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Connie Francis: “Gee Will I Ever Get Married?”

Connie Francis sat at the kitchen table, sipping coffee, eating cake and leisurely thumbing through the paper, while her mother made dinner. She stopped at the Society page and stared thoughtfully. One face seemed especially familiar. Sure enough, it was her old Junior High School friend, Linda Simon. “Hey, Mom!” Connie exclaimed excitedly. “Guess what? Linda Simon is engaged.” Mrs. Franconero turned from the stove. “How nice, Dear,” she said. “To whom?”

An Engineer,” Connie said. “From Newark.” And she smiled softly to herself as she remembered how she and Linda used to sit at this same table in Connie’s old house in Newark and drink soda pop as they sighed over that cute boy who sat in front of them in Math class, or giggled as they mapped out their strategy to snare him. Connie laughed to herself remembering it all so clearly.

She fumbled in a drawer in the table, found a pair of scissors and carefully cut out the story and photo. The clipping would have to go into her Memory Drawer. She pushed back her chair, got up and headed for her bedroom. She pulled out the top drawer of her bureau, set it on her bed and stood there, contemplating her Memory Drawer. Stacked neatly in it were reminders of all the milestones, big and small in her life. Each dusty, fading keepsake had a special meaning; they were keys that opened long-sealed doors to let her enter a world that was no more, and walk through memory lanes—and laugh a little and cry a little. . . .

Twelve years ago, she had come home from the dentist with the first tooth she’d ever had pulled wrapped in tissue paper. She’d dumped some scarves and belts out of this drawer, put the tooth right in the middle and started her collection. Over the years, it had piled higher and higher, until now, the drawer was almost full. Paradoxically, she rarely looked through the drawer, because, as she often told friends, “I don’t like to live in the past; it depresses me.”

But somehow, today, she wanted to roll back the years and dust off the old memories and visit old friends and half-forgotten places. And she wanted to be all by herself while she reminisced.

So she poked her head around the stair-well and called to her mother in the kitchen, “Mom, I’m gonna take a little drive before dinner. Okay?”

“Be careful, Connie,” her mother called back. “And try to be home by six in time for dinner.”

“I will,” Connie replied. She picked up the drawer, carried it down the back stairs to the garage and gently placed it on the front seat of the family car. She slid in beside it, gunned the motor, backed out of the driveway, drove slowly through the quiet residential area until she reached her favorite spot—a shady little glen just on the outskirts of town. This was her favorite retreat, her own little island, which she’d discovered quite by accident right after her family had moved to Bloomfield, N. J., two years ago. There was a little brook that hissed and gurgled, and massive oak trees with big, knotty roots. The trees and bushes muted traffic noises from the highway beyond and it was almost like being shut off from the rest of the world in a cool, green sanctuary.

She shut off the motor, lowered the car radio and sank down on the seat until the back of her head rested against its top. The top of the convertible was down and she could look up and up into the blue sky. She sighed and breathed deeply. It all smelled so nice and fresh and clean.

Inside the Memory Drawer

She wriggled around to a sideways position, drew her knees up onto the seat, tucked one leg under the other and pulled the Memory Drawer closer to her. She plunged her hand into it and, rummaging around near the bottom, fished out a packet of yellowing, brittle paper dolls. She removed the clips that held them together and spread them out on her lap. There were the Jane Powells and the Betty Grables and the Rita Hayworths—all in different “outfits.” When she was a kid it had been a big fad to cut these paper model dolls out. For some reason, it wasn’t the size of your collection that mattered as much as whether or not your dolls had the most valuable clothes.

She grinned delightedly as she remembered the clever bit of bargaining she did with one of her girlfriends to get the Rita Hayworth with the glamorous gown. She’d pointed out with innocent logic that since this girl had two Rita Hayworths and she, Connie, had two Jane Powells—why didn’t they just switch dolls? She had to add a “furpiece” to the Jane Powell doll to clinch the trade—but even so, she was secretly convinced that she’d gotten the best deal: the Rita Hayworth, unquestionably, had the most expensive outfit. It remained the queen of her collection.

Connie smiled to herself. How important it had all seemed then. . . . She stacked the dolls together, replaced the clip and laid them on the seat next to her. She fumbled in the Drawer again and came out with a dog-eared, greasy packet of cards: her trading cards. Collecting illustrated playing cards had been a widespread and favorite pastime of the grammar-school set. You traded them as cunningly as you could, sometimes spending as long as an hour over one swap. And then, little groups of friends would get into a huddle to see who’d ended up with the prettiest ones. The cards—and her Rita Hayworth doll—were the most important things in her life. At that time, boys didn’t even exist.

