Happy Anniversary - because some things are worth remembering
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“Sure” she said, desperate for anything to do on the weekend, when most of her friends split for home, leaving her to rattle all alone in a monolithical dormitory. Besides, he was one of the really good looking guys she and Robyn had decided were “cute enough to take us out”. And he had such a voice - deep sonorous basso profundo with the most delicious country southern drawl - not hick, in fact, very cultured, but oh so Southern. And startlingly blue eyes. Blue like autumn skies. And he was big - not fat or anything - just big with a big aura, a big presence. Nothing hesitant or shy or self-effacing. This was a man, not a boy, and he was inviting her to spend all day with him.
“Right.” he said. "Meet me at my house tomorrow at 10 a.m." and he gave directions to a row house in the Fan district, a few blocks from school.
Poor thing. Little did he know that he’d just arranged a date with his exact opposite in theGreatClockUniverse. She was no ditherer. No lingerer. No procrastinating late comer. She was anEarlyBird - always 15 minutes before hand, sometimes more. For this important assignation she was a full 30 minutes early, knocking on the dark and silent door of his first floor apartment.
“Stood up!” she thought. “Impossible” Nobody stood up this girl, no siree. And she stomped the four blocks back to school, snatched her fiddle out of her locker, slammed the practice room door shut and began to saw away, muttering imprecations, curses, indignant affronted descriptions of what is expected in this world, and other dark and damning words. But ...
She was also innately fair and as she scraped away at Kreutzer, she had to admit that the man had said come at 10. Perhaps he was out filling up the gas tank. Or perhaps he was renting a trailer. After all, the purpose of the trip was to retrieve his piano, waiting for him in his old place in Chapel Hill, NC. And so, at 10 o’clock for sure, she rounded the corner of Lombardy and Floyd and there he was, waving an arm, smiling happily and calling out “Hey Baby!”
She crossed the street and he invited her into his apartment. He offered her a beer, and though she hated the stuff - still does, in fact - she was also aware of what is cool and for a still-teenage girl at college, drinking beer at 10 a.m. was truly cool, so she said yes. He was back in a flash with a mason jar full of the most delicate, most mellow drink she’d ever tasted. His own home brew. There were gallons of it in his little bachelor kitchen. Now, be it gallons or pints, this stuff was potent and it was only moments before she was definitely in the mood to be entertained. And entertained she was, with music, books, ideas, and talk talk talk, tumbling out of this delightful man with his shelves full of books, boxes full of sheet music, head full of poetry in three different languages and kitchen full of nectar. Best of all, he was happy. Neither cynical, sarcastic nor jealous of another’s musical ability or progress, he was ready to share, to learn, to listen and to admire. In the highly competitive world of performing arts, here was someone with a blend of such innocence and courage there was nothing to do but laugh with pure pleasure and maybe fall in love a bit.
After a while the two of them tooled off in search of a U-haul place. Across the Lee Bridge at an Esso Station on Cowardan Ave., where Caravatti’s Junk Yard used to be, he stopped and went in to arrange a rental. Minutes passed and when he returned he stood right in front of the car and grinned at her through the windshield; one of those beaming, sunshiny “Ain’t this Grand?” grins. And as she stared up at him, suddenly he turned into an old man, still standing there, still grinning. She blinked; gawped; stared again. She looked down at her own hands and they had turned into an old lady's hands, the skin papery and spotted with large brown freckles, sunk down between the tendons. They were her grandmother’s hands. And she thought “My god. I’m going to be riding around in a car with this man when I’m an old lady.”
For some reason he had decided to rent the trailer in NC. Probably the Richmond outfit didn’t have what he was looking for. They motored on down I95, past the tobacco plant and warehouse district of south Richmond, past Petersburg, through Emporia. They talked the whole time, chattering, discovering, opening, sharing. At one point he said “well, there’s a lot you don’t know about me” and she thought “oh boy, there’s a lot you don’t know either”. And at that, there were some surprising points of contact. He had graduated from the same high school her dad had gone to. She had played a concert in Chapel Hill that he had gone to hear. He had taken lessons in Winston Salem while she had been a student at the School of the Arts. At Herndon, NC they stopped for lunch at a Kentucky Fried Chicken place. She had never been to one. In fact, fast food then consisted almost entirely of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, milkshakes and fries. Fried chicken was a real treat and, of course, to a 19-year old, it didn’t fortell the diet doom it was to present later on.
The October skies had been gray all day but they grew heavier and more threatening as evening approached. Rain began to fall. At a Carolina gas station he picked up a small box trailer and two ice cream sandwiches. “How did you know ice cream is my all time favorite treat?” she cried and to his question of “Then don’t I deserve a reward” she answered with a resounding kiss. Of course, this was in the days when, first off, girls worried about being thought forward or even worse; fast! It was also at a time when she was very wary of anything that would cause boys to sidle away from a touchy feely woman. Of course, this was no boy. 28, he’d told her. But when it’s the right guy, with the right gift, only a kiss will do.
It was harder to be chatty on the long dark wet drive home. Especially when the passenger was one of those Superior Morning Persons. For an SMP, darkness means it’s time to close one’s eyes. She still didn’t realize she was dealing with one of those Stubborn Night Owls. SNO’s think SMP’s are silly, especially the types who creep out of cozy warm beds before the sun is actually above the roof tops of the houses across the street. All those delightful discoveries were waiting up ahead for them. On that day, in the hypnotic glare of headlights on raindrops, she grew pretty drowsy. “I like to drive. Go to sleep” he told her and eventually she did.
It was too late to get back into the dorm when they reached Richmond. She’d known it would be and had signed out for the weekend. He gallantly put her up for the night. She was there the next day when other friends came around to help shove the piano down the narrow hallway and into the apartment. It was well into the afternoon before she made her way back to her place, to pace the dormitory halls till her girlfriend should show up and she could tell her the exciting news about the upcoming nuptials.
There have been many more rambles, in half a dozen different cars, since that October 16,
thirty nine forty two years ago. In 1991 the two of them took the trip to North Carolina all over again, even to starting at 1617 Floyd and to looking for some sort of U-haul place on the south side. They found the KFC in Herndon had moved a block but it was still serving up the original 11 herbs and spices recipe. They'll probably go off on a ramble today, the two of them, getting older, but not yet quite as old as the geezers in her vision.
But that is the story of my anniversary. We also celebrate a lovely wedding anniversary in April. It’s important, but not more important than October 16, when my favorite cute couple started out on life’s journey. Sometimes it’s hard to believe I even had a life before that day, although I can tell stories from that Mesozoic Era. It’s as if 10/16 were my real birthday; the day I began living my grown up life. BD, who had a head start on me, says he feels the same way.
There are a lot of stories in my bag of tales, but this one is my favorite.