Whenever he stood on the banks of the river, watching the waters of the Vaal join the mighty Orange, his thoughts would drift to his first true love. What had become of his Lydia, Willem Germishyus would wonder – the girl he met when they were both teenagers, the girl he hadn’t been able to get out of his head for more than five decades.
Had she married? Did she have kids? Unlike the merging rivers, their lives had flowed in different directions after their romance ended. "But I always thought of her and wondered if she was happy," Willem (72) says. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine he’d see her again – much less end up marrying her.
But thanks to his family’s online sleuthing, his teenage sweetheart was tracked down. She was now Lydia Snyman, a 69-year-old widow, mom of four and grandmother of six. Lynette van Rensburg (49), Willem’s niece, is delighted at the role she played in tracking down her uncle’s long-lost love.
"Ever since I can remember Uncle Willem has talked about Lydia, about how he’d love to find her again," she says. "So my brother and I decided they needed to be together." Shortly after their reunion, Lydia said "yes" to Willem’s whirlwind proposal – and now, a month later, the couple are tying the knot.
A full 53 years since their paths first crossed they’ve finally made it to the chapel. Music plays as Lydia, dressed in a pink pants suit and holding a single protea, walks down the aisle of the thatchedroof church in Douglas in the Northern Cape, where her groom lives. Willem is waiting for her, looking dapper in a white shirt, chinos and a brown jacket.
"It’s exactly how I’d always imagined it," the beaming bride says. "There’s always been this emptiness I couldn’t fill," Willem adds. "Lydia was missing. Now we’re together forever." He recalls the day in 1966 he met Lydia as if it were yesterday. He was 19 years old and in the army, stationed in Kroonstad in the Free State, and one weekend he went with friends to a farm near Modimolle in Limpopo.
The farm belonged to then 16-year-old Lydia’s family – and for Willem it was love at first sight. "I had a toy gun that shot plastic arrows," he says. “I kept shooting them at her to try to get her attention and eventually she said if I shot her again, she wouldn’t kiss me.
"I stopped immediately and waited for hours. She kissed me later that evening and after that, it was a done deal." In the two years they were a couple, Willem visited Lydia on the farm almost every weekend. But then his father told him he needed to come back home to Douglas to help with his own family farm.
"At first we thought our relationship could work," Willem says. "But the distance became a huge problem and I couldn’t manage to travel all the way from the Northern Cape to Limpopo every weekend." He had to break his promise of visiting her several times and Lydia finally assumed the romance was over.
It just wasn’t meant to be, she told herself. "I realised life goes on. I later met someone else, got married and moved to Pretoria not long afterwards," she tells YOU. Willem also married and had two daughters. He’s now a grandfather of five and a great-grandfather of one.
After Willem and his first wife divorced about 21 years ago, he travelled to Modimolle a few times to look for his lost love but every time he went back home dejected and empty-handed. No one knew what had become of her. “I never stopped looking. My heart yearned for her," Willem says.
His family would often hear him speak of how much he longed to see Lydia again. In August, when Lynette and her brother, Tielman, visited Willem in Douglas, he asked them if they could try to find Lydia on social media. "So we started searching," Tielman says. Lydia wasn’t on Facebook but Uncle Willem could recall the names of almost all her family members.
"We sent Facebook messages to anyone who might know her." Lynette and Tielman’s efforts were rewarded when they tracked down Lydia’s brother-in-law and he gave them her phone number. Lydia was visiting her children in Strand near Cape Town when Willem called.
She recognised his voice straight away. "I’ve never been so happy to speak to someone on the phone," Willem says. A few days later when Tielman and Lynette drove back to Cape Town, where they live, Willem joined them. He wasn’t about to let Lydia slip through his fingers again.
"Uncle Willem kept phoning her all the way from Douglas," Tielman says with a chuckle. "I was afraid he’d scare the poor woman off and we didn’t want the old man’s heart broken." But Tielman needn’t have worried. Willem and Lydia agreed to meet each other for breakfast in nearby Gordon’s Bay the following day.
When Lydia walked in, dressed in a blue blouse and jeans, Willem was smitten all over again. "I realised I was just as crazy about her as the first time I saw her." Lydia’s husband died of brain cancer last year and she’d been lonely ever since, she tells us. “Then suddenly, like a bolt out of the blue, Willem found me again."
Just a few days after their reunion, Willem took the plunge and asked Lydia to marry him. It was a simple proposal – no violins or rose petals or fancy gimmicks. "There was no room for doubt," Lydia says. "I said yes immediately." Now, a month later, they’re celebrating their marriage, complete with a red velvet wedding cake.
The guests, who include Willem’s daughters and two of Lydia’s four children, feast on braaied steak served with potatoes and broccoli salad on the side. Dessert is koeksisters and wedding cake. The newlyweds plan to move in together in Douglas where Willem has a transport business.
She’s looking forward to cooking for him and fattening him up, Lydia says. Is their reunion everything they’d dreamed of? "My friend," Willem says, "when she kisses me, there’s a ringing in my ears that’s almost deafening." Lydia smiles. "Today I married the first and last love of my life."