This story accompanies a page I made recently. The photo reminded my Dad that he had not ever written this story. Since it pertains to my very existence...I'm thinking it will do nicely for Sian's Precious Theme over at Story Telling Sunday. Not exactly Irish, but maybe Russian and for sure Peruvian.....
The 8AM class was invented to separate the lazy from the committed in college. Since it was my first semester at the College of Forestry at Syracuse University, I'd convinced myself to be committed and signed up for Professor William's Principles of Land Use course. Actually, the course was required for graduation, so I really had little choice but to take it. Since it was only offered 8AM, that too presented little choice.
Making it to class on time meant that I needed to drag myself out of bed before 5 o'clock, shower and eat, drive an hour to Syracuse (I'd decided to live at home this semester and commute to school), find a place to park my car (always a huge challenge) then walk as much as a half-mile to Marshall Hall to get to class. I had transferred to Syracuse mid-year from a Civil Engineering program at a local Community College. It was early January, so negotiating winter roads added time to my drive. Given all of that, I'd made it to my first class a few minutes early and settled into a seat near the back. Quickly the room filled. By the time Professor Williams entered the class, all seats were occupied, except the one next to where I was sitting. Professor Williams had just introduced himself when the classroom door opened and an out-of-breath young woman entered. She apologized for disrupting the class, scanned the space and located the unoccupied chair next to mine.
She was a vision. I was stunned. She wore a long, red woolen coat, her long brown hair emerged from beneath a cream-colored Russian babushka and streamed halfway down her back. I watched her, open mouth, make her way to the seat next to mine. From that very moment I was hopelessly in love.
I tried to concentrate on the professor's lecture, but found myself continually glancing at the goddess sitting at my side. Consequently most of the hour's lesson was lost to me. During the last ten minutes of the class, in my head I practiced how to introduce myself to her. However as soon as class ended, she stood up and quickly disappeared from the room. I followed her outside but only caught a glance of the babushka and the long, red coat as it rounded the adjacent building. She was gone.
I wasn't completely sure, but I think I saw the babushka the next day across the huge auditorium in the Science building where I was taking Introductory Geology, with 450 other students. It may have been my hopeful imagination. I know I couldn't get her out of my mind.
Wednesday, the previous sequence of events at Professor William's class repeated. She apologetically entered the class late and found the only empty seat, though this time it was nowhere near where I was sitting. I stared at her long hair the entire lecture. When class was over, she was gone in a flash. I had absolutely no idea of what that hour's lecture was about.
That afternoon I'd scheduled Geology lab. It was a three hour session and she was there. My shyness kept me from approaching her while graduate students gave the demonstration. As soon as they dismissed the group, she vanished.
Friday, I dutifully attended Professor William's 8 o'clock. This time I draped my coat on the seat next to mine and when she came in, I quickly retrieved my coat. She noticed the empty the seat and sat there. Again, my attention was not with the lecture. I was swooning inside and kept checking that I was not visibly drooling, smitten as I was. At the end of class I stabbed my hand toward her to introduce myself, hoping we'd shake hands. She ignored my outstretched hand, uttered a barely audible "hello" and left the room.
I thought about her all weekend, the sight of the babushka and her long hair streaming down the back of that long, red coat were etched in my mind.
I successfully replicated my "empty seat" ploy again at Monday's class. She sat next to me. I promised myself that I would listen to the lecture this time. Good thing. At the end of the class, she asked me a question about something Professor Williams had said and I knew the answer. She thanked me and turned to leave. Stifling a back-flip of excitement, I asked if I could walk her to her next class. She agreed, telling me that I'd need to walk fast. She had another class in ten minutes. Quickly we walked across campus together, formally introducing ourselves and chatting a little. I was totally intimidated by her presence, I'd put her on a pedestal since our first encounter. I tried to contain my exuberance though I'm sure I babbled more that I should have. My boots barely touched the sidewalk as I sprinted back across campus, late for my next class, after leaving her at the rear entrance to the Hall of Languages building.