She turned her attention to a frayed, ink-smeared bunch of papers held together with a faded, stringy red ribbon. These were her love letters. Well, to be completely honest, they weren’t all love letters. .. . Many of them were just little notes, written in hasty, crooked scrawls on crumpled notebook paper, asking for a soda date or for help with a homework problem. They came from male admirers, sitting three rows behind her in Geography, or Math, or English, and they had been surreptitiously passed, hand-to-hand, underneath the desks to escape the watchful eyes of the teacher.

Because they had come from boys and because they had successfully eluded the teachers, they held a certain romance, and she had saved them all.

Lenny Williams

She divided them into little piles according to their writers. The biggest pile had come from Lenny Williams. She smiled. Lenny had been her first real boyfriend—and the second fellow she’d ever dated. He was a senior at Belleville High during her junior year. He was captain of the football team, one of the most popular guys in school. You just had to smile—even if you were blue and miserable—whenever Lenny did. And he had dimples. She loved dimples.

She remembered the very first time he had asked her out. She had just gotten her “new figure” as she liked to put it. Actually she had lost thirty pounds and felt changed from an ugly duckling to a svelte young lady. The boys were quick to note the difference. Where they’d previously ignored her, she now drew admiring notices. But Lenny had remained kind of aloof. It made him all the more appealing. Once or twice, she had a feeling that he was trying to catch her eye, that if she lingered, he’d come up to her. But still self-conscious about her new attractive- ness, she’d become flustered and run away. This time, she’d been busily engrossed in conversation with a girlfriend and she’d bumped smack into him right outside the door of her Math class.

She’d flushed, started to mumble, “Excuse me,” and slip away, but he’d grinned, fixed those magnetic blue eyes full on hers and said lightly, “Hi there, Miss Always-in-a-Hurry. Can you stand still long enough for me to tell you that you’ve just been voted The Most Popular Girl in our class?”

She’d stared, dumbfounded. A few months before she would never have dreamed of being voted anything more glamorous than The Girl Most Likely To Win A Pizza-Eating Contest! “You’re kidding,” she gasped.

He folded his arms and rocked back and forth on his heels. He shook his head. “Nope.”

Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Who voted for me?”

He grinned. “Well, I did,” he admitted. “But that’s beside the point. What’s most important is, will you go to the dance with me on Saturday?”

She grinned back. “I’d love to.”

Now she smiled reminiscently and looked up through the leaves high above her head. The patches of sky glowed pink and orange and purple and at a few points where the setting sun’s rays were more directly focused, it looked as if the leafy “roof” was actually on fire.

Lenny would have loved this little nest, she thought. It was almost as nice as “their place” where they went after the dances or the parties, or the movies; the pretty road by the lake near Belleville, where she’d lived then. They’d be in his old convertible, with the top down, and they’d park, and she’d rest her head on his shoulder, pleasantly aware of the rough, tweedy texture of his sports jacket against her cheek; he’d have his arm around her and the back of his head resting against the top of the seat and they’d look up, as she was doing now. Only there were no trees, just the stars and the sky that looked like hundreds of diamonds casually arranged on a dark blue velvet display cloth.

Once, she could have sworn that a star had winked just at her, and she giggled and pointed and said, “Look, Lenny, they’re signaling at us. From up there!”

He ruffled her hair and scoffed softly, his eyes still glued to the hypnotic sparks above. “Lenny, maybe there is someone up there watching us. Do you think so?”

He whispered back, “I don’t know, Honey. Maybe there is.”

And then they’d talk, sometimes about philosophy and abstract things, sometimes , more realistically, about school and the people they knew. But mainly they talked about what they wanted to do with their lives. He was going to college to study law or engineering. She confided her dreams of becoming a great singer. But not for all her life, because one day she wanted to get married and, she declared in all seriousness, “have a dozen kids.” He laughed and said they’d all have to be boys, so they could hold their own basketball tournaments!

Every once in a while, he’d lean down and kiss her lightly on the tip of her nose. And they talked about themselves. He never said he loved her in so many words. But there are some things a girl doesn’t have to be told. She just knows. She liked him a lot. But she didn’t think she was in love with him. Of course, never having been in love she wasn’t sure. . . . She did know that it would be a long time before she was ready to settle down.

