Web writes: "Former millworker, soldier, and a retired newspaper reporter and editor of 40 years. Now a book author of Christian literature, dividing time between Fairview, OR and Tucson, AZ."
I stumbled up the cathedral steps, stubbed my toe on
the top stair, and nearly fell on my face. Almost nobody noticed as they
rushed to get inside for the church choir concert.
One man, however, did notice with a grin “You all right?”
Myself —Johann Struedder, an aging athlete and retired book author of some 70 years of age—felt embarrassed, but managed “Oh yeah… it happens all the time.”
A lie. It doesn’t. Although I had to admit it has been happening more and more lately. My feet were poor and sore and still are. I have arthritis in my left ankle. And I unconsciously walk trying to protect my pods. This distracts me from what I am doing—walking or running.
I brushed aside such thoughts as I was eager—perhaps a little embarrassed with hopes Sheila didn’t recognize me in the crowd—to see the singer and witness her song. Oh what a looker and a lovely person!
You see, I had known her years earlier when we both were in a west coast college. I was now passing through Philadelphia, where she had moved about five years earlier to be near her grandchildren. She had been living on an island in Washington state’s rainy Puget Sound where until retirement she had been a botanist and oceanographer.
Eons ago, we had been fond of one another. As a matter of fact, I had been in love with her. And although we were close enough to where I could almost always determine what she was thinking, I never really was able to determine what she thought of me.
Strange. All these years later—darn near a half century— I cannot forget her
cheerful voice, her deep alto singing, her bright eyes, and cloying
curls. Plus her lovely face.
Oh, I knew she had been fond of me. And at the second college we both accidentally had ended up attending, I had kept running into her on campus, and one frosty morning she had come up to me as I walked between classes, buttoned up my jacket to the throat, and said in a bubbly mood, “Otherwise, you’ll catch frostbite of the trachea.” Moreover, she had continued showing up at social events at the fraternity house where I lived.
To this day, I still don’t think it had been by accident that she kept showing at social events, because usually these events had had nothing to do with her sorority. Yet, there she always had seemed to be.
I can remember one time when her sorority had been involved, however. She had been talking to a couple of her sorority sisters in my house’s drawing room. They had asked her a question, and she had quite demonstrably pointed me out. “Right there.”
My heart then had done a flip flop. Oh, I just had to have her in my life!
I had gone into la-la land—so in love had I been—that I don’t remember much about the remainder of the evening, nor what the occasion had been. A very pleasant memory nevertheless. Gaaaa.
A few months later, my local draft board had caught up with me, and had been about to draft me out of the Marine Reserve. Huh? Well, it had been a colossal mixup. But instead of fighting it, I had enlisted in the army.
She had written me occasionally when I was in the army. I remember having
lounged in a muddy ditch on manoeuvres one day when the mail had arrived. I had
received a letter from Sheila and her words had elevated me, right out of that
ditch to nirvana—a heavenly Shangri-la. Consequently, after the letter I had
just fogged my way through manoeuvres.
I well now remember that when I had gotten back to camp I had made arrangements to visit her at her sorority house when I passed through on my way home on leave.
I had arrived on campus early, and had been sitting along the campus’ main drag out in front of a popular student hangout, when I saw her and a curvy blonde across the street, moving in tandem down the 13th Street sidewalk. I had mentioned to the fellow with me at a sidewalk table, “There she is.”
“What a curvy blonde,” he had said.
“No. Not that one, the other one,” I had said.
Half embarrassed, he had retorted, “er uh, congratulations.”
About 20 heart-pounding minutes later—it had been perhaps the most important moment in my life—I had arrived at her sorority house. As a matter of fact, it was she who answered the door.
A fire was burning in the fireplace. Moreover—at least it so appeared—we had the house’s main living room to ourselves.
Oh, we had talked about this and that. People we knew. She even had mentioned that she had seen a mutual friend of ours, and that he had been still the same jerk as he always had been. Stuff like that.
I had been in no particular hurry. However, I figured she had to study. It had been late April and finals had been approaching. She was brilliant and had been a determined student.