I saw the babushka across the room at Tuesday's Introduction to Geology lecture, but was unable to find her after class. I did the seat saving exercise at Professor William's class on Wednesday and she sat next to me. Again I walked her across campus and sprinted back, late for my next class. That afternoon, in Geology lab, she was saving me a seat when I got there. I could hardly contain myself, checking for drool again during the class. I knew that I must have had a noticeable, stupid-ass smile on my face the entire time. Near the end of the lab, the instructor suggested that we form two-person teams for the remainder of the semester. She asked if I would be her lab partner, stating that she'd seen that I could do the complex Math the next labs required (yea, engineering school) and that she was terrible with numbers. Of course, I agreed, trying to contain my giddiness.
We began a friendship. Gretchen was her name. One morning, mid-semester, I arrived in Syracuse early and began my quest to find place to park my car. Slowly trolling for an vacant parking spot on the street, I saw my new friend walking to class. She recognized me and motioned to a driveway next to a two story house and to the empty garage beyond. She lived in an apartment on the second floor of this house and the garage was part of her rent. Neither she or her roommate had a car so the garage was unused. She was certain it would be OK for me to park there. What a find for me. By this time I had accumulated more than a dozen parking tickets from the City of Syracuse for illegally putting my car where the city could profit from where it was parked. So far I owed Syracuse $75. Having a free, off-street place to park was a huge benefit, aside from the fact that it belonged to the lady I was terribly smitten with. I parked in her garage for the rest of the semester and Gretchen and I walked to class together every day. She walked. I floated.
Winter turned to spring and the long, red coat and babushka were put away in moth balls for the year. We parted the last day of classes in May as good pals, she to Lake George to work for the summer, me back home to a summer job. I was in love. She, I'm not so sure. I thought about her all summer, really thought about her. I couldn't get her and the long, red coat and the Russian babushka out of my mind. We had no contact all summer.
It was the last day of August or the first or second day in September. I had the day off from my job and gave in to the uncontrollable urge to drive to Syracuse late in the afternoon. My instinct was to drive the street near her apartment to look to see if she had returned for the fall semester. No luck. She was not there. I was leaving the area when I passed a decrepit, gray Valiant coming up University Avenue and I recognized Gretchen as the driver. She hadn't seen me. I turned my car around and followed her to the driveway at her apartment. After an awkward moment and a totally half-assed explanation as to why I was in Syracuse, she asked me to help unload her car. It took multiple trips to her second floor apartment before the car was unloaded and the unpacking started.
She offered me dinner. Her choices were hotdogs or liver. I was so happy to be with her again that my response to her choice was:
"Whatever you would like to make."
I really didn't care what she made for dinner. I had the incredible luck to be with her again. We had reestablished a connection and there was no way I was going to screw it up, hopefully. Dinner was liver. I hate liver. Couldn't eat a bite. Thought I'd screwed it up. Fortunately she was not offended. She laughed. In fact, we both laughed. I spent the night.
We have been together since then. It has been a superbly incredible trip. I love this lady. The babushka is gone, as is the long, red coat. We can't remember where the coat went, but recall that the babushka was left at the Catholic priest's place when we were preparing to get married, never to be seen again.
We tied the knot after finishing college and have been blissfully married for forty years.
Fast forward. We were in Cusco, Peru this past September. The tour we were on stopped at a Llama farm and we walked among and fed the llamas, alpacas and vicunas. Attached to the farm was a state-of-the art retail store with a huge number of items made from the wool of the animals we'd just seen.
We were wondering through the store separately. I hate to shop. I was in a remote corner of the place when I heard Gretchen bellow...."Bruce"!
"Come here," the reply.
I found her on the lower level, surrounded by several of our tour companions, modeling a vicuna fur hat. It was an uncanny replica of the Russian babushka that was her signature so many years ago. I shivered and had an instant recall of seeing her for the first time in Professor William's class. I fell in love with her all over again. Of course she bought that new hat and got a pretty good deal on the price, as well.
Gretchen wore that babushka on the mini-bus for the next leg of our trip, a huge smile lit her face...a smile reminiscent of the one I imagine that I had on my face the first time she sat next to me in that 8 o'clock class.