I made a deal with my parents to go home for a year after college, after my graduation present of an 8 week post tour of England, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and France –now ready again for visitors. I was to join the Junior League, improve my bridge so I could play civilized grown-up bridge, and let everyone “savor the results of all that Eastern education.” Somewhat to everyone’s surprise, I loved the League provisional course and all I was doing and learning so I stayed home in West Virginia a second year, beginning, however, that fall of 1950, to plan for my “future” which we all recognized would involve leaving Fairmont. To my shock and outrage, Harvard Business School snottily declined my request for an application as “Women are not admitted.” (As women could not enter until the fall of 1963 my scorn of “that stuffy male chauvinistsl debating club” seemed amply proven.) My father, a Yale Law School graduate who firmly believed I could do anything I really wanted to do, urged law school as an equally useful training for business, gamely accepted the cost of an extra year of schooling and generous loving father that he was, if he hoped I would apply to Yale rather than Harvard, he never said a word about it, recognizing, perhaps, it was a choice of Boston over New Haven rather than Harvard over Yale.
Jump to a Friday night in mid-May 1951, in Crestwood, NY where I was a houseguest of Ted and Sallie Brophy, who had invited another Smith classmate and her husband for dinner and a law school/law firm friend of Ted’s for me to meet and to even numbers. I had been told that the friend was “very good looking and a wonderful dancer” (these from Sallie so ballroom not ballet) and “a terrific tennis player with a wonderful sense of humor – someone I really like” according to Ted. As Ted and friend came through the front door I came out of the master bedroom where a phone call from my excited parents had announced a fat envelope from Harvard Law School, which when ripped open invited me to attend. Heady with my success, I looked at the tall, dark-eyed man with Ted and thought “He’s not so handsome: he looks like Daddy’s pictures when he was young” and then was amused by remembering old wive’s tales about girls marrying men who reminded them of their father. But in conversation after dinner Howdy quizzed me about why Harvard Law, why law, and proved himself to be one of those wonderful men who really listen to your answers and respond to them rather than just waiting to say what they plan to say next. By evening’s end, I thought him more likeable and attractive than anyone I had previously gone out with, and, really, remarkably good looking, as well!
Why was I going to law school in Boston when this man was in New York and when I had a solid invitation to make a fourth with 3 New York based Smith friends in their new apartment for four come September? Why indeed! I tossed and turned the required eight hours, woke up knowing what I must do and managed not to let Sallie worm my decision out of me. I had known Sallie since second grade in Fairmont and knew she suspected my problem.
I cautiously deferred my law school entrance for a year, moved to New York in September,and began to hunt for a job. Giving up my chance to be the first Smith graduate also to graduate from Harvard Law School – I was the first Smithie to apply – was the only real regret my decision produced. However, I pursued my chosen course enthusiastically, and with great determination and only one major lie. The week after meeting Howdy, staying as planned all along with my future roommates in New York, I called Howdy and invited him to use a spare theater ticket that night as my theater companion and friend had a nasty sore throat and cough. The sick friend was a fraud but Howdy had to work so I didn’t have to spring for an extra seat for her. We gave a housewarming party in October and I, of course, invited him– he was off to Baltimore for the weekend. In November I saw him at Princeton where I’d gone to the Yale-Princeton game and said a friendly “Hello, Howdy” as I passed within two feet of him. He looked startled, could clearly not remember my name and possibly even me, and I moped the whole way to the city in the car with my Yale educated date so deep in despair over the 0-27 score he never noticed. Fortunately my social life had picked up as I was out of ideas for further pursuit.
In March, when another Harvard Law classmate of Howdy’s was coming from Boston to see me for the weekend but staying with Howdy, Howdy called on Monday to invite me to come to a little cocktail party he and his roommate were giving. Could he finally be asking me for a date, I wondered? After thinking hard and fast and then remembering his nice manners, I said “I think we’d love to.” A long silence followed that apparently unexpected response and then “Who is ‘we’? ” Howdy asked cautiously. “Jack, of course,” I said. “He’s coming down to see me, you know.” Howdy had not known. Hesitation “Oh. Uh, we were going to ask him and his date anyway!” he said, but it did feel odd on Saturday night at the St. Regis Maisonette where we all ended up for dinner and dancing, to be seated between Jack and Howdy and hold hands with Jack aware that Howdy had noticed this.
ABANDONING THE CHASE:
So when in June Sallie called to ask me to a house party at Ted’s parents cottage in the Catskills and asked whom they should invite for me, the only single invitee, I said “Anyone but Howdy Marshall!” “I thought you really liked him,” Sallie said, surprised. “I do”, I admitted “but he’ll think I put you up to it and I’ve made every move the law allows and do not want to give him that satisfaction.” “Okay”, said my good friend, sounding reluctant, “I’ll tell Ted.” A week later she called back to report. “Bad news. Ted saw Howdy at work, wanted him for a tennis partner and asked him anyway I’m really sorry, P” She sounded anything but. Fighting down a surge of hope, myself, I assured Sallie that perhaps it would work out for the best, praying it would but doubting it very much.
A SELFISH CHOICE OR A SCHEME AFOOT?
Howdy picked me up on Friday, July 11, after work and we chatted pleasantly for the two hour run to Merriewold.There were three couples plus Howdy and me and we had a delightful time together with good weather, good sports, collaborative good food and lots of somewhat uncomfortable sly teasing of the “marriage hold-outs”. Saturday night Howdy paddled me around the small lake, mainly focusing on a huge beaver lodge we were both fascinated by. Getting closer than the sentry beaver thought safe, we were drenched by a mighty tail slap right next to the canoe and as the mountain night was cooling, my teeth started to chatter. Back on the dock, Howdy grabbed a dry blanket we had not thought we’d want and draped it over my shoulders, apologizing for having caused us a soaking. I reminded him I wanted to see as closely as he did and “I could have stopped you from getting too near if I had wanted to” Howdy grinned skeptically at me, “You could?” he said. “Well, maybe,” I said less assuredly. “Yes, maybe” he allowed, smiling.
Talk on the trip back to the city flowed easily and clearly we had become friends over the weekend. We worked only a few blocks apart and when Howdy called me for lunch together on Tuesday, it was the beginning of perhaps the happiest summer of my life.
Lawyer as Pilot in a Favorite Rhode Island Farmer’s Field
DUH It was only when writing this that it suddenly became crystal clear that Sallie and Ted connived and lied and never intended to invite anyone but Howdy Marshall as my “date” that July weekend 65 years ago. I have totally believed the story about Ted’s preferred “tennis partner” all those years! No wonder they have been so proud of their matchmaking – they hatched a highly successful scheme. So today is my major Memorial Day when I think of clever Sallie and Ted and the wonderful best friend and husband they found for me. Sure beat law school!
For those of you who get hung-up on details, I’m pretty sure I told Harvard I wasn’t coming. I’m absolutely sure that despite our best efforts, it often takes a little help from our friends to arrive at the chosen goal post. More at nearly ninety than ever before! Be good to your friends, ALL your friends. Back on Friday – see you? p