Sometimes they’d have arguments. The standard one was about going steady. He wanted to; she didn’t. At times, the quarrels would be so fierce that she’d angrily pull away from him, her eyes flashing, her face set and grim. She’d squeeze herself as close to her door as she could and order, in a voice icy with contempt, “Take me home immediately.”

He’d scowl, his face white with rage. He’d roughly grind the gears, jerk the car around, drive her home and let her get out by herself. “Good night!” he’d call, as she ran up the steps. “Good night!” she’d shout over her shoulder, hoping it sounded like “good riddance.”

A few days later, she’d get a letter in the mail, or she’d find a note planted in one of her textbooks. Invariably it said something like: “. . . I haven’t changed my stand, Connie. I’m not one to back down from my principles. I’ve made up my mind that no matter how strongly I feel about you—and you must know how much I like you—enough is enough. So I guess this is it, Connie. I wouldn’t have even bothered to waste this paper writing to you, but when I saw you having a soda yesterday with that creep, Jimmy . . . well, honestly, Connie, what on earth can you find interesting in him? The next time I see you, I’ll tell you a thing or two about that guy. . . .”

Once, after he’d vented some particularly strong feelings, he’d tacked on a P.S.: “I think you have enough sense not to put this or any other note I’ve written you in your Memory Drawer. Destroy this!” Of course, she’d immediately put it with the others. And when he’d confronted her the next day and whispered worriedly, “You did destroy it, didn’t you?” she’d nodded reassuringly.

Now she looked at it and the rest of the letters and smiled a little sadly. The last date she’d ever made with Lenny had been to go to his Senior Prom. She’d never kept it.

Her first prom

For months, he’d saved his money for the big event. She’d excitedly looked forward to the evening—her first prom. She had a frilly new gown and satin pumps and each night, for weeks before, she fell into a blissful sleep, imagining herself gliding across the dance floor in Lenny’s arms. It seemed too good to be true. And it was.

The night before, her father found out a post-prom party was to be held in New York. He also knew there’d be drinking and it would be late. And he just didn’t think it would be safe or wise for her to be driving all that way under those conditions. As a matter of fact, he wouldn’t allow it!

Connie begged and cajoled and promised that she wouldn’t let Lenny touch a drop of liquor. But he remained adamant. He shook his head stubbornly. His voice was kind but firm: “I’m sorry, Connie. I hate to spoil your fun. But it’s too big a risk. If it weren’t in New York and you didn’t have to drive so late at night. . . .”

She was heartbroken. She ran up the stairs, slammed the door, flung herself on the bed and cried until she could hardly breathe. Then she flopped on her side and lay there weakly, her body still shaking with sobs and studied the blurred outlines of the prom dress as it hung temptingly from a hook on the closet door. In a helpless burst of blind anger, she leaped to her feet, snatched it off the hanger and flung it with all her might into a corner and glared at it, as if it were the cause of her misery. Then, slowly, she walked over, stooped down, picked it up. When she’d regained her composure, she called Lenny.

“What do you mean you can’t go?” he blurted out incredulously.

She couldn’t bring herself to tell him the truth. “I’m sorry,” she said as evenly as she could, “but an important club date has come up. I’ve got to sing at. . . .”

“You’ve got to sing? Tomorrow? After all the plans and—and everything?” he cried in exasperation. “Honestly, Connie, I don’t understand you. I thought you wanted to go so badly. And now, all of a sudden, some club date has come up. . . .” He lapsed into an unhappy silence. Then he asked very quietly, “All right, Connie, tell me the truth. Which is more important—me or that club date?”

Each word seared her like a red-hot iron. But she was past feeling any new pain. She said dully, “Well, it’s a big break for my career. . . .”

She hardly heard his tired, “Okay, Connie. That’s all I wanted to know.” She held the receiver in numb hands long after its final click that said he’d hung up.

She got a bitter letter from him a few days later. She winced when she read it, but she put it in the drawer with the others.

She never heard from him again. Six months later, she ran into a mutual friend, a fellow who was going to college with Lenny. They had coffee and sat for hours reminiscing about old friends and old times. Once, Lenny’s name came into the conversation and he flushed with embarrassment and mumbled something about Lenny still liking her and she felt her pulse quicken even in that split second before he changed the subject. Neither of them mentioned Lenny’s name again. She knew that Lenny would never write her or call her. He wasn’t wishy-washy. He wouldn’t come crawling back. She understood. It hurt, but she understood, just as she knew he understood why she couldn’t make the first move and contact him—they both had too much pride. It had to end this way. . . .

