It happened at a dance. A girl - my mother - and 6 of her brothers and sisters were treating their mother to a night out for her birthday. The year was 1963. The place they chose had a live band - Latin music. My mother was 18, but still lorded over by her old-school, Caribbean parents the way most 14 year olds are.
A young man entered the nightclub, flanked by his best friend. The young man looked around the room and spotted the petite, young woman whose hair was bleached blonde and teased for maximum volume, as was the style of the day. He watched her for a while and noticed that she wasn't dancing. Waiting until the older couple at the table - her parents? - were out of sight, he approached and asked her to dance. She politely turned him down, explaining that she wasn't allowed to dance with anyone but her brothers. The young woman next to her - clearly her sister, and clearly less interested in the rules - nudged her and pointed out that mother and father were out of sight and no one would have to know she'd danced with a stranger. And that's how the first dance happened. Just like that.
They danced a dance, and the boy introduced himself, handing the girl a business card with his photograph printed on one side, and his phone number on the other. She laughed at his audacity. He explained that he worked as a photographic print man, and had printed up dozens of these as a gag. She could tell he was only half kidding, but she liked him, anyhow. He was a good dancer. He had good manners. He was funny. He was handsome, with a thick head of black hair. He was well-dressed. He was a gentleman, especially when he asked to see her again. She refused, though, knowing that her father would never allow it. Could he call her? No, she answered, her parents wouldn't be any happier about calls from a strange young man. She had his number, he said, would she call him? She made no promises as she walked away and headed back to her table before her parents noticed what she was up to.
When he left the nightclub, the young man turned to his best friend and said, "That girl I was dancing with - the blonde? I'm going to marry her." The friend just laughed, but my father wasn't joking.
Days later, urged on by her sister who found the idea of a handsome stranger impossible to resist, the girl phoned the boy from a pay phone at the candy story down the block from her family's apartment. They spoke until her change ran out. The next day, she called him again. This time she brought a whole roll of nickels. He asked to take her on a date. She declined: strict parents, six brothers. The boy figured out a way they could see each other without being caught: he'd pick her up at work (having just graduated high school, she worked as a typist in the city), walk her to the subway, and ride home to Brooklyn with her. When they got to her stop, she'd get off and go home, and he'd turn around and go back to his own home in The Bronx.
They did this every weekday for weeks. In this way - riding the subway from City Hall to 4th Avenue in Brooklyn - they got to know one another. A few times they threw hazard to the wind and stopped for a soda before heading to Brooklyn. If she was a few minutes late going home, she could always blame the subway. Once, they even found a way to sneak off for a day at Coney Island. It became a familiar routine, this meeting in secret, but one the boy wasn't interested in keeping up forever.
One day when the boy picked the girl up at her job he made a blunt proposal: agree to marry him, or end this business of secret phone calls and covert subway rides, and stop seeing him, altogether. He'd come into some money, he explained - enough to have rented an apartment and paid the rent for several months in advance. They could get married and start their life together right away. She said yes. Leaving her parents a note written in crayon (she couldn't find a pen), the boy and girl eloped.
Years later, my mother told me that she'd said yes thinking that it had sounded like an adventure, and that she'd fully expected it all to be over in a month or two - a youthful whim. An experiment. Sowing wild oats.
My parents met on June 1st, 1963 and eloped on August 14th, 1963. The experiment, it would seem, was a success. Today would have been their 47th wedding anniversary.
© 2010 Lana M. Nieves
Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves