Prime Time: The miracle that did happen
"Horny but inexperienced, socially inept, healthy but non-athletic, near-sighted, bright, studious, tee-totaling, non-smoking, nominally Christian white male, almost 19, B-plus sophomore at Cornell University, seeks com-passionate, charitable, bright, studious, socially mature, lovable, non-smoking, unattached coed, 18 or so. Object: conversation, cuddling, eventual marriage."
Dating websites didn't exist when I was 18; date bureaus then managed with only U.S. mail and telephones. I never used one, but that "date bureau ad" describes me to a tee in fall '48. I was not looking to marry soon, but my eventual goal was stable marriage with maybe two kids.
I did not seem headed in that direction. In Manhattan's Greenwich Village I had spent fifth grade through high school infatuated with a pretty and bright girl, "Gianetta" but, as I noted here in October 2000, "she didn't reciprocate." I think she'd recognize the website "ad" above. She found me one of the more interesting males in the crowd we ran with, but only for intellectual, platonic reasons.
I had two or three dates as a Cornell freshman, more or less because I thought I should ask someone out, but they fizzled. It didn't help that mid-century Cornell policy kept the male:female ratio at 4:1. It's now roughly 1:1.
As a freshman, I had joined Independent Council (IC), an organization for students not affiliated with fraternities or sororities, and I continued in IC as a sophomore. Sometime in fall semester '48, Elaine Willis, a freshman coed (neither term is now politically correct) joined IC. She fit the "charitable, socially mature, bright, non-smoking" categories nicely. She was also pretty enough, but I was obviously attracted primarily to her delightful personality, not her looks. When I mentioned her to my roommate, he asked what her hair color was. I said brown. Elaine was a redhead. Once that was pointed out to me, I decided she had blue eyes. They were brown.
But there was Bradford. Much of the time she was with "Bradford Gansevoort," who was headed for a business career. They seemed to be going steady, but I still enjoyed Elaine's company. I just wished she weren't already spoken for by a fellow student in the College of Arts and Sciences. (I was in the Ag school, because that's where the wildlife conservation major was.) Elaine was pre-med, and probably would major in chem or zoology in the Arts College. I had to take some Arts College courses, and actually bumped into Elaine frequently, usually unaccompanied.
One way IC raised money and provided social activity for independents was to show rented movies. I was helping out at a movie one early spring '49 evening, and Elaine showed up, but with "Clem," a sophomore Aggie. So, she wasn't going steady with Bradford. I soon asked her out, and we hit it off well, better than I expected. Turned out she was much less interested in Bradford than he thought. By the end of spring semester, we were an item.
Elaine was from Brewster, N.Y, three local stops on the New York Central line south of Pawling. I wrote about Pawling in the Pioneer's Community Journal in December 1998. Green Mountain Lake Farms, Consolidated Edison's convalescent home for recuperating employees, was just north of Pawling. I had glanced at Brewster's peculiar bank occupying a full small city block by the train station scores of times, never dreaming my future wife lived a half mile east.
That summer, Elaine worked the ticket booth at the Putnam County Playhouse, a summer theater in the nearby town of Carmel, and I worked as an assistant mammal keeper at the Bronx Zoo. We wrote lots of letters, and even made some long distance phone calls. We each visited the other's home once, and really went steady the next year. But Elaine had changed to pre-nursing, and transferred to Cornell Nursing School in Manhattan in fall '50, so my senior year, we only saw each other occasionally.
I went on active duty as a U.S. Air Force second lieutenant in June '51, and lucked out. They stationed me at Mitchel Field, only an hour from Manhattan via the Long Island Railroad. We married in spring '52. I may get this column to my favorite editor before April 26, our 59th anniversary.
Last March, I reported that, during Elaine's terminal illness, a friend said she would "pray for a MIRACLE." I added, "That miracle didn't happen, but one already had." I didn't learn of it until Elaine owned up after I'd returned from overseas.
She had known my '48-'49 class schedule; she planned those "bump into" occasions She'd gotten Clem to take her out so I'd realize she wasn't "spoken for." Elaine had actually been attracted to this "inexperienced, socially inept" lad as much as he was to her. I was incredibly blessed.
Evan Hazard, a retired Bemidji State University biology professor, also writes "Northland Stargazing" the fourth Friday of each month.