Guests filled the room, laughing and chatting and having a lovely time. Their bellies were full from dinner, and they were sipping coffee and waiting for the big cake to be brought out.

The woman stood up and tapped her glass with a spoon to get the guests’ attention. The man sitting next to her reached out and squeezed her hand in reassurance. She smiled around at these people she loved and began to speak.

“Welcome, friends and family, to this joyous occasion! Before we cut the cake, I’d like to tell you a, mercifully, brief story.

“Over half a century ago, when I was thinner and my hair was not white and I had no arthritis in my left knee, I attended the local community college. One day, a young man walked shyly over to the table where my friends and I were eating lunch in the cafeteria and asked to speak to me. I knew him from my English Literature class and I thought he was very cute.”

The woman looked at the man sitting at her side. He smiled at her with a twinkle in his eye and the guests all chuckled.

“He steered me over to a corner of the room so that he could ask me out. I assume he didn’t want to ask me in front of everyone, just in case I said no. It must have been very difficult for him to pluck up the courage. I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, but people really put themselves on the line when they ask someone out on a date. It’s a very brave thing to do. In any case, I did not say no. I said yes. Definitely yes.”

There were more chuckles from the audience.

“He suggested a movie and a pizza afterward, a good choice for a first date. My friends all giggled, as we were wont to do back then, when I went back to the table to tell them what he wanted. He was to pick me up at 7:00 the next night. I remember going home that day after classes and searching through my closet to find the perfect outfit. If I recall, there were several phone calls to friends to discuss the choices.”

The woman leaned over, lifted her water glass, and took a small sip. She was enjoying the telling of this story.

“My date arrived at seven sharp with a bunch of flowers in his hand. Good heavens! Flowers! That was not a normal part of a first date. The boy had gone above and beyond, and my mother and grandmother had noticed. My mother grinned from ear to ear. After thanking him, I took the flowers into the kitchen to find a vase, while my poor date had to deal with making small talk with my father, a Herculean task. My mother came with me into the kitchen, fussing the entire time about how lovely the blooms were and what a charming young man he was! My grandmother wandered in and asked if he was rich, to be shelling out for flowers on a first date. ‘Grandma! I said, ‘Don’t say that in front of him!’”

Those in the room who were old enough to remember this formidable matriarch smiled in commiseration. They all had their own stories involving this grandmother.

The woman continued her story. “I put the vase of flowers on the hutch in the dining room and returned to the living room to rescue the charming young man from father. We went off to see the movie.

“I don’t remember the movie itself. It’s not really important. I do remember him leaning over during the movie to ask if he could hold my hand. I found that very chivalrous.”

The room of people laughed again, none more so than the man seated at her side.

“At the pizza parlor, later, we talked about mundane things, our English Lit class, our plans for the future. It was a nice evening. I had had a good time, and I kept thinking that I was very lucky indeed to be out with such a nice boy—we called them boys back then because we really didn’t consider ourselves grown up, yet. And he was quite good-looking. I cannot stress that enough.”

As her audience laughed at that comment, she turned to her companion, grinned, and winked at him.

“I told him on the way home in the car what a lovely evening I had had. I was looking forward to calling my best friend Susan when I got home to tell her every gory detail. Susan and I always did a postmortem after our dates.”

At this point in her story, the woman stopped and took a breath and then another sip of her water. When she went on, there was a small catch in her voice.

“I wish Susan was here right now. She’d appreciate this story. I miss her so much.”

The woman took another deep breath and continued.

“My date walked me to the door, leaned over and kissed me. Then he said, ‘I’ll see you Monday in class’ and walked back to his car. I went into my house, where my mother was waiting up for me. Dad had gone to bed, but Mom always waited up. She asked me how the date went.

“I made a face and stuck out my tongue. ‘The date was fine, but the kiss at the door was awful!’ I told her.”

There were gasps and embarrassed laughter from the audience, but the man at her side just smiled up at her.

“I swore to my mother then and there that I was going to marry the next guy who knew how to kiss.”

The woman leaned over and picked up her champagne glass.

“And I did just that. Ladies and gentlemen, please drink a toast to my wonderful husband of fifty years, Charles! The Next Guy!”

© 2020 Liza Cameron Wasser