowly and see how it goes, because after all, we know the dangers of making the wrong choice,” was his mantra, McTwigan says.
“But especially as we had more experiences together, more similarities – similar feelings and values - became apparent to each of us, I think. We got closer,” he adds.
“We were both very happy together, something we haven’t had in a long time,” says Wenger. “Good luck, this is becoming very addictive.”
The relationship felt easy, they say, and that was also part of the attraction: they enjoyed spending time together and loved each other’s friends and family.
A return trip
Here are McTwigan and Wenger on the Metro-North train on Christmas Day 2012, the first anniversary of their meeting.
On Christmas Day 2012, the two boarded the Metro-North train from Grand Station to Katonah, just as they had done the year before. But while 12 months ago they had been strangers, now they were a couple traveling together to visit Wenger’s family.
Instead of sitting in front of each other, they sat together, shoulder to shoulder.
Another passenger was asked to take a photo, which sparked a tradition.
“Every year, on this train, we took a picture of ourselves, or we asked someone to take a picture of us,” says Wenger.
“Every year was like a birthday, it was wonderful,” McTwigan says.
The two soon moved in together, Wenger crossed the East River from his Manhattan base to live with McTwigan in Brooklyn.
They were based in Brooklyn for six years, moving to Katonah every Christmas, before moving to Connecticut in 2018.
They love the community in their new neighborhood and enjoy the evenings gardening together. The only downside is that when Christmas comes, the two no longer need to take the train to Wenger’s sister’s house, as they are close enough to drive.
“A Christmas Miracle”
Here you have McTwigan and Wenger on Christmas Day 2015, once again on the train to Katonah.
Wenger and McTwigan were married in July 2018, at their Connecticut home.
“We did it a little together,” says Wenger, explaining that they took advantage of a time when Wenger’s eldest daughter, whose family lives abroad, was returning to the United States.
It was a relaxed and warm occasion, they both say. Friends and family occupied the rooms of his house, eating smoked meat. One of McTwigan’s lifelong friends officiated the service.
“I think what we talked about afterwards was that it felt like an outpouring of love for us,” Wenger says. “People were so happy we met. So it was a pretty wonderful day for us.”
In their vows, the two celebrated the “Christmas miracle” that brought them together: “a Christmas miracle for a Jewish girl,” as Wenger puts it.
“It’s crazy to meet someone in such a random way that you have so much happiness, peace, so much in common,” he says.
Everyone who knows it loves history, he says.
“It was a casual and unusual encounter,” McTwigan says.
“But I mean we didn’t see each other in Paris,” Wenger adds, laughing. “We met on Metro-North, a commuter train. But he did the trick.”
10 years later
Here is Wenger and McTwigan on holiday in Capri, Italy, in 2015.
This Christmas marks 10 years since Wenger and McTwigan sat across from each other on the train.
Unfortunately, the two can’t visit Wenger’s sister in Connecticut this year. The annual Christmas meeting was canceled on December 22, when Wenger’s niece tested positive for Covid-19.
Instead, Wenger and McTwigan will celebrate together at home, just the two of them, eating all the snacks they had previously prepared for the larger family reunion.
Although they will miss their family and the pandemic is a concern, they both say that they love to spend time in each other’s company, so they will make the most of the day together, as they do every day together, feeling grateful. they have known each other and taken risks.
Both hope that their story will inspire people to be open to new experiences and to take advantage of the moments presented to them, even if they are unexpected.
“Always be prepared to take advantage of the opportunity, because you never know where it will lead, some will go out and some won’t, and that’s okay,” McTwigan says. “But you shouldn’t go through life with a narrow focus, but look around and look at it all around you, and enjoy it, that’s my idea.”
“Yeah, keep your heart open,” Wenger says. “And I also think a lot of people who are alone and don’t want to be alone can have the feeling that nothing will change. And I spent a lot of time alone.”
I always had the attitude that something could change, something good could happen and I would not be alone. And maybe that’s what made me the kind of person who would approach a stranger and ask him a question to make it a reality. […] I kept my heart open. “
Top photo courtesy of Linda Wenger