Probably a few words about myself are needed to set the full flavor of this story. I am a bit south of 40, just over six feet tall, no glasses, brownish hair, and I am starting to lose the battle of pulling out gray hairs. I must have a good genetic heritage, for my weight stays around 170, whether I skimp meals during summer months or eat heartily from Thanksgiving to New Year's festivities. I am branch manager at two decent-sized banks in nearby, also decent-sized, villages, and I cannot go in local bars or taverns because inevitably someone will recognize me, later gossip, but seek investment tips or help with a loan or mortgage application. And, of course, bank executives do not buy drinks or make passes at lovely ladies sitting on barstools in those taverns. Which is one reason why I haven't remarried. Or maybe I am just a bit gun shy, for my future wife and I met in college, the marriage lasted not quite seven years, and I should have realized the quiet beauty of the village could not overcome the glamour of the affluent suburbia that had been her home before college.
That my wife carried to term a beautiful baby girl that our doctor said would probably —and did—die during or just after childbirth haunted the two of us, and probably hastened our marriage's end. We still send each other Christmas cards, not that it matters.
On both sides of the family, I am first-born of the generation, I do have one brother, and a number of cousins. It was the funeral of a cousin's in-law that I had attended, and because that in-law, an older woman, had been very gracious in the aftermath of the car accident that killed my parents, I felt I should be present at her funeral. So I drove the several hundred miles to another small town, this one east of Utica, found myself strangely moved when the funeral service included one hymn, "How Great Thou Art," which had been sung at my parents' funeral, and felt I had done my duty and that my presence was appreciated.
Driving back, I picked up Route 104, parts of it known to upstaters as "the Ridge Road", did a decent job of finding music on various FM stations, and almost did not hear the sound of metal hitting blacktop as I drove over railroad tracks. In Oswego I stopped for gas because prices were a bit below what was charged near home, and took a look at my muffler. It was sagging, just a bit, as if a clamp was missing or something like that had occurred.
"Does that muffler shop do good work at fair prices?" I asked the cashier after I had filled up. Assured that it did, I stopped in, the attendant told me it was a minor repair, and he would be done in about an hour. I said I would be back, and went for a walk, saw a Tim Hortons, but also noticed a sign pointing towards a decent-sized church where a bloodmobile was being held. I figured I could give blood within an hour and enjoy their cookies, lemonade or apple juice, so I checked my billfold, found my blood donor card, and walked over to the bloodmobile, one of the few times—other than funerals—that I had been in a Catholic church.
There was a moderate queue, but, in most cases, prospective donors moved quickly. One girl, initially six or so donors ahead of me, was struggling with the sign-in procedure, for she obviously was new to being a blood donor. Finally, they gave her a temporary card, told her to take a loose-leaf booklet of procedures and questions, and to come back after she had read through it. She seemed a bit flustered at all the pages in the booklet, so, with my booklet in hand, I dared to sit next to her.
"Excuse me, but is this your first time donating?" I asked her. She looked up, not quite sure if she was pleased someone noticed her confusion, and uncertain how to respond to a stranger. But she smiled cautiously and said, "Is it that obvious?"
She had to be at least 17, maybe a bit older, and I wondered if she knew how beautiful her shy smile made her look. Let me describe Kathy, for I later learned that is her name. She is five foot five, maybe five foot six ... Her hair is dark red, certainly not brown, and she has awesome green eyes, a few freckles on her face and arms—maybe also elsewhere, I caught myself wondering. Her lips, I thought, beg to be kissed, and I expect they have been, at least a few times. In today's world of flaunted cleavage, she wore a long-sleeved blouse, three buttons at top, only the top one undone. I thought the long sleeves this August day meant she might worry about being seen wearing a bandage on her arm after giving blood, and I was right, I later learned.
So I helped her with the booklet, mentioning that there would be many questions she would have to answer, and she could respond using a laptop or telling answers to a nurse. "Which is easier?" she asked, and I sensed this very attractive young girl had decided she could trust me.
Maybe 10 minutes later, she and I had entered in our laptops answers to a slew of somewhat personal questions, and she was walking towards one of the donor stations.
"Let him be next to me when I give," she said to the nurse, and, realizing I was the "him", I said to my nurse, "Is that okay?" It was, so I got on the cot next to her.
"They had to take my pulse twice," she admitted, "the first time it was a bit too high.
And my blood pressure, it was 120 something."
"I would almost kill to have blood pressure that low," I told her. "By the way, my name is Hal," I added, saying that if we were giving blood side by side we should at least know each other's names.
"H-Hal," she said, "I'm Kathy," and I noticed she stuttered a bit saying my name.
They took my pint out of me a few minutes before Kathy's nurse said, "There, you're done now, that wasn't so bad, was it?"
"No, he ... Hal, helped me," and I knew she had remembered and appreciated the time I reached out to touch her arm a few minutes after they started drawing her blood.
"That music is beautiful," Kathy had said maybe a minute after I had touched her arm. It was the same FM station I had had driving towards Oswego.
"That's 'Only You', the instrumental version," I told her. "The Platters made it popular earlier, Frank Pourcel's version was a cover."
"You're so smart,." she said, and then she added, "My mother loves the Platters and the Righteous Brothers, but I don't know them, they aren't my generation. And of course she loves Elvis, and the Beatles, everyone did back then."
"You forgot Frank Sinatra," I added.
"How did you know?"
"Sinatra sang to everybody,"
These words about music were spoken softly, as Kathy and I each squeezed our tennis balls, and I sensed she had become less nervous about her first-ever blood donation.
It had been awhile since I gave blood, and when I did I felt free to flirt with the nurses, after all they were not local, but sometimes as far away as Syracuse or Buffalo. This time, though, it was young Kathy who caught my eye and, surprisingly, she seemed at ease with my attention.
Usually, a nurse or nursing aide escorts the donor to the refreshment table after the needle is withdrawn, the bandage applied, and the donor helped up and escorted to the refreshment table. Different nurses were tending separately to Kathy and to me, and so we happened to get up within brief seconds of each other.
"Let me escort her," I said to Kathy's nurse, and, surprisingly, she let me. I wasn't sure how to do it, but I decided to hold her hand as we walked. I took her left hand, her non-donor arm, and, hand-in-hand, we went to the table, yes sat side by side.
The bloodmobile aide smiled at each of us, probably thinking something such as "A bit unusual, sir," then offered Kathy packages of cookies, including a packet of raisins.
"In about a week, I might need raisins, but not now." Then Kathy blushed just a bit, sensing I knew she was referring to perhaps the iron lost each month. She took Oreos, I chose fig newtons, and when she said, "Those look good," I said, "Let's share." And we did, one Oreo traded for a fig newton.
Then personal questions started flowing, and it was as if the two of us were all alone. We weren't, of course, and as Kathy was saying something such as "My mother told me this story..." she stopped, realizing others were in hearing range. I had told her of my divorce after mentioning the daughter we lost, so she knew, well, my attention to her wasn't betraying a wife.
"Can we go now?" I asked the aide, an older man, and with an understanding smile he said, "Sure".