I sat last November with my friend Barbara Stewart, aged 89, trading tales. The porch of the assisted-living home was chilly. I helped her secure the chin snaps on her blue coat, which covered her so that only her face peeped out. Her enormous sunglasses made her look like a bug.
"I get awfully sentimental about all the things I've lost," she said.
I nodded. She had lost her husband, Jim; her Victorian house; many of her memories; and the ability to write. But enough about her, she said. She wanted to hear about me.
I, wonder of wonders, was going to a Christmas ball in a few weeks.
I mentioned that when the boy asked me I had my high heels in my hands, for I was walking down the sidewalk and they made my feet ache.
Her life as the wife of a farmer had left her with stiff practicality, and her Cornell education had left her with an adamantine wit.
"You deserved it," said Barbara. "Those things could kill you."
I told her that when he asked I had slipped into my habit of verbal prayer and cried, "Thank you, God!" right there in the middle of the sidewalk.
"You must be controlled," said Barbara.
I sat mock prim in my lawn chair.
I could tell she felt my humor, though she didn't laugh. "But don't be a stick," she added. "I don't think boys like sticks."
She sat back in her chair, finally opening a soft spot for my story. "Oh that's good stuff," she said.
Last week, after I had parasailed across campus clinging to the earlobes of James Joyce, I found a note. I had been asked to the spring ball. The young man had even embraced the difficulty of writing poetry and rhyming with Chelsea, which joins purple, orange, silver, and month in having virtually no companions.
As I sit here writing in the stairwell, a freshman girl is about to enter the building. She pauses at the door, talking to a young man who has planted a paper invitation at the first railing. She's about to come in.
I hold my breath as I watch.
And she says yes.
Thank you, God. Now if only we females could indulge in Queen Esther's year of preparatory bubble baths.
This college is like a hospital. A family of approximately 400, it contains enough kindness to rehabilitate us from old wounds. The rehabilitation, it seems, involves transforming us into young men and women who can get along slickly at balls.
May we control ourselves, and not be sticks. In this particular juggle of hearts may none of ours get dropped.
Winks, one and all. I owe Barbara Stewart a phone call.