Her name was Eleanor, and I loved her. It was a secret love and sacred, a love from afar, ardor aflame. I decided to reveal my feelings to her, and more. I would propose marriage, an act I did not take lightly, and I chose a soft summer night to ask for her hand.
My family lived in a village, Low Moor, in eastern Iowa. And I first saw Eleanor in church and was stunned when she took my hand in greeting when we were introduced, smiling a glorious smile, her blue eyes pouring into mine like liquid love as she tossed her head happily, blonde curls swaying about her alabaster shoulders exposed by her cheery sundress.
“So nice to meet you, John!” she said, my name upon her luscious lips.
I was speechless, stunned mute by her beauty and vivacity. I believe I grunted. I know I blushed. I could feel the heat flooding into my face. But she was charitable over my non-verbal response and said nothing. Another reason to love her.
On the night I was to declare my love and ask her to marry me, I took a bath, dressed in my Sunday clothes, clipped on a bow tie. I said good night to my parents and strode the two blocks to downtown Low Moor, which consisted of a general store, gas station, lumber yard, post office, and meeting hall for the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs. There was also a barbershop open on Thursday nights, and all day Saturday. I went inside and got a haircut.
As the barber, Mr. Samuelson, finished up and brushed hair off my shoulders, he asked, “Special occasion, John?” I nodded and jumped down from the padded chair. Then I paid and hurried out the door, turned left, and walked three blocks to Eleanor’s house.
She was going off to Iowa State University in the fall, but until then, she was still living at home in the big white frame house with the wraparound porch festooned with flower baskets. Green shutters framed the windows. It was dark now, and beyond Eleanor’s house vast fields of corn grew in the humid black loam. I could smell the rich earth. I could hear crickets. I could see fireflies winking in the dark. Sheet lightning flashed across the sky, matching my passion, as if God Himself were taking pictures of my quest.
I paused at the sidewalk leading to Eleanor’s porch, a good thirty feet from the front door with its giant oval of beveled glass. What if her parents answer the door? What if she isn’t home? What if she laughs at me? What if she hears my heart, now pounding passionately in my chest?
Determination overcame fear. I ignored the part of my fevered brain that told me no one would ever know my mission if I just went home. Maybe another time would be better – she’s not even expecting me. Go back! Go back!
I stepped forward. One step, a second, a third step and more, up to the front porch steps. I don’t remember crossing the veranda to the front door. Perhaps I merely floated, or simply swept across the gray-painted floorboards, but I did arrive. The doorbell, her doorbell, had a little amber light behind it, a warm color on a warm night for a warm heart.
I peered in, and there she was, alone, recumbent on a sofa, book in hand, reading next to a tasseled lamp. She was elegant in repose, a princess on her divan.
It occurred to me that someone should be fanning her with peacock feathers. She stretched languorously and I felt my throat thicken. I stared, mute, thinking about fleeing before I made a complete fool of myself, yet rooted to the spot like a possum on pavement. Then it occurred to me that she might look up and see me before I could ring the bell! She would think I was a Peeping Tom, a nutcase! Alarmed out of my trance, I stabbed a finger at the doorbell. A soft chime followed, and Eleanor rose. She flowed to the front door.
She opened the door, then the screen door, holding it open, and said, “Why, hello, John. What a nice surprise. Won’t you come in?”
She’d asked me in! I never thought of that! What would I do? Say? “No,” I said. Eleanor smiled and stepped out on the porch, nearly brushing up against me, sending me into bliss by her mere proximity.
“What can I do for you?” she asked, her right hand reaching out to rest on my left shoulder. My mind nearly collapsed at the touch of her hand. Eleanor’s hand! My shoulder!
I drew upon every ounce of reserve of mind, willpower, and commitment to my mission. I said, “Eleanor, will you marry me?”
It was out and done, the question I had longed to ask for months, my love revealed to the one loved in the sticky-warm Iowa night on Eleanor’s front porch now fragrant with her scent. My relief was palpable. I had done it. The burden of declaration was delivered.
She smiled. A good sign.
“Why, thank you, John,” she said, her musical voice filled with kindness and interest. “That’s a very important question for a boy to ask a girl, and I’m flattered, but don’t you think we should take some time to think about it?”
She did not say “No.” She did not laugh or smirk, grow angry or insulted. She was “flattered” and she wanted to “think about it.” There was hope, and it filled my chest with joy. I said, “Okey-doke,” turned, and walked away down her sidewalk. I turned again and saw her still standing there, a glorious silhouette in her doorway. She waved, and I waved back.
I floated home that night, the happiest five years old boy in the whole state of Iowa.