WOSTER: The girl who said yes
This thing I write is called a personal column in the newspaper business. Since my publication date for this column is March 12, I can think of no more personal topic than the memory of March 12 in 1961 when Nancy Gust and I went to the movies together.
I know I’ve written about it before. Some people, I suppose, are sick of hearing that I remember the exact time of our first date. Look, I remember our wedding day, and the days each of our three children was born and the days when I first saw each of our five granddaughters. Those are incredible memories. None of them would have happened without that first, terrifying, exhilarating evening in March when I rang the doorbell at the Gust house and asked if Nancy was ready.
Whenever I’m asked about professional achievements (and it isn’t like I’m asked about them often, but if you live long enough and do the same thing for nearly the whole time you’re alive, somebody is going to ask, out of courtesy if nothing else) I reply that none of those professional things would have happened the way they did without my single, most telling personal achievement of that fi rst date with a dark-eyed, 15-year-old schoolgirl in Chamberlain.
She was going on 16. I had turned 17 a couple of months earlier. I’m surprised her parents thought she was old enough to date, although perhaps they thought I was a harmless enough nerd and couldn’t turn into too big a pest if we had a second date. Maybe her dad was lonesome for someone who would sit on the couch with him on Sunday evenings and watch “Bonanza’’ while we waited for his daughter to glide down the stairs. Or, perhaps it was as simple as fate.
Speaking of sitting on the couch with her dad and watching “Bonanza”? Well, I loved that program, with Pa and Hoss and Little Joe and Adam. And over the years, I grew to love Paul and Lorene Gust, Nancy’s parents. We did watch some TV together. But not the fi rst date. The first date, things had to be done correctly: the parents met, some conversation, all that.
These days, maybe I’d have been cool and gotten an online movie or something. Maybe we’d have texted back and forth, arranging the time and the event and all, without any intervention by parents or the girl’s bratty little brother. Maybe we’d have stayed in our own rooms in our own homes and Skyped as we each watched the movie separately.
Back in the Dark Ages, 1961, it took a personal telephone call to arrange the date on the Wednesday evening before March 12. That first call was the first time I’d ever dialed the Gust phone number. I remember the number and the sound of the rotary dial as I rang in each number. I think I hung up a few times in panic before the last digit, then berating myself for a coward and starting the dialing process again.
I think I used the phone in our upstairs bedroom. It was in my sisters’ bedroom, but my big sister was out and my kid sister agreed to leave the room. She and Nancy were friends. She knew what was up.
I prayed Nancy would answer. Sometimes God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. That wasn’t one of those times. Her mom answered. It took me forever to ask if her daughter was there.
I fought down panic as I waited for Nancy to pick up, and I stammered out the invitation to the movies. When she said she’d love to go, I hung up, triumphant. Then I realized I hadn’t set a time to pick her up. Calling back felt, uh, awkward.
Awkward doesn’t begin to describe the feeling of walking up the steps and across the imposing front porch of her house that next Sunday evening, of ringing the bell, of telling her mom I was Terry and of waiting forever for my date and our escape.
All these years later, I think back on that moment and still marvel that the girl said yes.