When she was in the sixth grade, Ethiopia Alfred had a crush on a cute guy in the eighth grade. Puppy love in her homeland of Ethiopia isn't much different from anywhere else--he didn't pay her any attention.

They grew up and apart.

Eventually, Alfred ended up in Chicago and in 1967 visited friends in Washington. They went to an embassy party, and, standing there, acting very official, was her girlhood flame, Haile DeBass. Now the assistant to the military attache' at the Ethiopian Embassy and engaged to an American woman, DeBass recognized Alfred but didn't have too much to say. See VALENTINES, C11, Col. 1 VALENTINES, From C1

Another 10 years passed. Alfred, living in Washington, went to the wake of an old family friend. Who was sitting in the apartment on 16th Street but DeBass. This time she gave him her card. Though she had thrown herself into Washington life with a series of lobbying and government jobs, she didn't forget him.

It wasn't long before the small circle of Washington's Ethiopian community brought them together again. At another wake in 1978 they talked. He told her he had washed her card with his shirt. She laughed. By this time they both had separated from their spouses, and they took the notion of fate seriously.

Last May nearly 800 people helped Alfred and DeBass celebrate the end of a 25-year intermission and the beginning of a special life. It poured that Saturday afternoon as the bride and groom were united in an orthodox Coptic ceremony. When Alfred and DeBass walked around the altar, the candles almost caught her dress. But she never stopped smiling and neither did he.