"Do I even remotely look good?"
I responded without thinking, "Yeah, sure - very remotely."
I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I meant to say, "Yes, very good", but I couldn't convince Dad of that. Still, he laughed good-naturedly, gave me a pat on the back for my home run sarcasm, and left to pick up his lovely lady.
But now, just look: these many years later when I am still rotten but no longer a teenager, it makes for an introduction of sorts to this tale of how he felt he was a dweeb's dweeb as a young man, but he still managed to meet my beautiful mother.
My mother always told me that I probably wouldn't marry before I turned thirty, I suppose because of the fact that I've always been disposed to deal with the exigencies of life in a pragmatic manner rather than a romantic one. In general, I was inclined to agree with her (I found teen-aged girls to be confusing, exasperating, and less interesting than a game of chess or even a good book).
In the summer after I turned eighteen, however, I found myself living alone. My parents were traveling in the east with my younger sisters, my older brother was also in the east, at college, and my eldest brother had long since finished college, moved away and started his own life. I intended to work for a year before going on to some sort of higher learning myself. So – there I was, alone, working six days a week, maintaining a silent residence at night.
Now, I have always thrived on routine. All that summer I went to work at seven every morning, got off precisely at six every evening, and twenty minutes later was seated in my car at the drive-in, ordering the same meal – hamburger w/ketchup, mustard, and pickles only, medium fries, and a chocolate shake.
One evening, I pulled in and parked as usual. Before I could lean out the window and punch the buzzer to order, I found my meal being delivered.
The girl shrugged. “The manager says you always get the same thing at the same time, so why make you wait? Here it is.”
After she walked away, I looked down and considered my meal, and the thought came into my head uninvited. I'm far too young to be in a rut like this – I think I want a wife. Yes, that was it. No lightning bolt, no shock, no rumble of thunder; just an abrupt urge to not be alone – and maybe get the chance to eat a home-cooked meal again.
So, every evening for the next week or so, I went to the library and read books on marriage. And women. Yes, I read books on sex, too. I mean, you never know, I might actually find a wife and there were things I would need to know which, until now, I had been disinclined to learn. My research taught me, among other things, that for a young man of my disposition to find contentment in the marital state, my ideal bride would be exactly seven inches shorter than me – in other words, I needed to find about five feet, five and one-half inches of woman. After thinking about it, and as a purely personal preference, I also decided that I wanted her to be a stunning beauty.
Armed with knowledge, I set off on my bride-finding search. First, I scoured churches, then hunted through shopping malls, drive-ins, department stores – any place where a young and unattached woman might work or frequent. Despite the fact that many people, including myself, considered me to be a total dweeb, I had surprising good luck. Across the course of that summer, I dated twenty-five or thirty different girls, aged sixteen-to-eighteen.
I discovered that all the girls that caught my fancy were invariably pretty, fair-skinned, dark-haired, and dark-eyed. I also discovered, usually after just a single date, that after catching my fancy, most of them did not hold it. In a couple of cases, I don't know why the girl didn't interest me for the long term; she just didn't.
So, inevitably, I moved on. You see, I wasn't looking for a fun time, but rather for a serious relationship that would last a lifetime. Ultimately, I set seventeen as an absolute minimum age (sixteen-year-olds would require too long a wait). And I eventually had to widen the scope of my search to take in distant towns and cities. As a result of my rapid movement through the available young women in my region, I soon acquired a reputation as a “wolf”. Now, seriously, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who is less of a ladies man than Yours Truly. Cary Grant, I am not. Even Cary Grant's ugly cousin, I am not.
Summer turned into autumn, autumn became winter. My nineteenth birthday approached.
The day came when my endeavors ground to a halt. You see, I was born and raised in one of the least-populated regions of the nation, where the countryside is vast and towns and cities are few and widely spaced. The distances eventually became too great, and there were mountain ranges or broad rivers between me and any new territory – as well as tons of snow. I became despondent, for by now my quest had become an urgent thing. I really wanted a wife.
At the time, I was working with another young man who, if anything – and sadly – was even dweebier than I was. And he was just about the last person I thought would be on first name basis with any eligible – or pretty – girls. But I was desperate. We had been carpooling and it was his turn to drive. As I exited the car after work one night in January, I turned back and looked at him.
“Carl,” I asked. “Do you know any girls I could date?”
“Uh, yeah,” he replied diffidently. “You know the Asher girls?”
I frowned at him. “Asher? Any relation to Jim and Art?”
“Yeah, their sisters.”
“They don't have sisters,” I protested. “I know – I've been to their house a thousand times.”
Carl shrugged. “Yes, they do – Karen and Stephie – younger sisters.”
Now this was interesting for two reasons, both of them connected to Jim, the eldest of the two Asher brothers. Art and I had been friends, working together in the orchards the previous summer. He was a year older than me and had gone into the Navy after graduation. Jim, two years older than Art, had been in the Navy for three years now, but had left behind a local legacy. While Art was known as a tough guy, Jim – well, Jim was a Greek god. Tall, golden-haired, well-built, and handsome, he had broken every young female heart in the valley at one time or another. To us younger guys, Jim was everyone's elder brother, but to the girls? He was more than Cary Grant – he was Dash Riprock. In fact, that's what we all called him.
His charm and irresistibility to females can be easily demonstrated by a single incident.
One day, a few years earlier, I had been working in an orchard beyond the outskirts of town. My old car had refused to start and I was walking into town to get one of my older brothers, both of whom knew more about cars than I did, to take me back out and try and get the old beast going. A mile or so from home, a car pulled up alongside and stopped. It was Dash. He leaned out the driver-side window, his broad, handsome face lit up with beautific smile.
