Throwback Thursday: When a Stranger Calls...

It was a winter’s eve, sometime between the Watergate hearings and the Three Mile Island brouhaha. We were settled into our evening routine, which included watching something on the five channels we got on the telly; reading; enjoying the cool humidless breeze blowing through the screens on windows and doors.

A press of the doorbell startled all of us. Not that it was particularly late – in fact, the front lights were still on, signaling that we were still up and available for callers. The bell was simply unexpected. Daddy, being the chivalrous man of the house, went to answer the door where he was greeted by an older gentleman standing on the threshold.

This fellow was dapper and immaculately dressed – tweed jacket with patches on the elbows; shirt and tie; wool hat. He explained that his car had broken down in front of our house and could he trouble us to use our telephone to call for assistance. The answer was, of course, yes. In those days, it’s just what you did. Without cell phones and GPS units and the like, this was not unusual. It was a more trusting time in regard to such things.

By the way -- this photo isn't a picture of our visitor. It's classic actor Monty Woolley. Whenever I think of our gentleman caller, I picture him in my mind's eye looking like Monty Woolley. And speaking of Monty Woolley (I love his name -- can you tell? I've mentioned it three times in three sentences.) if you've not ever seen the screen adaptation of The Man Who Came To Dinner, you must. Seriously. Go look for it now on Netflix or something. It's fantastic. A riot. Bette Davis has never been lovelier. And Monty Woolley gives a tour de force performance.


While our gentleman caller waited for AAA to arrive, Mama, ever the hostess, invited him in, offering him something to drink. He accepted and he and my parents sat in the living room, a place reserved for special occasions and grownup conversation, making small talk

My brother and I weren’t privy to what was discussed and only after he had left did we learn that he was a snowbird (our affectionate phrase for winter residents here in Florida) from Philadelphia. And that he drove a very big car.

We didn’t think much about our visitor after that – until a week or so later when an unexpected package arrived addressed to my mother. From Wanamaker's, which, Mama explained, was a very nice and "tony" department store in Philadelphia. Fortunately, I was the one in possession of the family dictionary (still have it, as a matter of fact) and so the meaning of the word "tony" was not lost on me.
After I had to look it up, natch. News flash: I really wasn't quite as smart as I thought I was back then -- shhhhh...

The Wanamaker’s box contained another box – this one covered in green velvet and adorned with a big silk flower. Very sophisticated. Inside the box were two layers of Godiva chocolate. Mama’s favorite. A handwritten note was enclosed, graciously thanking our family – my mother in particular -- for our kindness and assistance. It was signed by our traveling visitor.

I don’t remember eating any of the chocolate – I’m thinking my mother bogarted it all for herself. (Being an only child, she has a self-proclaimed difficulty with sharing.) But when the box was empty, she called me into the living room, the place for special occasions and grownup conversation (as well as "you're in trouble, Jane Elizabeth" talks.) She handed me the candy box, saying that every girl needed a place to keep letters and notes and mementos. And that the empty box, a remnant of a gift cloaked in grace and chivalry, would be the perfect place.

She was right.

I had that box for many years Рthrough high school and college and after. It held letters of love and of heartbreak; reminders of emotions unrequited and ambiguous; photos of the heart and of the mind. Boyfriends and crushes and friends and foes and accomplishments and activities and events. All were contained in that box. It finally fell apart thanks in part to use and reuse and in part to the rigors of being something recherché in the harsh humid heat of Florida.

(By the way (again) -- that's not the real candy box. But it's pretty darn close. Google was not a great mind reader as I was looking for an image. )

It’s emblematic, that box -- of things past, of things remembered. Of a time when manners were the norm, not the exception. When random acts of kindness were things that one just did without forethought or hesitation. When my tender heart measured things tangibly and repeatedly.

I miss my candy box. And that time. I keep my memories internally now. But you never know – one day, I might spy a prettily packaged box of sweets that would be perfect to hold treasures…

1 comment:

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