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Couple who helped decorate the White House for Christmas share their love story

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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps. Thousands of Americans apply every year for the chance to help decorate the White House for the holiday season. Just 150 are picked for the job. This year, Marite Sanchez was one of the chosen few. And she knew right away who she'd bring with her - her husband, Hugo.

MARITE SANCHEZ: You are my partner in everything, so I could not imagine going and not being with you.

HUGO SANCHEZ: Well, I'm so grateful. Seeing you in the White House, you just shine so bright. I have to squint a little bit because it's so impressive.

FADEL: Hugo and Marite struck up a summer romance when he was visiting their hometown of Piura, Peru. They were 16 and 15. Recording for StoryCorps at the White House, they remembered their first kiss.

H SANCHEZ: I remember we're sitting side by side. We locked eyes, and I planted a kiss. And you didn't slap me, so that was a success.

M SANCHEZ: My heart was racing. It was that spark.

H SANCHEZ: Cartoons when the fireworks go off and the sun rises - that's how I felt. I wasn't ready for that. I was so, so, so deeply in love. So I remember going to the airport and thinking, man, I haven't been this happy in years 'cause I was alone in the U.S. Like, it was difficult to find someone to connect and understand you, and you gave me that over the summer. So I'm just bawling like a little kid, like - and my dad, he's like, snap out of it. You know, act like a man. But I was acting like a man. I was feeling love for someone that I was leaving behind. But that lit a fire, made me think, I will move heaven and earth to be with her.

M SANCHEZ: And then after you went back, we spoke for - what? - two, three hours.

H SANCHEZ: Every day. I remember working any odd job, mowing lawns, cleaning the cemetery. I was always praying for rain so the grass would grow faster so that I could go mow again so I could buy more phone cards to call you.

M SANCHEZ: And then I made the decision to come here - what? - about three years into dating.

H SANCHEZ: And you were going to have to go back to Peru, and I said, OK, well, then let's get married.

M SANCHEZ: So we went to the court. You know, a lot of people dream - the dress and the flowers. I did not care about any of those things. I could see the real you.

H SANCHEZ: You changed me in a way that I didn't think could be possible. You gave me a reason to be better. Marite, merry Christmas. Feliz Navidad. You're the gift that keeps on giving, and I'm so happy that you chose me to be your life partner.

M SANCHEZ: Oh, amor, that's so sweet. I think about our journey and - wow. How are we here? Pinch me.

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FADEL: That was Marite Sanchez with her husband, Hugo Sanchez, at the White House. The couple has been married for 15 years. Their conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.