Jaruwan Slovacek had to cross an ocean to find love, but Ray Slovacek took on the tougher journey of crossing over to the deli counter.
“I made my move at a park and touched his hairy arm,” Jaruwan said with a rapid giggle. “I think I scare him.”
“I felt a lot of energy from it,” Ray Slovacek recalled. “I knew that she was falling for me.”
Jaruwan disregarded the traditional Thai culture, one that expects meekness and submission out of the “proper women.” But she was determined to not let a good man pass her by.
“We supposed to be quiet and shy, but I met the right guy,” she said, laughing. “I had to make my move before someone else took it.”
Decisiveness runs in her blood. From a very young age, Jaruwan watched her mother focus on providing a good life for their family, no matter the cost. And she, like the rest of her family, took on a nickname to “help the Americans out.” Jaruwan chose the name “Thoo.”
“My mom built our house in Thailand. She didn’t even finish kindergarten, but she’s strong woman,” Thoo said. “My dad is handicapped from a motorcycle wreck and paralyzed on the right side. So, my mom, she sell the coffee early in the morning at the market. You know how we have Starbucks here? She was the Starbucks there.”
But Thoo’s mother wanted more and, packing up what the family could carry, they said goodbye to Thailand more than fifteen years ago. With little more than promised restaurant jobs from a relative, they moved to the states.
“When I came here it was so difficult. I knew English from the book. But I couldn’t speak it very well,” she said. “But the biggest change for me was pizza. All of the cheese and the bread, it was too much.”
Thoo and her sister found work at a Homeland deli counter, once the restaurant position had run its course. But, she was unaware that romance drifted through the air, mixing with the aroma of sliced turkey and pastrami. From just a few feet away, she was being watched.
“I was working produce and talking to my friend,” Ray said. “I saw her and her sister walk in, and I told my friend that I had first dibs.”
However, “first dibs” on which girl was left to be determined.
“He walk around and come close to flirt with me. I heard him tell his friend, ‘I like that Asian girl’ but my sister work with me, too,” said Thoo. “I didn’t know which one he would go with.”
Ray found every excuse to saunter by the deli counter and Thoo liked what she saw. To her, he was a “bald, white guy with beautiful legs.” After several such encounters, the white guy had decided on a sister.
“I picked Thoo because she just clicked with me,” he said. “But then, when I started really talking to her, it took me awhile to wear her down. She wouldn’t go anywhere with me.”
He resigned himself to hour-long conversations on the phone at first, but soon Thoo herself acquiesced and their time was spent on walks in the park together.
“He was good listener. That poor guy, he listened to me just yap, yap, yap,” she said. “I don’t know if he understood me or not.”
Ray did understand, becoming more certain with each new day that he was ready to move forward. Even if that meant convincing a particularly determined and protective Asian mother.
“Thoo came in one day, crying her eyes out. Her mom said she couldn’t see me anymore,” he recalled. “There were all these rumors about white men, that they cheat on their wives, or beat up on their wives. Her mom didn’t want her daughter getting hurt.”
Ray paid the misled mother a visit.
“I manned up and knocked on her door. I told her mom, ‘Ray rag Thoo,’ meaning ‘Ray loves Thoo’,” he said. “Her mom said, ‘O.K., you live over here,’ pointing to the apartment next to her. She wanted me to live where she could keep an eye on me.”
Ray complied with the mother’s wishes and moved in next door. Then Thoo moved in with him. They settled into a life of watching TV and eating pizza, her new favorite food. Only a few months later, the two were planning their wedding.
“It went real fast,” said Thoo. “We went and got rings, set the date, looked in the phone book and found a pastor to marry us. We had our little ceremony in our one bedroom apartment. My mom cooked for us in the kitchen and we forgot to turn off oven, so everybody was sweating.”
“It was a small wedding,” he said. “And very hot.”
Six months after their first deli counter experience, the couple tied the knot on October 23, 2000. This date was specifically chosen to mark the four-year anniversary of Thoo’s arrival in the states.
The couple waited for six years “to get to know each other” before they welcomed Suan into the world. They are currently brewing baby number two. And Ray and Thoo couldn’t be happier.
“I like America. We are so lucky to be here,” she said. “I mean, we have pizza.”