I was recently informed by a friend that the last of his three daughters was about to become engaged. The young man had followed tradition by calling on my friend to ask for permission before popping the question. My friend thinks highly of the young fellow and couldn’t be happier. This got me thinking about the night I asked my father-in-law for the future Mrs. Chatterbox’s hand.
It was late December in 1973. Sue P. always seemed to know me better than I knew myself and figured a proposal was near. She suggested that, when the time came, it would be classy if I asked her father for her hand in marriage. Although I’d seen this done in movies, I should have been better prepared. When I arrived at her parents’ house, I felt like wide-eyed Wally from Leave it to Beaver, going into Ward’s study for a genteel scolding.
Mr. P. was wearing slacks and a cardigan sweater, but he might as well have been wearing his lieutenant colonel uniform. We sat opposite each other in leather chairs and I shrugged off the feeling that I was about to be charged in an Army court martial.
I began with, “I love your daughter, sir.” I could hear my heartbeat in the middle of my head.
He didn’t look surprised, and since he was neither smiling nor frowning, I couldn’t tell what he was thinking.
“I want to marr—y her.” Shit, why did my voice have to crack?
He said, “I see.”
I wiped my damp palms on my pants. “I’ve come to ask for her hand in marriage.”
“I appreciate the respect you’re showing by coming to me.”
I knew Sue had warned him that I’d be coming and had made him promise to be gentle with me. But Mr. P. wasn’t about to give me his blessing without making me squirm a bit.
“I understand you’re an art major.”
“Yes, sir, that’s true.”
“Are you planning on becoming a teacher?”
“Well, I haven’t really considered teaching. I’m just planning on being an artist.”
“Just an artist?”
“I hope to become a famous artist.”
He stroked his chin and gave me a serious look. “That Van Gogh fellow…he was a famous artist and he couldn’t even support himself. Isn’t that true?”
“Yes, I’m sorry to say it is.”
“Let’s not worry about you becoming a famous artist and concentrate on you becoming a successful one. I imagine that becoming a success in the art world isn’t the easiest thing to do. It will probably take a fair amount of time. How do you expect to support my daughter while you work at becoming a success?”
I really hadn’t thought that far ahead, but I couldn’t just stand there with my thumb up my ass. I needed to say something solid, something to convince him that his daughter wouldn’t be marrying a loser. Unfortunately, nothing came to mind, except for that dramatic scene in Gone with the Wind when Scarlett raises a fist in defiance and swears that, as God is her witness, she’ll never go hungry again.
Since I had nothing else, I went with it. “As God is my witness,” I said standing up,
“your daughter will never go hungry again!” It might have sounded more forceful if my
squeaky voice hadn’t again cracked in several places.
It didn’t occur to me that I was implying his daughter hadn’t been fed properly.
Mr. P. smiled, rose from his chair and said, “When I proposed to Sue’s mother in ’44,
I was a lowly private fresh from the Aleutians, with no prospects. Tell me, do you
promise to cherish Sue and always treat her well?”
“Then you have my blessing. Do you have a ring for her?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m planning on giving it to her tonight.” My nervousness eased somewhat. “Do you want to see it?”
He clapped me on the back. “That’s all right. I’ll see it later when it’s on Sue’s hand.”
It might have just been my imagination, but I thought I saw a tear in his eye.
Next Time: I propose to Sue, and it finally dawns on me why everyone in the restaurant is scowling at us.