It had been an exciting, fun, terrifying, heartbreaking school year, and summer had finally arrived. 1968/69 took me away from home for the first time in my life, living in a college dorm, exploring my freedom, making new friends, and then, suddenly, losing my father to a short battle with cancer.
I needed a summer job. An acquaintance of my mom’s worked for an employment agency and found me one, with a small insurance company. By small, I mean very small. It was in an old building, a storefront, across from the El tracks in Oak Park. It was owned and operated by an elderly gentleman, his middle-aged son, and a secretary. I would type, answer phones, file – and I was to tell them I would not be returning to college in the fall.
I am NOT a good liar. I do not lie BUT, I needed the job. My father had died that spring and if I was to return to school, I needed money. A “sad sack” story of coed who needs the job to get the education.
They hired me. 9 to 5. I had a few dresses that were way too short, which was pointed out by Madame Secretary. She didn’t like my long hair, either. It was long. Very long, down my back, parted in the middle, straight and full. Did I say it was 1969? Most days, I pulled it back in a long ponytail. A compromise.
Madame Secretary gave me typing and other chores to do; the sort that one would expect for girl #2 in a one girl office. Thankfully, I never had to make the coffee. Mr. Johnson, who was really very nice, was Swedish, with a tiny bit of an accent, and he liked an egg cracked into the coffee grounds. He drank his coffee with a sugar cube (or more ) in his mouth, and I always felt I should bring him a tin of butter cookies, but, this was long before I became a good cook.
His son was looking toward new ventures and buying real-estate and such; the way father/son business relationships can sometimes go. I was tongue-tied and timid around him. I think this was my first realization in life that I related better to the grandparents of the world. Ha. I still do, which is probably just fine as I now am one.
June turned into July, July into August. I rode two busses from our apartment, transferring mid-route. I would go out and walk during my lunch hour, stopping at a drugstore for a treat or to call home on the pay phone, or, more often, call my Aunt Christina. She had a way of making me feel better about my circumstances, and, if that didn’t work, always had some choice comments about the boss (son) or the secretary.
I missed my college friends. Most of them lived several hours away. A few lived in the area, along with high school friends, but, even that was a challenge as I no longer lived in the same towns as they did. It was a lonely summer, but, one often spiced up with letters from friends, phone calls, and a few dates with a really cute guy I met just before classes ended that June. He lived in the southern suburbs and called me often on the phone. We went on quite a few dates, mostly to the movies, getting to know each other. He played guitar and had performed at his sister’s wedding that summer, which seemed pretty “cool” to me. Did I say he was really cute? and he was really tall.
As the summer wore down, those dog-days of August made the bus rides close to unbearable. I thought of my college chums and getting back to school and started fretting about what I was going to say to Madame Secretary and my bosses. It was mostly Mr. Johnson, the elder, that I felt badly about. He was such a charming gentleman. With only a few weeks left before I needed to pack up my belongings and head back downstate, I needed to come up with something to say; an excuse of why I would be leaving. They hired me as full-time with the understanding that I would not to be going back to school.
Oh, how I fretted! I don’t remember if it was one of my friends or just my own lame brainstorm, but, on a Monday in mid-August, wearing one of my shockingly short dresses, my hair long, still parted in the middle, and in PIGTAILS, I arrived at work. I sat at my desk, which was on the west side of the room (why do we remember such unnecessary stuff?) I told Madame Secretary, when she came in, that I had something to tell her. “Oh? What?”.
I told her I needed to give notice. I would be leaving in two weeks.
Why couldn’t that just be enough? She wanted to know why, of course, and that was when I blurted out “I’m getting married.”
“In two weeks?”
Once you start down the road of lies, it doesn’t get shorter, does it? No. It gets longer, with sharp, snaky turn and unexpected detours.
“Yes. I’m getting married.”
“In two weeks? Who are you marrying? I didn’t even know you had a boyfriend” “Who is he? What’s his name? Why so fast?”
“His name is Tom”. (I’d had a date with that cute, tall guy that weekend.)
Those two weeks were terrible. Madame Secretary pumped me with more questions than you can imagine, and she was angry, very angry with me for leaving, and the son wasn’t very nice, either. Mr. Johnson was as pleasant as ever and made a point of talking to me over his cup of coffee with a sugar cube in his mouth, every morning. I think he figured me out. His kindness was charitable and sweet.
As bad as the initial lie was, it grew, like Pinocchio’s nose. Where was the wedding? Would we have a honeymoon? Where? What did TOM do?
Oh, friends, it got worse. I counted the hours of each of those days through those two weeks of deception. I told Madame Secretary that we were having a small wedding in the Greek Orthodox Church (no one has a small wedding in a Greek Orthodox Church) and that we were going someplace in Wisconsin. I couldn’t even come up with a place in Wisconsin. I said that we were moving in with his parents (whom I hadn’t even met).
Madame Secretary wanted to know what the color scheme of our bedroom would be. l said pink, while turning pink!! Really. Could I have said anything else? Pink! Pink? I was evasive in my answers, and can only imagine what they thought of me. Actually, I realized that what they thought of me was probably that I was pregnant and that we would be deposited in his sister’s bedroom. Remember. She had gotten married that summer.
So, on the last day of work in that storefront office, with old wood floors and coffee percolating, Madame Secretary informed me I could leave early (for I was getting married that weekend). Oh, the web we weave . . .
They called me to the back room and we all had coffee and cake, in honor of me and the groom, and engaged in unbearably uncomfortable small talk. Then, they handed me a nicely wrapped wedding gift!
. . . and that, my friends, is how I came to receive a lava lamp!
I did send a thank you card, as Mr. and Mrs., and, to add to my crimes, I spelled the last name wrong.
(Oh, and yes, four years late I married the cute guy, and four years after that, I had that baby.)
Read Full Post »