After his chauffeuring, driving lessons, hanging around our house, and more kissing he was officially my boyfriend. I couldn’t believe I had a boyfriend, me the ugly duckling. Actually, he was a man friend, someone well out of high school and old enough to drink. I didn’t care. He didn’t make fun of my appearance. At the end of my junior year, on my seventieth birthday, he asked me to see the musical movie Camelot at the classic California Theater on downtown’s First Street.
When he showed up at my front door wearing a tie and sports coat it announced my evening was a formal 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 two 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 two 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.
Double luck but why’d he squander fifty 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, however, the theater’s stereo speakers, big screen presentation, opulent art deco décor and opera like balcony provided a presentation not experienced at a drive-in or on a television screen. They lack a grand movie theater’s dark intimate connection with fellow viewers, a mystical connection only vaguely captured in modern multiplex theaters.
There was, however, smoke. Each seat had its little ash tray on an armrest. Many movie goers puffed away during a movie. To ask them not to would be met with an incredulous look, of, “What’s your problem?” Looking up, the smoke cloud result was evident as the projector’s flickering light passed through the haze on its way to the screen.
Seated together with popcorn and drinks, my mind wandered as the movie played.
What's the movie message, music, songs, love, love’s betrayal, happiness?
What do the simple folk do?
To me, it’s a Cinderella tale. Guenevere’s an idiot. What more does she want? How can she be unsatisfied? Sir Lancelot’s a liar and a betrayer. I’d be loyal to my king.
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 lyrics 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 the enemy bombers it was built for.
Dad took us on a family searchlight adventure. He drove us packed in the Buick, to its source which announced the momentous event of a new furniture store. Search lights, they’re just marketing gimmicks.
How about me? I yearn for a beam to pierce my night sky. Like Dad, I look for hidden meanings. Does the beam foretell an omen? Is it predicting a domestic furniture future for me?
He had a reservation at Original Joe's. With name confirmation, we were led from the crowded entry to a red leather upholstered booth.
Seated, we smiled at one another across the little round table. Relieved when the waiter interrupted, we ordered their signature custom made ravioli. Our orders taken, we returned to staring at one another as the waiters with one arm draped with a white towel rushed to and fro. Pasta at Original Joe’s came with a sniff of inexpensive sophistication. We piled on parmesan cheese and gobbled down seconds of bread which we dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar to ensure we got our money's worth.
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 maids naughty guest tales.
Interrupting my musings of silver and Mom’s maid tales he asked.
“Penny for your thoughts.”
My mind switched to him.
What’s he thinking? Why me? What’s he think about me?
“A penny, aren’t they worth a dollar, a silver dollar?”
Silver was stuck in my mind since the double luck of getting the two quarters. They were better than the movie or ravioli.
“Worth more than that to me.”
“I can’t believe I’m seventeen and going to be a senior.”
He kept staring as if trying to say something but stuttered something inane about King Arthur instead, 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.
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, one by a man. I sat silent then asked.
"You want to marry a skinny, just seventeen, Asian, still in high school?"
My question was in truth to me.
"Me, poor, high school girl, just turned seventeen, Asian, marry a white, a man five 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. Then 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 and pretended not to know the purpose of his visit.
He knew enough to ask Dad first and motioned him 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 only 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 wouldn’t 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, that Saturday morning, the day after my seventeenth 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.