View From Lodi, CA: A Valentine's Day Bouquet—Love in the Roaring Forties
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[See also: Remembering The Jazz Singer On Mother's Day]

"Tell me again, Mom, about the time you and Dad first kissed."

"Your father," my mother began, "was the handsomest man I've ever seen. When I met him, he was 30 and I was barely 21. I had a boyfriend and I'd had lots of dates. But your father with his dark brown eyes and wavy hair was hard to resist.

"Dad owned the Victor Hugo Club in Los Angeles with your grandfather and in the summer of 1941 I sang lead vocal at the club. From the first time I walked into the club, Dad followed me everywhere with his eyes," Mom continued.

"One of the bartenders told me Dad was married and warned me to watch out for him—I think the bartender had a crush on me too.

"Your father asked me out a couple of times but I said no because I knew he was married. My parents were mad enough at me for singing in nightclubs. That's all I needed to do—start dating married men—and I'd be kicked out of the house for good," laughed Mom.

"Finally, another woman who worked at the club told me that Dad had been separated for over a year. 'Go out with him; he's crazy about you,' she said,

"I was young and sure of myself. I knew that sooner or later I would go out with him but I wasn't in any hurry. My singing was drawing rave reviews. Benny Goodman came down one night and on another, Frank Sinatra took the band and me out for pizza. I was on top of the world.

"One night, I noticed your father staring at me from behind the windows on the double doors that led to the kitchen. He didn't think I could see him but when our eyes met, we both started to laugh.

"Before I started my next set, Dad came to the table and said 'Please say yes,' and I nodded 'OK.'

"That Saturday night, Dad took me to the old Coconut Grove for dinner and dancing. He gave me a beautiful purple orchid corsage and we ate chateaubriand. Dancing in those days was very romantic, cheek-to-cheek. Your father knew all the steps and he was so graceful. If I had known how much fun he was, I would have gone out with him sooner.

"We danced until the band stopped at 3:30. Dad had a new black Buick convertible, and on the drive home, the radio played Glenn Miller songs. Los Angeles was wonderful in the summer; the evenings were warm and palm trees lined every street. A sliver of a new moon was out that night.

"When we turned onto my street, I saw the porch light was on. That meant that my father was still up so I didn't want to drive straight to the house. 'Turn off your headlights and park here,' I said.

"After Dad turned off the engine, I wove my fingers into his hand and said, 'Thank you for a terrific time,' and he smiled back at me. Funny but for all his persistence, he seemed very nervous.

"With my free hand, I reached up and touched Dads cheek. His skin was soft and warm. I ran my fingers along his cheek and down along his chin. Then with the backside of my fingers, I trailed my hand back up the other side of his face. Slowly, I slid my fingers toward his lips. Dad held my hand and kissed my fingertips very lightly.

"'Will you go out with me tomorrow?' your father asked.

"I drew my fingers away from his lips and cradled my hand behind Dad's neck. Gently, I pulled him toward me and when our lips were just inches away, his eyes closed. You can't imagine how tender and loving that kiss was—innocent and full of promise.

"I never wanted that moment to end. When I slowly pulled away and looked up at your father, his eyes were still closed.

"I knew then that I would love him for the rest of my life."

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.

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