It started out as an ordinary day, that is if any day could be ordinary for Cindy. Cindy, who only yesterday, it seemed, walked down the aisle with Hal, the love of her very young life.
Their story became the stuff of family legend. Hal was the bank president's son and their only child, a cool, poised teenager, new to the community, but already at ease in the high school whose movers and shakers had soon realized that this 12th grader would make a name for himself. And that he did. A bit over six feet, blue eyes, a somewhat square face, auburn hair worn short, perhaps to appease his parents, but he never admitted that, nor did his new friends ever ask him. Too light for football, not tall enough for basketball, but looking as if he could be a star at track and field—in fact the coach once almost begged him to try out for the 440 yard dash.
"Thanks, coach," Hal had answered, "but with my studies, my job at the bank, and Cindy, I wouldn't have the time."
Hal did well in his new school, seemingly making the honor roll with ease, making, too, frequent almost-half court baskets in gym classes, and even holding his own in occasional Indian wrestling during lunch hours.
It wasn't easy to be the only child of one of the megabank's rising stars. The family had already moved twice since Hal's grade school years, but, somehow, Hal had always mastered the challenges of a new school, and making new friends ... then leaving them when his dad was assigned greater responsibilities—in a different community. There were girls, of course, he noticed—and who noticed him—but the time to be serious, well it was not early adolescence, at least for Hal, who of course was expected to graduate from a Princeton, Yale, Cornell, Duke, Virginia, or some like school he might think he selected, but which his parents would subtly choose for him.
But then, as Robert Burns phrased it, but in Scots dialect, "the best laid plans..." One day, during the lunch period, and in his school two, sometimes three, grades had lunch periods together, Hal happened to glance at a girl, not in any of his classes, although he recognized text books as those used by college-bound 12th graders. Her poise, her walk, her voice, which he strained to hear, and her bubbly personality, which even from a distance was evident, caught and kept Hal's attention. She was tall, but not as tall as he was, with darker blonde hair worn long, and with strands never out of place even when she left her seat, or shifted attention from a friend on her left to one to her right. Sometimes, Hal realized later, she wore earrings, but they were frequently hidden by her long hair. Hal noticed her, one of several score girls in the cafeteria during his lunchtime, but, initially, said nothing, did nothing.
But then, maybe a week later, Hal saw that same girl, this time sitting at a nearby table, and made his move. "Hi, whoever you are," he said, as the cafeteria was emptying and students started heading to their individual classes.
"Well, hi," she responded, "whoever you are." And they parted, but not before she said, "I'm Cindy," and he said, almost simultaneously, "I'm Hal."
And next day, during lunch with his friends—all male, of course—Hal said to Jim, already a close friend, though they had first met in the English lit class they both shared, "See that girl over there, I am going to marry her!!"
Not quite one year later, what he predicted would occur, did occur. Actually, they were never sure if he asked her to marry her, or if each assumed it would happen, and the only question was "When will we marry?"
There was something special about Cindy, and Hal, though in many ways a typical adolescent, sensed it and, from the start, treated her just a bit differently in their occasional banter, mostly in the lunch room, but sometimes in hallways between classes. Their first date, he realized why she seemed special.
"Hal, you will meet my parents, of course, and I will never speak to you again if you say—or think—a comment such as 'Are you Cindy's grandparents?'"
When he met them, he understood why. They looked old, sounded old, yet radiated a welcoming graciousness that soon put him at ease, making it easy for him to avoid commenting, for instance, about the black-and-white photograph of a very young G I Joe standing near what was surely a World War II-era tank.
After they headed towards the school, and a somewhat ordinary high school basketball game that was their first date, Cindy explained things. "You now know that I am an only child. I was 'a gift from God', my mother tells me many a time. My mom was 47, my dad, well he was close to 60 when I was born. And if I am 'a gift from God', I have a lot to live up to. So do you, Hal, if we date more than once."
Cindy remembered, when she said that to Hal, they had been holding hands. "Gee, Cindy," he had replied, "can we at least hold hands?"
