This November marks the 10th anniversary of my husband's death. But rather than writing about those sad days, I am remembering the first thrilling ones.
Labor Day - September 7th, 1966.
It was a hot day in Chicago - and it was quite amusing that Chicago bylaws stated that all apartments had to have their heating systems working from the first weekend in September until the last weekend in May. And that day was 90º F outside, without the contribution from the huge metal radiators that we had in every room. It was a Monday, and to celebrate, I decided to invite the nice man around whom I had met a few weeks earlier when I had moved into the apartment.
I had been living in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, since the beginning of
August, but for the first month, lived in the nurses' quarters of the hospital where I was employed as a teacher of nutrition and diet therapy. During that month, I spent all my free time looking for apartments, and it was a nursing teacher friend, who had told me there was one going in the complex that she and her husband lived in.
I had already arranged to share whatever apartment I found with Marcie - who was a college classmate of one of my dietitian friends from the year I had spent in New York. And Marcie, who was moving to Evanston from Pennsylvania, had been in Mexico on vacation when I moved in - so when I arrived with my three suitcases and a trunk, I looked rather worriedly at the three flights of outside steps I was going to have to lug everything up. But as luck would have it, there was a tall lanky young man washing his red Buick Skylark convertible in the alleyway where I parked my rented-for-the-day car. I don't really know what possessed me, basically a very shy person, to go up to him and ask him if he would help me carry my stuff up three flights. But he agreed, cheerfully enough.
He had rather shaggy looking reddish hair and pale blue eyes and he said his name was John McGinnety and he lived in the apartment house on the opposite side of the alley. I could tell he was not American by his accent, but to be honest, I had no idea where he came from - it might have been South Africa, or Australia, but in fact it turned out to be Newcastle, England. He was most amused by my not recognising his country of origin - and I liked him immediately. When he had finished my hard work and lugged my luggage up, I said that I would reward him, as soon as I could, with a beer for his efforts. He smiled and said he would look forward to it.
So that is what we were celebrating on this Labor Day. John was to come
and meet Marcie my roommate who had brought a bottle of tequila with her from Mexico, and we also had ice cream, and beer. John said would I mind if he brought his friend along who was going to be his flat-mate, as he called it, who had just arrived that day from England.
I had inherited the apartment (Marcie too of course but she hadn't been
around at the time I took it on) from a couple of young men who had planned on an extensive tour before they came back to look for someplace else to live. So they offered to sell me the two single beds, and the couch, but also to loan me their big brown leather chair, which they would pick up in a few months when they got settled. So our living room consisted of the couch which I had made a cover for out of blue and green flowered material from Woolworth's, my trunk which I covered with sticky backed plastic and used as a coffee table, a few travel posters we had stuck to the walls with blu-tack, and the big brown chair.
The newly arrived man from England, who was called Philip, sat down in the big leather chair. Marcie went to sit at his feet, and John and I settled on the couch. But I couldn't stop myself from looking at this new man. He was older than John and of stocky build. He was wearing the most extraordinary clothes. I have already told you how hot it was, and he had on a buttoned up long sleeved checked shirt, (with the sleeved rolled up) with a green knit tie. He had thick long pants on, and sandals with thick socks underneath. He looked so foreign and so hot. John, like the rest of us had shorts and t-shirts and sandals with no
socks on. But even though I thought he looked most odd, I couldn't help listening to him. He had the most beautiful voice I had ever heard. It was low and melodic, and ever so English. I certainly would never had taken him for an Australian. I kept wanting to listen into his conversation, rather than paying attention to what John had to say.
So the evening progressed. Some of us drank beer on its own. Some of us
had tequila on top of ice cream. But we all had a good time and agreed to meet again.
Marcie and I liked these men, and decided we would have to do some pretty
quick moves before some other American girls got them. Marcie had left a bricks and boards bookshelf at her previous apartment which was in Chicago proper, maybe five miles away. Neither of us owned a car, and we couldn't envisage carrying it all on the train. So we contacted the men, and asked if they would be prepared to move the stuff for us, and in return we would clean their apartment. They didn't have a vacuum cleaner and we did.
So they agreed, and a Saturday afternoon was chosen on for the move, with the cleaning to be done the next Saturday. Their apartment was the same size as ours - a living room, a dining room, which they had turned into Philip's bedroom, a bedroom, a bathroom and a small kitchen. We vacuumed, dusted and did a quick whip around their kitchen - leaving the bedrooms alone. But when we finished the job, Philip told us he would cook us a turkey dinner, while John took us out in his convertible for a ride along the Lake Drive. We were only a few blocks from Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes. I really wished Philip was coming with us too, and I did offer to stay behind and help with the
cooking, but he insisted that he preferred to do it by himself, in the English fashion.
The drive was lovely, but I think both Marcie and I had decided that we preferred Philip's company to John's - so when the hour or so tour was up, we were very pleased. And the meal was good - rather plain to our taste, but complete with bread sauce and stuffing - both which I declined. I felt Philip had signaled his lack of interest in us by staying behind, so the whole occasion was rather spoiled by that.
But we didn't give up easily. We belonged to a church related group where they were having a special showing a film about Jesus - very avant guard. Jesus looked like a thug in it, I remember. I looked it up. The Gospel According to St. Mathew, made by the Italian Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1964. It was in black and white, with very few known actors in it. Jesus was someone Passolini had picked out from a crowd, who had never acted before. Mary's mother - was Pasolini's mother. One film review decribes Jesus in the film as gentle at times, like the Sermon on the Mount, but most of the time, looking like a Marxist leader of a rebellion. I remember him looking angry and mean in the film. I didn't like it much - and I don't think the others did either. We often talked about religion, but neither of the men was a believer to the extent that Marcie and I were, and they delighted in trying to trip us up and question our blind faith.
After that, we still saw them occasionally but mostly getting together at our house. Once I tried to organise a bridge evening with some friends - hoping to have Philip as a partner - but when I called, I found out he had gone to Wisconsin to visit some relatives. But John volunteered to come in his place. The evening was ruined for me, and about this time, I realised that I really was getting serious about Philip, with very little response from him.
We did have both him and John over for bridge one evening - and Philip was very critical of something aspect of my strategy while playing . I was so taken aback - as I had been playing bridge for years and felt that I was a very good player. I then questioned whether he was the person I wanted after all.
But we made them chocolate chip cookies - and when we took them over,
they invited us over but we were fixed up to go out with a bunch of men from Not re Dame. What a disasterous evening that turned out to be. (Worthy of a story on its own, if only I could remember what happened.)
Another weekend and we were invited over again, for a party, and Marcie went, but I was the bridesmaid at my best friend's wedding in Indianapolis that weekend.
So finally we got to see them again, On Saturday November 8th for my 23rd birthday. There were about 10 people there, and I remember having a good time, and thinking Philip was taking more of an interest in me than before. I couldn't believe that I still had a chance.
On Sunday I ran into him outside the grocery store in the next block. He
looked at me, the way I probably looked at him, and I was so excited.