“Hey, Danny – need a ride?”
I stared in disbelief. “Are you kidding?”
I mean, besides Dash, there were 8-12 girls in that car, a '58 Chevy two-door sedan. I couldn't get an accurate count, for there were arms, legs, and pony-tailed heads protruding from every one of the car's window.s. The young ladies didn't seem to mind the crush of numerous rivals for the object of their affection, so long as they could be close to Dash.
I pointed at the front of the car and laughed. “Should I ride on the hood?”
He glanced around. “I'm sure we can get you in.”
“It's okay, Dash,” I said, shaking my head. “It's not far now.”
He shot me that dazzling smile. “Suit yourself, kid. See you later.”
So, my thinking (remember the two things?) when Carl told me of the younger female Asher siblings went like this: If good looks like Jim's ran in the family, at least one of Dash Riprock's sisters was bound to be very pretty. The second thing was that – as the girls were his sisters – I wouldn't have to be in competition with him, a contest I would lose on every level.
I looked at Carl. “You know these girls?”
“Sure, I go to church with them. I've been trying to date Karen for the longest time. If you could ask out Stephie, Karen might agree to go along with me on a double date, 'cuz Stephie's too young to go out alone.”
“Wait – how young is she?”
He considered. “Seventeen, I think, or pretty close, anyway.”
“That's okay, I guess. When can we meet them?”
Carl brightened. “I'll set it up.”
He did set it up, for the following Wednesday evening. When he came by to pick me up, however, his mood was glum. He looked over at me with downcast eyes. “Your reputation tripped me up,” he stated accusingly.
“What do you mean?”
“You're something of a wolf, remember? Well, Stephie's too scared to go out with you – so she wants to go out with me. Anyway, Karen agreed to meet you and see what she thinks.”
“How old is Karen?”
“Eighteen, I think – I'm not sure.”
“You wanna forget the whole thing?” I asked.
His eyes went wide. “No – hell, no! Any time I can get a girl to go out with me, I'm not passing that up – and neither should you.”
I shrugged. “Alright – let's go meet 'em.”
I had never met Jim and Art's parents despite having been at that house several times in the past. Mr. Asher turned out to be a handsome, suave, sophisticated, knowledgeable sort of gentleman that I liked right away. Basically, he was just an older version of Jim. Within minutes, we were talking politics, local affairs, even global affairs. I could tell that he liked me well enough, too. Mrs. Asher was a sweet, gentle soul, dark-haired, very pretty.
After a while, Stephie came down the stairs and into the room. She was tall, slim, blonde, and pretty; obviously Jim's sister in every respect. Strangely, though, she did nothing for me.
She glanced doubtfully over at me, and then made for the couch where Carl sat. “Hi, Carl,” she said brightly.
“Oh, well, hi,” he replied, blinking, trying to stand, failing utterly. Evidently, dressed up and dolled up, she did plenty for him that heretofore he hadn't noticed.
Mr. Asher turned to his wife. “See what's keeping Karen, will you, dear?”
Mrs. Asher went over and called up the stairs. “Karen – your young man is here.”
A moment later, she descended the stairs, rounded the corner, and entered the room.
I don't remember standing. I mean, I always stand in the presence of ladies – I had stood earlier when introduced to Mrs. Asher – but this time I was propelled upward as if by an unseen, unknown, very powerful force.
Never had my eyes beheld such stunning, absolute, exquisite beauty. Top to toe, from the soft, dark hair that fell gently about her alabaster face, from her enormous, dark eyes, perfect nose and rose-petal mouth to her delicate hands and feet, she looked like God's finest, most perfect creation.
My bones abruptly assumed the consistency of over-cooked pasta. My heart caught its breath and held it, and my brain froze.
“My daughter, Karen,” Mr. Asher said.
I tried to speak, but I doubt if it was a successful attempt. My mouth seemed to be filled with an immovable wooden substance where my tongue should have been.
She tilted her head slightly, smiled and spoke. “I'm pleased to meet you.” Oh, what a marvelously sweet and pleasant voice! When she spoke, it was like the sound rendered by the lilting breezes of Spring as they move softly through the branches of the willows along the gentle, sun-dappled waters of the stream. Well, sure, I can wax poetic now. At the time, I must have appeared the complete dolt, stupefied, unable to speak, or think, or even blink.
I do remember feeling utterly deflated. She was so far out of my league that I might as well have been a Martian stranded on Venus. For me to ask her out would be like asking the Princess not only to kiss the frog but to do so with the understanding that there was absolutely no chance he would ever turn into a Prince.
Finally, Mr. Asher tired of my mute immobility. “So – are you kids going out Friday night?”
Astonishingly, Karen looked at me, smiled again, and said, “Sure.”
Are you kidding? I thought. I mean, you must know what you look like – have you taken a really good look at me?
Well, we did go out. She even sat close to me in the back of Carl's Thunderbird on the way over to Boise. During the movie, the original Poseidon Adventure, there's a scene where a man unexpectedly falls to his death into burning oil. Startled, Karen jumped and moved closer. Instinctively, I slipped my arm around the back of her chair and found myself willing to sacrifice every single actor on the screen. Let them die horribly, if it meant that this lovely creature would turn to me for solace.
Crossing the parking lot after the show, I drew in a deep breath, screwed up my courage, and reached down for her hand. As her fingers intertwined with mine fire shot up the length of my arm and sent my heart racing. Forty years on, it still hasn't slowed down.
Seven months later, to my utter amazement, she agreed to marry me.
Here she is today, as beautiful as ever, tilting her head slightly as she smiles at me and melts my heart.
Oh, yes, and by the way, she is exactly five feet, five and one-half inches tall. Don't tell me research doesn't pay off.