Posted by: Nancy | February 21, 2009

Valentine vignette

Valentine’s Day

We’re in San Francisco, on business, but simply HAVE to stop at all of our favorite spots.   So it is that Saturday evening, we decide to stop by the Marines’ Memorial Club for a drink. It’s on the 11th floor of a Union Square-area building with a lovely view of the bay and the city.

The club is sold out for dinner, but it’s still quiet. A piano man is playing and singing and we take a small table nearby.  We notice a woman who comes in and sits alone at the bar. She has white-grey hair, carefully coiffed; she’s wearing a once-fashionable suit, carrying an umbrella and the red rose that the doorman or host has given to her.  She is obviously comfortable at the bar, nodding to the bartender who knows to mix her a gin and tonic on the rocks.  And so she sits, ignoring the television, the piano man, the surroundings.

We move over to join her — it’s a chance to talk with someone. We buy her a refill and introduce ourselves; it’s easy for us to babble a bit about ourselves to let her relax. She is slow to let her guard down — she engages cautiously in our conversation.  Is she a regular here? Yes. A member of the club? No.

We explain that we are members and just in town visiting; we have a fondness for the club as it has introduced us to people all over the world in reciprocal clubs — in London, Edinburgh, New York City, Wellington, NZ.  At that, she perks up: it turns out she is Ellen, a native of New Zealand, and she is delighted when we tell her our impressions of that perfect and beautiful land. She asks if we visited the club in New Zealand, and when she learns we did, she tells us a little about herself.

When she was young, perhaps still in her teen years, she had met a US Marine there. And she thought she loved him, she thought he loved her, too. But her parents said she was too young, and she wasn’t allowed to see him again. Not long after, she moved to Australia and years later, to the United States. But she never forgot that Marine and was still wondering what might have happened…

We had a parallel story: our dear friend Gordon Smreker was a Marine at Wellington with the 2nd Marine Division in WWII. He loved it there, and he met a woman he loved. But he had to ship out and never was able to return. He later married and lived a full and generous life. But he had a certain look when he talked about New Zealand, always. I believe he also wondered … what if…

We hugged and kissed Ellen when we left the bar. She thanked us and told us we’d probably never understand how much it mean to her to talk this Valentine’s Day eve.  All I can do is take her lesson to heart, and know that even not taking a risk IS taking a risk.

Here’s to trusting your instincts.

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