Consequently, it wasn’t too long, before I had waxed serious. “I’m trying to find a way to keep you on ice until I can get back” (out of the army).
She had said quite seriously, “You’re not going to (be able to) do that.”
Although, I didn’t think I could live without her, her comments had not staggered me. Because I had been about to enter training for classified work, I couldn’t even tell her how long it would be.
However, I don’t think I had told her that. Yet her blunt comment still hadn’t bothered me.
I had regrouped “Well… I’m trying to determine whether you may still be available when I get back.”
She had looked at me with the most serious look—contrasting with her usual bubbly demeanor: giggly with both of us laughing. “I well may be.”
Silence. I had tried not to whimper with joy.
Her comments had been less than what I had hoped for but they certainly had been more than I expected.
I don’t remember leaving her sorority house. I cannot remember my trip
home. But I vaguely remember having skipped up 13th Street on my way to the bus
depot. Oh, just think, Sheila someday could be mine!
That—gasp!— was the last time I ever saw her. We both ended up marrying somebody else. Me first. I had married a foreigner for reasons I won’t bother to explain while being stationed near Boston. I had sent Sheila a letter, advising her of same, and I understand it had not set well with her. She had married another shortly thereafter.
Nevertheless, we had even written to one another a couple of times while we we’re each married to someone else.
That had to stop. And it did.
A few months still later, after arriving overseas, reality had hit me: What I
had done was terrible. It had been an insult to her and to God. I would never
have a chance for her again. I almost had cried myself to sleep several times
when I realized what I had done..
Fast forward a half century. I learned from friends that Sheila would be singing in this church. I decided to drop in and hear her in Philadelphia, as I was on my way to Baltimore.
At first I couldn’t pick her out. But then I could! She was at the back of the choir loft, looking somewhat similar to what I remember. And when it was her time to solo, she came forward, out in front of the large choir, and sang.
Oh! What an enchanting voice! Alto. My heart soared. It was starting all over again. I was enthralled. Afterwards, of course, she retreated to her place in the choir. But whoa! Who was that beautiful creature standing next to her? She, too, looked familiar. Then it hit me. It was her daughter, and she looked like a younger edition of Sheila, like the one
Oh, my heart ached.
I guess I was appearing as a loon. Because a man in the pew near me, came up to me afterwards.
“I saw you leering at Sheila. You pervert. I’ve never seen you in here before. Just in off the street? Who do you think you are, anyway?
He continued, “I ought to kick your butt!”
I admired his defence of Sheila, but that was too much. He was going to do what? He didn’t know it, but if it came to his trying to do so, I would’ve destroyed him.
I almost said something, but I was desperate to disappear because I didn’t want Sheila to recognize me. And the ruckus he was commencing was sure to guarantee that.
Not only would it be personally embarrassing for her to recognize me after all these years, I also didn’t want to ruin her day.
The guy moved toward me as if he was going to try to knock my block off, I quickly decided to bolt.
I whirled around, dodged a couple of parishioners, blew out the chancel doors, out the cathedral’s main door, stumbled down the steps, and started running. I ran all the way to my hotel room to get my valise, and then walked rapidly to the train depot.
I already had a ticket, and I jumped aboard the train as it was starting to move. This was an earlier one. I had planned on catching the express for Baltimore a couple of hours later.
It didn’t matter. I would call relatives in Baltimore when I got there.
As the train was rattling and jarring down the track, I did some powerful thinking: Do you know how many years it has been? You know it never would have worked anyway… She’s be graduating when you almost had to be starting over. You knew a guy in her home town wanted to marry her, and you know how you admired people who adored her.
Then: You can’t recapture the past. It’s gone. Forget it. ‘Tis very difficult to consider that despite strong feelings, some things just aren’t meant to be. This might be one of them. God has been protecting her.
Then I went into prayer: “Lord, please help me. I am crazy and desperate. I thought it was over with me. But apparently ‘tis not. It’s been a half century and I’m still not over her. Yes, I’m still in love with Sheila, although the 50 years may have changed her some. Please help me put this all into proper perspective.
And let me know when we are coming into Baltimore.
(© 2013 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)