Sunday, June 24, 2012

1966: Family Gathering

Dating is a lot like shopping.  Women shop differently than men.  Women, as has been pointed out by others more qualified than I, are gatherers.  They go out into the field, these days known as a mall, and cover every inch of it, searching for their treasures with great care.  When they find their potential prize, women scrutinize it, analyze it, weigh it, feel of it, smell it, think they like it, consider buying it, then, question their decision, make a mental benchmark and move on to the next shop.  They repeat this process until they either find an item that exceeds the benchmark or, if not, return to purchase the original item.  Then, sometimes, they take the prize home, try it out and decide it is not what they really want and return it; starting the process all over again.

Men, on the other hand, are hunters.  We go out, see the first thing that resembles what we want, bag it and go home.  Go in and get out, take it home, don’t think twice, nice and simple.

From the first date with Vicki, I saw what I wanted and that was it for me.  It took her a little longer.   After our first informal meeting at the Holiday House, we had four more incredible dates over the next several weekends.  So I guess it was inevitable that I would receive an invitation to a family dinner at her home.  Though somewhat nervous, I really couldn’t wait.  Sunday was another really hot day for the first week in October.  It was about 95 degrees with 98 % humidity.  I arrived on time and Vicki answered the door.  The first thing I noticed was the wonderfully delicious smells that came through the front door.  ‘Good home cooking was on the way’, I thought.  Inside I met Vicki’s mother, Ruby, and her father, Dan.  I liked Ruby right from the start.  She had the cutest, thick Texas accent and was friendly and welcoming.  I could tell there was hardly ever a stranger in her home, especially someone invited there by any of her four children.  It also occurred to me that she must be over 40 and, if her daughter took after her, Vicki was going to be a very beautiful woman for a very long time. Dan was a big man with huge hands and thick fingers.  By his handshake I could tell that years of wielding a hawk and trowel, the tools of the plasterer’s trade, had made a very powerful man out of him.  Although it struck me he had a very gentle disposition.

The Matthews house was a modest structure with a small combination living room and dining room.  It was neat and clean but the furniture looked a little warn and the walls were ready for another coat of paint.  Oh, and the house had no air conditioning.  The only method of temperature control was a huge “swamp cooler” hung in the living room window on the side of the house. 

Now, since the advent of electric air conditioning, evaporative coolers were pretty much a thing of the past.  I thought the best chance of seeing one might be in a small, backwoods house in Mississippi or Alabama, possibly, but not in a town the size of Austin.  The principle of a swamp cooler is to constantly run water over a filter media, usually Tectum, while a fan pulls air over the surface.  The evaporation of the water cools the air, slightly, and the fan then picks up the moisture laden air and funnels it into the house.  Few moving parts, inexpensive, albeit, somewhat crude.  There was one major drawback, however, which I noticed the second I was offered a seat on the sofa. 

The entire piece of furniture was covered with water.  I’m not talking just damp here, I mean it was wet.  At first I thought I must have sat in something which had gotten spilled by one of the kid’s moments before I walked in the door.  Then I realized it was the swamp cooler.  Everything in the room was wet and moisture hung in the air almost like a thick invisible fog.  After a few minutes, it was soaking into my pants and through my shirt back.  No one seemed to notice but me so I just tried to put it out of my mind.

The conversation was going quite smoothly, I thought.  Ruby was doing most of the talking, asking me about school, my major, my jobs, my parents.  She was actually a skilled inquisitor without seeming like one.  Just as I was explaining about my parents living in Waco and how we got there from Southern California, a medium-sized black poodle came racing into the room and leapt up in my lap.  “Twinkle”, Ruby scolded the playful dog, “Get down from there”.  I was about to say it was alright and I love dogs but then it hit me like a baseball bat between the eyes.  What the hell was this awful odor?  It smelled like a cross between rotten eggs and a bad fart.  ‘What is wrong with this dog?!?’ I thought as I returned the dogs advances by scratching him behind the ear while trying not to puke. 

“Get down, Twinkle”, Vicki commanded in a tone of voice I had not heard from her before.  If I was a dog, I would have jumped down instantly just like Twinkle did.  Vicki leaned over to me and in a low voice, almost like she didn’t want to embarrass the dog, said, “He’s got a hormonal problem”.  ‘Thank, God’, I thought, ‘better that than something had crawled up inside of him and died’.

I looked down at my light yellow shirt and it was covered with short curly black hairs.  'Great,' I thought, 'he smells bad and he sheds.'  This dog didn’t have a lot going for him.  I also noticed that now the front of my shirt was damp because the swamp cooler had coated the dog too.  I wondered to myself if this was what it was like living in the Everglades.

My concentration was broken by the entrance of Vicki’s three siblings.  I was introduced to Ruth Evelyn first.  “Everyone calls me Ruthie”, she said.  She was thin and attractive and quiet.  Then there was David.  He was a strapping boy with a burr haircut and obviously in that awkward age of early adolescence where his feet were too big for his body.  He shook my hand firmly though and then didn’t take his eyes off of me the rest of the afternoon.  He was a boy of few words except when the opportunity presented itself to tease his little sister.  Patricia was a really cute little blonde girl who listened attentively and was very well behaved unless David was teasing her.  Typical family.

The food was amazing.  Fried chicken with country gravy, about ten pounds of mash potatoes, with a stick of butter melting on top, black-eyed peas cooked with bone-in ham, green beans cooked with chunks of thick-sliced bacon, a wonderful Jell-O and whipped cream type salad and big glasses of ice tea.  Then out came the dessert.  It was a huge slice of homemade apple pie (my favorite) with Blue Bell vanilla ice cream.  There were two pies.  I had a small piece of the chocolate cream pie too.  It was one of the best meals I had eaten in my life and sure as heck beat my usual poor student diet.  I was so stuffed.  I kept thinking a woman who can cook this good most certainly would have taught her daughter everything she knows.

After the fine meal, Vicki and I took a little drive out around south Austin, enjoying the gorgeous day and ignoring the heat.   I complimented her family and the meal and everything else I could think of.  I wanted this girl to like me.  No, I wanted this girl to love me.

We parked outside her house for about an hour, listening to the radio.  “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys and “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles confirmed we loved the same kind of music.  She had to go to work early the next day and I had to pay serious attention to the fall semester.  I just wanted to be around her, talk to her, smell her, touch her and feel her touch for as long and as often as I could.  We kissed very tenderly and I walked her to the door.  “Can I see you next weekend?”, I asked. 

“I would love that”, she said.  “LOVE THAT”, again!  A tingle of joy went up my spine and I thought this must be what love is like.

As I drove away headed back to campus, I said to myself and knew in my heart, this would be the girl I would marry.  But women shop differently than men.

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