She unfolded that last letter Lenny had written her. She’d read it so many times that the writing was worn off at the creases. Now, misty-eyed, she re-read it again.

Who’s that idiot?”

She fumbled in the drawer and extracted a greasy popcorn bag. It still smelled faintly of its contents. She shook it and out slid two movie stubs. Reminders of her very first date with Neil Brennen.

He was very handsome; blond, blue eyed and the topic of talk at pajama parties. She remembered the exciting tingle that had tickled her spine when he’d proposed, “Say, how about takin’ in a movie Saturday night?”

She’d had a silent crush on him for weeks. Somehow he seemed different from the other boys. More mature. That intrigued her. She lay awake nights scheming how to get him to notice her. Then, out of the blue, he’d come up to her after History class and popped the question of going to the movies.

Now she smiled wryly. What a disappointment the evening turned out to be. They’d gone to the movie. It was a Science Fiction picture, and after it a cartoon came on the screen. He guffawed so loudly that she was mortified. How could a grown man make such a fool of himself over a silly cartoon? Especially a guy whom she was sure was above that sort of childish display of emotion! She sat there amazed. He laughed. He howled. He doubled over. People started to stare. She was sure that soon they’d point in amusement and whisper, “Who’s that idiot?” And she sure wasn’t going to be around to witness it—much less be part of the spectacle. She excused herself and headed in the direction of the Ladies Room. Actually, she ran out and straight home. She had never been so humiliated or so disillusioned in her life. But she kept the popcorn bag and the tickets and thought, “I’ll never get married”—but it didn’t mean anything then.

She wants a home and family

Now she began to wonder a little uneasily. She’d been thinking a lot about marriage for the last six or seven months—since she’d turned twenty-one. She didn’t know why, really. Maybe “coming of age” marked an unconscious boundary line between being a girl and a woman. Maybe that was it.

And lately, she’d begun to worry that she’d never achieve this goal. Too often, these nights, she’d find herself lying tensely in bed, exhausted by a strenuous day’s activities but unable to sleep. She’d toss restlessly and clutch her pillow and wonder, “Where am I going? What’s ahead?” She’d shut her eyes tight and try to project herself ten years into the future. Sometimes she’d see a happily married wife and mother and she’d drift easily off to sleep. But other nights, try as she would, she didn’t see anything but emptiness, black emptiness . . . and uncertainty . . . and unhappiness. And she’d sit up with a start, forcing her eyes wide open and choking off a cry of desperation.

Once, while she was on tour in a strange city, lying in the dark late at night and feeling a little depressed and homesick, she had shut her eyes and seen the empty blackness again, and she’d blurted out her fear to her secretary, friend and traveling companion, Sandy Constantinople: “Sandy, did you ever have the feeling that you may never get married?” Sandy answered slowly, “I don’t know. I never thought about it like that.” And she cried out, “Well, I have. And sometimes . . . sometimes I wonder if I ever will. . . .”

The Good Luck charm

Now she felt the same wave of hopelessness flooding her and she hunched over the steering wheel, leaned her head on one outstretched arm and began to sob uncontrollably. After a while, there were no more tears, the pressure in her chest subsided and she felt curiously lightheaded, limp and spent, as if she’d just run a long distance without stopping. She sank back and slowly began to replace her treasures in the Memory Drawer.

As she finished, she spied a corroded aluminum Good Luck charm, in the shape of a horseshoe, half hidden between the car seats. She retrieved it. The greenish lettering read, “Good Luck—Connie and Gene—Palisades, 1956.” The class outing. She’d gone with Gene Serpentelli. He’s in Harvard Law School now, and she’d heard he was engaged to ‘a wonderful girl.

She smiled tremulously and closed her fingers over the trinket. She stared thoughtfully at the Memory Drawer. There was still room for the most important Memory bits of all: a marriage license and the birth certificates of her children. She opened her hand and studied the charm. Once, a long, long time ago, she’d believed that if you wished on a Good Luck charm, if you wished with all your might, your wish would come true. She squeezed the horseshoe charm until it dug into her hand. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and made one big wish. . . . 






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