After his chauffeuring, driving lessons, hanging around our house, and more kissing he was officially my boyfriend. At the end of my junior year, on my 17th birthday, he asked me to see the musical movie Camelot at the classic California Theater on downtown’s 1st Street.
At our front door, he showed up wearing a tie and sports coat which announced my evening was a formal birthday occasion. An elusive premonition overcame me as I changed clothes to more formal attire in my bedroom. Re-dressed, back in the living room, my perplexed conjecture was perhaps the evening included a special birthday present.
Downtown, he splurged and parked in an attended parking lot rather than drive blocks looking for a free space as normal. When the attendant gave him 2 quarters in change for his dollar I checked to see if they were silver ones which was disappearing from circulation. Double luck, both were silver. I proffered 2 replacements but he simply gave them to me. Instead of requisitioning them as additions to my silver coin stash I decided to convert them into a Kennedy silver half dollar for Mom thinking.
Double luck but why’d he squander 50 cents to park, then give me the quarters? Is he treating me like a queen in the movie? No, he’s afraid for his car. Downtown’s seedy now. Even Heart’s Department store’s closing.
The theater, now restored, was sinking into disrepair, the "old days" of ushers with cone flash lights guiding patrons to their seats a distant memory. Even in its faded glory the theater’s stereo speakers, big screen presentation, opulent art deco décor and opera like balcony provides a presentation not experienced at a drive-in or home TV video They lack a grand movie theater’s dark intimate connection with fellow viewers, a mystical connection only partially recaptured in modern multiplex theaters.
There was smoke, however, with a little ash tray for every seat on an armrest. Many patrons puffed away through a movie and to ask them not to would be met with an incredulous look, of “what’s your problem?” You could look up and see the smoke cloud result as the projector’s light passed through the haze on its way to the screen.
Seated together with popcorn and drinks, my mind wandered as the movie played.
Is there a message in the movie? It’s about love, love’s betrayal.
What do the simple folk do?
It’s a Cinderella story for me. Guenevere’s an idiot. What more does she want? How can she be an unsatisfied queen? Sir Lancelot’s a liar and betrayer.
After the show we strolled, hand in hand, among the First Street throng the couple blocks to Original Joe's, still a popular Italian restaurant landmark. The movie’s song versus flitted about in my mind as melody residue.
In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
Tra la! It's May!
The lusty month of May!
That lovely month when ev'ryone goes
I find humility means to be hurt
It's not the earth the meek inherit,
It's the dirt
That’s my inheritance, dirt. I’d never be Guenevere, a fool for Sir Lancelot. I’d be happily-ever-aftering, Queen of Camelot. Camelot would be my Cinderella story.
Down the street, a WWII era searchlight scanned the sky in front of a War Surplus store, the hum from its diesel generator faintly audible. Its light beam pierced the night sky in a rotating pattern, seeking shopping moths, not enemy bombers it was built for.
Dad took us on a family searchlight adventure. He drove us packed in the Buick, to a searchlight source, seeking the reason for the beam. He turned and turned to find perhaps a momentous event but ended up just driving by. The source was only a furniture marketing gimmick.
How about me? I yearn for a beam to pierce the night to reveal something for me. Like Dad, I’m always on the outlook for hidden meaning. Does the beam foretell an omen? Is there a momentous event tonight or just a furniture store drive-by?
He had a reservation at Original Joe's. With name confirmation, we were led from the crowded entry to a red leather upholstered booth.
Sitting there we smiled at one another over their signature custom made ravioli as the waiters with their arm draped white towels rushed to and fro to serve the crowd. Pasta at Original Joe’s came with a sniff of sophistication, a good deal for the money spent. We piled on parmesan cheese to get our money’s worth and gobbled down seconds of bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Next door was the Sainte Claire Hotel where Mom worked. After conversation skimming over the movie we sat silent.
Mom works so hard. She saves her Kennedy silver half dollars but never manages to fill her little stash box. How I love her, her and her naughty guest tales.
