I’m a simple man. I’ve minded my own business. I’ve worked hard. It took a while to get used to the questions, to not feel so judged. But I have come to terms with the fact that this is my lot in life — I worked in a factory all my life. Sure, I wish I had been able to finish high school – even go on to college for that history degree. I’d have been a good teacher, I think. That was the plan, anyway. Until the summer of 1951.
With news of Dad’s death in Korea, I found myself the man of the house at 15 years of age. My after-school jobs in the neighborhood for weekend pocket money became the means for making ends meet. Soon it became clear that I needed to do more. On my 16th birthday I dropped out of school and began working for a factory in the heart of academia, where I might not have been getting an education, but did a lot of learning about life.
Day after day I made the trip from our neighborhood in Boston to Cambridge. The work wasn’t challenging, but the money for Mom and my sisters made it worthwhile. I learned the value of steady work and being able to provide. I learned about dignity and taking pride in my work.
And I learned about love.
The noon whistle sent my fellow shift workers to the break room. Not me. I ventured the short distance to the university to sit on a park bench to eat my lunch. Other than my clothes, I didn’t look so different from the students crossing my path. It was there that Joanie (Joan, to everyone else, but I still call her Joanie) first asked me a question. It was simply “what time is it?” that first day, but it changed time for me, forever.
I looked forward to a new question each day – some required Joanie to sit for a while to get the answer. We enjoyed our chats during those last two years she was a student. Our friendship grew to much more.
Valentines Day her senior year I finally tapped into my connections at work and my coworkers helped me put together a special box of the Conversation Hearts we had been making by the truckload. This box was full of hearts all with the same thing. Appropriately, it was a question: marry me?
Today is our 50th wedding anniversary. I’ve since retired from NECCO. However, like every year since our wedding day, I still fill a box of Conversation Hearts just for Joanie. I’m so lucky she said yes, and that she’s mine.
# # #
Written for the prompt at Flashy Fiction — the NECCO factory, that makes Conversation Hearts, is in Cambridge, MA, but any resemblance to actual persons is coincidental.