She was pushing 60 in 1999, working the salad bar at a restaurant. He was in his early 50s, the restaurant meat cutter.
Lucia Arano spoke not a word of English, except maybe "work." She lived in a trailer with 16 other people. She slept on the floor and sent almost every nickel home to Mexico.
William "Buck" Canady -- who had lived in Rock Hill all his life, and drank up to, in his words, "Two fifths a day of Rich and Rare bourbon," -- didn't know any Spanish. But somehow, love happened. Canady gave up the booze on March 3, 1999, and hasn't touched a drop since. Then, there was a whirlwind courtship and marriage.
"She told me it was the booze or her, I chose her, and it's the best thing I ever did," said Canady, 63.
But after the wedding, things got tough.
Because Lucia was illegal.
Lucia, a widowed grandmother in 1999 who came from a place in Mexico so poor there was no electricity, inside toilets or running water, had come to Rock Hill illegally in a desperate attempt to provide for her family. A son had been here for many years before her, so that's why she chose Rock Hill. Her mother, in her 90s, depended on Lucia for support.
"I've seen it for myself -- it looks like how the poorest people lived here in the 1940s and 1950s," Canady said. "You see why people want to come here."
Canady could have hidden his wife forever. But he didn't. Canady wanted his wife here legally. He found out when he applied for her permanent residency that the only route she had was for her go back to Mexico and get in line and wait. He said it was tough because so many immigrants who come here illegally are, "looked down on because they are breaking the law right off the bat."
For years, as the legal wheels of immigration turned, Lucia waited in Mexico. Canady and his family worked to help. One of Canady's grown daughters, Ashley, said the two were in love and, "we all knew we had to help get her here for good."
A grown Canady son, Jeff, said his stepmother became family.
"They don't speak each other's language, but they love each other and I don't need to speak Spanish to know that."
Buck Canady, a disabled Marine Corps veteran who served in the Vietnam War, three times took a bus to see his wife. He would stay a few weeks, then come home.
Through the years, Canady and his wife filed paperwork and waited. The Canadys spent money on lawyers and others. The Canadys spent about $18,000 to pay for all the services needed to get legal immigrant status in America. They had to prove the marriage was legitimate, even give statements that they were in love, and prove that Lucia had no criminal record either in Mexico or America. They had to prove that with Canady's disability, his wife was needed to help take care of him. A petition was signed by many who knew the pair.
In Mexico, Lucia went through long meetings at government offices, where she was questioned about her illegal entry the first time and what she did afterward. She had to admit she was before an illegal person in America -- during the days when she scrubbed lettuce and floors and slept on the floor, to make a dollar to send home.
The Canady path is not uncommon, said Barbara Guidry, Hispanic liaison for the city of Rock Hill. Although Guidry said she's not familiar with the specific case of the Canadys, she said the wait is often at least a couple of years as people from Central and South America have to prove many things to American authorities even if the potential immigrant is engaged or already married to an American. A string of national arrests of people from other countries -- not just Hispanics, but other illegal immigrants, too -- who wanted citizenship and arranged phony marriages caused a change in the system in April 2001, Guidry said.
"The only way is to go back and apply for a Visa," Guidry said.
Canady went to Mexico a last time and last week there was one last series of interviews with American authorities in Juarez. Then on Monday, the spouse Visa came through. In a few years, Lucia, a great-grandmother now several times over, 68 years old, can apply to be an American citizen. But first things first. Canady had to get his bride home.
The Canadys were told which border crossing they could use. A Greyhound bus, taking almost two full days, brought Buck Canady and his wife home. They arrived after dark. Lucia still speaks no English. Buck still speaks almost no Spanish. But she is here legally. The couple is just about broke.
Then I saw Lucia hug her husband and kiss him on top of his gray-haired head.
Sure looked like love was worth the wait.