Hallmark’s made-for-TV romances have nothing on the real-life story of Eligio “Eli” Lujan and his wife, Ligia Chaparro-Torres. Their storybook tale includes a beautiful foreign locale, a happenstance meeting, an instant connection, and a second chance at love. And while the connection was immediate, it took a bit of time for love to grow, another common theme in the better-known world of fantasy films.
Eli and Ligia are residents at the Carver Plaza Apartments in Abilene, one of several senior citizen residential communities operated in Texas by Volunteers of America Texas. Recently, Eli and Ligia sat down with VOA Texas Director of Communications Ericka English to share their story in advance of the most romantic day of the year—Valentine’s Day.
Married just nine years, the two exhibit the kind of warmth and easy comfort with one another that’s most often a mark of couples who have been together many decades. Eli does most of the talking, since he’s more fluent in English, but Ligia is fully engaged, cell phone and translation app at the ready.
Eli explains his status as a retiree of the U.S. Army. After spending a career traveling, he didn’t slow down after leaving the Army. “I had friends around the world,” he said, noting that one of those friends lived in Colombia and invited him to come visit. “He assured me Colombia was a good place, so I decided to go visit in December, 2011.”
A that time, Colombia was home to Ligia, where she was a retired manager of a live opera theater. Music, it seems, was in the blood for both of them—Eli plays guitar and has performed with mariachi bands in various places, including Puerto Rico.
One night, Eli decided to visit the theater. Ligia was at the front entrance. And so, they met. “There was an immediate attraction,” Eli says. “We hit it off immediately.” Ligia took him under her wing to show him Colombia and all its beauty, including its cuisine. His favorite, was of her own making, a national soup that he loves. Both say it wasn’t love at first sight, but the connection and things they had in common were undeniable.
The two dated for three years and love took root. They married in 2014. He obtained U.S. resident status for his bride and the two came back to the states where Eli has children and grandchildren, and eventually to Abilene. While apartment shopping one day, they spotted the Carver Plaza Apartments and stopped. Manager Elizabeth Valdez came out to meet them, a gesture of friendship that won the day. When the two went to leave, Valdez heard Ligia tell Eli, “This is where we’re going to live!”
Settled in for good at Carver Plaza, Eli has a little advice for others in the market for a permanent romance. “Love, respect, understanding and listening are the basis of a good marriage,” Eli says.
Ligia has thoughts on the subject, too, and in light of the approaching Valentine’s Day, she tells her favorite memory. “He serenaded me,” she says with a shy smile. Almost 80 now, Eli still has his guitar. And so, as part of telling their story, Eli pulls it out and serenades her again. His soft voice and finger-picked tune, sung in her native Spanish, translates to the simplest of love songs: “Without you I can’t live anymore.”