L.A. Affairs: I was 18. He was 36 and my teacher. Could our marriage survive?

I was a teenager getting ready to attend Sequoia Junior High School in Reseda in 1960. My father heard that there was a new drama teacher at the school named Mr. C who was going to put on his first play. Since my father had done some acting in Indiana at Fairmount High School (the same school that James Dean had gone to), we went to the play together.

It was a silly but entertaining comedy with an odd title: “A Rocket in His Pocket.” Mr. C’s next play was another obscure and quirky little show titled “Come Out of the Closet.” Clearly neither play would be chosen in today’s world, but at the time audiences greeted them both enthusiastically.

A few years later, I took a drama class from Mr. C and was fortunate enough to be cast as Anne in his production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” (Obviously, his choices for productions had improved.)

As the oldest of three siblings, I already had quite a bit of experience when Mr. C asked me to babysit his two young children. It didn’t happen often, but it gave me a chance to meet his wife. Reseda High School was close to Sequoia, which made it easy for me to later attend Mr. C’s subsequent shows, including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “The Wizard of Oz” and even “1984.”

Suddenly and tragically, Mr. C’s young wife died of cancer. I felt sorry for my former teacher and volunteered to help out by babysitting his children, free of charge, while he taught summer school. I was attending what was then San Fernando Valley State College when a lonely Mr. C called me that fall and asked me to dinner as a thank-you for taking care of the children. Me? The babysitter?

I was still surprised despite knowing him for several years. I had seen all of his plays, and we knew a lot of the same people. And I especially loved his children. So why not accept his invitation? We went to dinner at Yamashiro in Hollywood and ended up staying for three hours talking and talking. It turned out that even though he was 18 years older than I was, we had a great deal in common.

That wonderful dinner led to another dinner at Hoppe’s Old Heidelberg in Los Angeles. After that, there were dinners in the Valley with his children at Bob’s Big Boy, Piece o’ Pizza and Van de Kamp’s bakery. As we spent more time together, we realized that although several people he knew (including my mother) weren’t thrilled with the idea, we were in love and wanted to get married.

So we did.

Nothing was easy for us in those early years. We were raising his two children who had lost their mother. He was working on his master’s degree in theater and directing plays, and I was going to college to earn my teacher’s credential. We soon realized that one teacher’s salary didn’t go far. We never seemed to have enough money.

Consequently, we took a chance in 1974 and tried out for “Gambit,” a CBS game show hosted by Wink Martindale. With a combination of personality, trivia knowledge and a lot of luck, we were on the show for four days and actually won $18,000 in cash and prizes — much more than Mr. C’s annual salary at the time!

It was a life-changing experience for us. Mr. C also faced another big change when he left Sequoia Junior High and transferred to Chatsworth High School. His drama program there attracted outstanding students (many of whom became famous), and together they put on productions such as “Grease,” “The Elephant Man,” “Equus,” “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” and “A Chorus Line” for a supportive community.

In addition, we discovered that we both loved to travel. As a result, we organized theater trips for his drama students to take them to London, Paris and New York. Years later we branched out and traveled during spring break with hundreds of his students and some adults to Japan, Australia, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore. That was our one big indulgence — spending extra money on travel.

After our children graduated from high school, we decided to try something different. Since we both had our master’s degrees and had taught in California for many years, we were hired to teach at Taipei American School in Taiwan.

For the first time in our marriage, we were alone — in our charming but funky little house in the hills above the city. It was like a honeymoon for us. After 10 terrific years teaching and producing shows at the school, we came back to live locally for a few years and to spend time with our daughters and grandchildren. Mr. C had retired, but I still wanted to teach again internationally. Sometime later, I accepted a job teaching third grade at a small private school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

“It’s just for two years,” I promised my mother.

But I had to break that promise to her because our time in Malaysia became another romantic interlude as we shared nine happy years in the tropics. Mr. C’s biggest job there was playing Santa Claus for all the elementary school classes at holiday time. He enjoyed acting this time and not directing.

We’re back home now and living in Westlake Village. Our traveling days may be over, but fortunately we kept journals of all the trips we’ve taken for 50 years to more than 100 countries. Every day we reread one of them and recall our adventures in Tanzania, South Africa, Europe, Argentina, China, India, Sri Lanka and beyond. We can practically taste the foods we ate years ago, hear the music and delight in the colorful dances and shows we saw around the world.

Our unlikely romance that many thought had little chance of success became a true partnership for life. For 57 years, I have loved being married to Robert Carrelli — he’s now 93 — and I’m extremely happy Mr. C made the daring decision to marry his 18-year-old babysitter on March 17, 1967.

The author is a retired international educator who lives in Westlake Village. She can be reached at [email protected].

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $400 for a published essay. Email [email protected]. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.