"Yes ... but, don't get too many other ideas!"
That first date, there was a good night kiss, and Hal remembered how natural it was, holding her tight during that kiss, feeling the swell of her breasts against his chest, but releasing her with a sigh when the porch light went on and she said, "Hal, I guess I must go. It was fun."
Days and weeks passed, and they went out, once in a while—sometimes walking or taking the bus, sometimes driving when Hal borrowed his parents' car. They went to movies, holding hands in the theater, although sometimes they gently cuddled, Hal's arm on her right shoulder, occasionally nearing her right breast. They went on bowling dates, in fact one time she borrowed a large rubber band from management to make her hair into a ponytail after he teased her about its motion when she released the ball. Their scores were only so-so, his almost always higher, and their drinks were ginger ale, with French fries as a side dish—one time he fed her one, then "happened" to smear a bit of catsup on her chin. She laughed, then dared him to kiss it off. He did!!
Winter came, and Christmas approached.
"Dad," Hal said at suppertime. "I want to get Cindy some earrings for Christmas. Can you help me?"
"Ah, the magical Cindy ... do you suppose we might meet her sometime?"
Hal had hoped his dad might give him a few extra dollars, but, instead, he was told, "Stop in at the corner jeweler's, ask for the owner—you might remember him from seeing him in the bank from time to time—and tell him what you want."
This was one of the times Hal was grateful for his after-school work at the bank. He occasionally had a teller's window, but usually worked behind the scenes. As a teller, he was patient with older customers, but felt a bit ill-at-ease when a classmate or friend from church came to the window because even a slight glimpse into their finances seemed intrusive. His dad kept an eye on him, and was pleased by the quality of his work. So, asking to speak to the owner of a jewelry store was something Hal felt he could carry off, and he did, quite successfully. He left the store, a tiny package beautifully wrapped, and promising to tell his dad the jeweler had asked him to "say Happy Holidays" to him if the two did not cross paths during coming days.
In the package, two tiny pearl earrings. Hal hoped Cindy would like them. Hal knew, or sensed, he might have gotten them at a bargain price. He realized he was right when his dad said to him, "Did you find something nice for Cindy, I told the owner you might be coming in."
One thing Hal had learned about his new community—families celebrate Christmas in wildly different ways. Some go all out for ostentatious exterior house decorations, others stress exchanging gifts, and some of his classmates bragged already about what would be under the tree for them. What Cindy did for Christmas, Hal did not know, but he soon would find out.
"Cindy, can I stop over Christmas Day?" Hal asked during one of the occasional times he walked her home from school. She lived somewhat near the school, and the bus stopped nearby, so Hal could ride home or to the bank, benefitting from a student pass discount.
Cindy explained her family's Christmas. "We get up early, play Christmas music, then I help Mom with Christmas dinner. I set the table with special china and give it a festive appearance. I have done this since I was little, and it has become a Christmas tradition. We go to church, then have dinner, open the rest of our presents, and then Dad goes to his desk and writes special letters." Those letters, Hal later learned, were to a couple of fellow soldiers he kept in touch with for many years, and two widows, each widowed during the Battle of the Bulge, a terrible, terrible battle about which, apparently, Cindy's dad never commented.
"But," she added, "come over for a few moments on Christmas Eve, you can help us decorate the tree."
"Daaad," the conversation started, and when it was over Hal was promised the car, for an hour or so during Christmas Eve, to be with "the magical Cindy".
Hal drove over to Cindy's Christmas Eve, rang the doorbell, and was greeted not by Cindy, but her father. A handshake seemed natural, and then the two of them walked into the living room, where the tree was standing, some lights already on it, a few decorations hanging from lower branches. And, for about half an hour, the four of them—for Cindy and her mom soon joined them—hung icicles, threaded lights from bottom to top of the tree—no two lights of the same color next to each other—and added ornaments. Some were old looking, in fact Cindy was once warned, "Be careful, dear, that ornament is one of those we bought our first Christmas together."
.... There is more of this story ...