| Strangers in the Night
My parents met each other on St. Valentine’s day, 1962. They met at a bar in the San Fernando Valley. My mom was there to meet a date. She was then a 34-year-old divorced mother of four who lived with her kids at her parents’ house.
Parents don’t like to talk to their kids about the people they dated before they met their final mate. It’s as though they would rather not show their work in solving an algebra problem. My mom was a little more forthcoming about her pre-marriage experiences than my father was. I know she dated Johnny Grant, the recently deceased “mayor of Hollywood,” who she described as “all hands.” Hearing that ended my line of questioning for the day.
Still, I was the kind of kid who wanted to get to the very root of my origins, the point at which chance comes into play: that night, a bar, the San Fernando valley.
My dad was 26 at the time — eight years younger than she. He was working for the L.A. school district as a custodian (janitor) and going to night school to get a degree in geography. He was living with his parents at the time — he had moved to the area eight years previously from North Dakota — and he was soon to buy a house on the same street, just a few houses down.
I picture them both, in this bar, in a semi-rural suburb of Los Angeles, orange trees and tract houses, chatting with each other while she waits for her date to arrive. My father, probably post-break-up and my mother, post-divorce. They’re drinking martinis or scotch-and-sodas. The guy my mother is waiting for, whoever he is, calls and asks for her. He’s running late, he says. He wants to meet somewhere else.
No, she says. No. She’s not going somewhere else. She’s waited for him this long, and she’s talking to another guy at the bar anyway and, well, he can just take a long walk off a short pier.
And that’s it. The future starts. My father gets her phone number, one that strangely starts with a word, like TOrrington 7-5309. That night starts a chain reaction of step-children, marriage, my sister, myself, looking after ailing and dying parents, a move, retirement, another move to a new state, and death — all of it over 40 years.
A flat tire, a newspaper article, even a head cold could have made it all happen differently. They’re both gone now, which is the trouble of being born to older parents. The advantage of being born to older parents, though, is that they’re wiser and less likely to fly off the handle. My life has been made easy by older siblings who smoothed out the rough edges new parents always start with.
I miss them both very much. Whether they’re together in the afterlife or together in oblivion, I know they are together.
photo credit: Cocktails 4 Two by gwENvision