I smiled thinking of her being happy. Interrupting my musings of silver and Mom’s maid tales he asked.
“Penny for your thoughts.”
“A penny, aren’t they worth a dollar, a silver dollar?”
Silver was stuck in my mind since the double luck of getting the 2 quarters. They were better than the movie or ravioli.
“Worth more than that to me.”
“I can’t believe I’m 17 and I’m going to be a senior next year.”
He kept staring at me across the table as if trying to say something but stuttered something inane about King Arthur instead. Silent he continued to stare at me intently as if something was up. It was. At last I said.
“You want a picture of me?”
He returned his attention to his pasta dusting it with more parmesan cheese.
Getting dressed up, the paid parking lot, double silver quarters, movie theme, searchlight beam, Original Joe's ravioli and Mom’s Sainte Claire Hotel next door were omens but I didn’t connect them until now as I write.
After diner, parked in front of my house, he kissed me then kissed me again for reassurance. He pulled away, looked at me oddly, reached to the glove compartment, fumbled about, opened it and took out a small jewelry box. He handed it to me but said nothing. Opening it I saw a ring. Its little diamond light beam in a silver setting beaconed up.
Without taking it out I turned and asked.
"You want to go steady?"
"No, I want you to marry me."
Closing the box, I looked down in confusion, a tear in my eye, saying nothing.
"Are you saying no?"
A few months earlier I’d never been kissed. Now I was facing a marriage proposal. I sat silent then asked.
"You want to marry a skinny, just 17, Asian, still in high school?"
My question was in truth to me.
"Me, poor, high school girl, just turned 17, Asian, marry a white, a man 5 years older graduating from university?"
"When I first saw you, I wanted you. We won't marry until you graduate. I’ll have a good job. I know I can’t offer Camelot but give me time. Just nod yes."
I wouldn’t graduate for a year, a forever time to me then. Confused and seeking a diversion I replied.
"You need my parent's permission."
I gave back the ring.
"I'll ask them in the morning,"
He kissed me passionately for the first time as my breasts pushed up against him which he interpreted as consent to marriage. Breaking free I ran in the house. On my bed I tossed in confusion, still a girl, life changing too fast but wanting out of my house. The I realized it didn't matter.
My parents will say no.
The next morning, Saturday, he came. Dad was atypically home for the weekend. I stayed by the stove looking down, absentmindedly cooking breakfast with Dad, pretending not to know the purpose of his visit.
He knew enough to ask Dad first and motioned him away from the stove to the backyard as the house was too small for a private conversation. Dad, glad for an excuse to smoke, got his cigarettes and followed with his cup of tea.
I assumed Dad would say I was too young, still in school and he was not letting his daughter marry a white devil. Instead after Dad's cigarette and tea they returned with Dad nodding to me and smiling, his blessing. Next, he took Mom. It took longer and she returned crying but also nodding acquiescence.
He told them we would not marry until I graduated, he had a good job and he would "honor and protect" me. I suspected Dad's smiling was due to one less in the crowded house and the potential of a son-in-law to borrow from and Mom's tears of my not going to college were offset by my marring someone responsible, unlike Dad.
My brothers were excited at the potential of having their own bedrooms. No one asked if I agreed as they congratulated me while I served breakfast, stunned at the sudden change of my status.
So, it was, Saturday morning, the day after my 17th birthday, my fate was decided. I was engaged, a girl already taken, who in a year would leave home and school to become a man's wife, a man hardly known; it was as simple as that.
Suddenly home and school, my focal points, no longer mattered. They were only temporary lapses until marriage and having kids. I was "promised to another" and expected to be an adult but was still a girl. The parking lot, quarters, movie, searchlight, restaurant were omens. I just didn’t connect them. I mused.
What’s a simple folk girl to do? I’m engaged, a simple girl is getting married, that’s what I got to do.
Author Notes: Unexpectedly her parents consent to her engagement and suddenly her life is changed.