My grandmother and her sister were to spend two weeks up there with a large group of friends as their summer end holiday. They arrived at the beginning of August and, as usual, my grandmother was a big hit with the men: she went boating, ate, and danced with all of them. The Saturday afternoon of their last week, however, all of that changed. Although there were no signs that this was a fork in the road of life, with twenty-twenty hindsight, both she and my grandfather claim that they both knew it to be so. But, I suppose that comes with years of embellishment, the very fabric that makes this story so great.
The sun was bright that afternoon and, although extremely fair not to mention unable to swim, my grandmother had agreed to go boating with a nice young gentleman whom she had met the night before. As they crossed the beach to get to the raft where the boat was tied up, my grandfather, who was lying on the beach and soaking up the end of summer rays, sat up and took notice. In fact, not only did he take notice, but he was enthralled with the sight before him. The beautiful blond woman with a gorgeous figure in a black maillot sent him into a daze. Just as abruptly, he registered the figure of her male companion and he sat back deflated. Gentleman’s rules in those day stated that proper protocol entailed backing off from a woman, not matter how desirable she might be, if she was accompanied by another man.
As he leaned down on the beach, sun glaring directly into his eyes, with his mind on how he had definitely missed the boat, he suddenly heard a commotion and bolted upright. The woman that he had been smitten by only moments before was now flailing about in the lake screaming for help. The boat had capsized and it took only seconds for the fact that she could not swim to imprint itself on his brain. Although he himself was no more able, he dove in and dragged her to shore. In essence, he saved her from drowning. Or maybe, in reality, she was the one who saved him. Since we’ll never know the truth, let’s stick to the official version.
As soon as they reached the shore, staff whisked my grandmother off to the infirmary where her sister soon collected her. Her family brought her back to her cabin to rest up and my grandfather soon showed up at the door. My grandmother’s sister answered the door. After explaining who he was and his role in the saga, she thanked him profusely and told him that her sister was fine but needed to rest. With that, he left, sensing that the next move was now up to her.
That evening, before dinner, a bunch of men were all sitting on the porch of the main house reading the paper, smoking pipes and shooting the bull as men are wont to do when my grandmother stepped onto the scene. Heads turned and all conversation stopped as she mounted the porch. They created a human pathway, without necessitating her missing a beat. One man standing close to the staircase suddenly leaned forward eagerly asking, “May I be of assistance?”
“Yes, I’d like to speak to that gentleman over there.” She responded, pointing directly at my future grandfather. All heads quickly swiveled, as at a tennis tournament, from her finger, to my grandfather and back to her. Meanwhile, my grandfather pointed to himself while raising his eyebrows as if to say, Who? Me? with all the false modesty that he was able to muster.
I’d like to insert here that my grandfather was not only a storyteller but was also an amateur actor whose talents could be viewed during his telling of stories. His face often took on the emotions that he was verbally portraying while a constant underlying joy of being back in the story pervaded his choice of words. In the end, the story would become alive and the possibility of a new surprise ending would arise from the fact that it now had a life of its own. It was for this reason that when my grandfather told me this very story, at this particular point I anxiously asked “Then what happened?”, completely on the edge of my seat with curiosity and utterly oblivious to the fact that I knew they subsequently fell in love and were married for 57 years. But, that comes later. In response to my question, he told me the following.