Love is a quest we all have in common.
But where to find it? Ah, that’s the question.
Every story in Bay Weekly’s now 21-year-old annual Valentine’s Day perusal of life and literature’s great theme has touched on that question.
Don’t look to this year’s pair of love stories to break the rule.
The quest is the adventure of “Winking at Mr. Darcy,” pseudonymous writer Liz Bennet’s chronicle of her one-month trial of Match.com.
Our second, “For Better through Worse,” is a story of love’s promise fulfilled. In it, writer Marilyn
Recknor chronicles the indomitable love of Mike Kinnahan for Debbie Gurley in their 16-year shared battle with her metastatic breast cancer. You’ll learn in passing, however, that they met at a support group for people newly divorced.
For love to flower, disparate paths have got to cross. The intersection is often a point of shared interest — even obligation. The high school or college campus. The circle of friends. The church group. Best of all, a wedding.
Nowadays, love’s intoxication pushes many seekers of love into the roulette of electronic matchmaking.
Are the odds better? Who knows? Stories of matches made online are regular reading in the wedding pages of The Washington Post and New York Times. Early in this century, Bay Weekly’s Louis Llovio found Petra online, beginning a still-playing love story [www.bayweekly.com/old-site/year04/issuexii07/leadxii07.html].
Those, of course, are only the successes. Our Liz Bennet is still looking for her Mr. Darcy.
Maybe she needs to spend more time in bars.
Love over Cocktails
Bars are where my story begins.
Mother was a waitress in the Mark Twain Hotel in St. Louis when Dad made dropping by his routine. “Marry him,” her immigrant mother advised. “He’ll take good care of you.”
They were married in a priest’s parlor and feted by Grandmother Olivetti with good Italian cooking and homemade wine. Their honeymoon was a car trip to New York, with a rider along to pay for gas. They’d found his ride-wanted note posted on a bus-station bulletin board. “This was 1941,” Mother explained. “And your father was like that.”
For the next quarter-century, they made their lives and living in bars. When Dad served a couple of years in the Navy, Mother earned enough in the free-spending war economy to shuttle between St. Louis and Key West, where Dad spent an easy war as a shore patrolman. At the same time, she was supporting me and her mother- and grandmother-in-law. Some leverage from the GI Bill and a small inheritance helped them buy the Stymie Club in 1948 or ’49. Business was good, if marriage wasn’t.
Divorced, they stayed business partners. At the Stymie or the other bars they and their crowd frequented, both met a succession of new partners, including a spouse or three.
Some of those years we lived upstairs above the Stymie, a supper club and cocktail lounge, and I grew up with my eyes and ears open. Customers were regulars. The same small-businessmen who took a long drinking lunch every day stayed for afternoon cards and came back for dinner, with their family if they still had one. In the off-season, pro-football players doubled as bartenders, and the same winsome women with off-the-shoulder dresses and good perfume sat at the bar every night. The crowd was young — 20s to maybe 50 — and energy was high and hot and infectious, though I didn’t recognize the hormones at the time. I saw them all fall in and out of love, and I listened in on the women’s stories of intoxication, hope and broken hearts.
Mother dated the handsome golf pro with Robert-Wagner hair but married the ex-Marine who had the looks and build of Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity.
Dad had so many girlfriends he bought Christmas presents — one year it was alligator purses and shoes — in threes. But he fell hook, line and sinker for the hotel manicurist who happened in one night. “I saw him fall,” Mother said. “He was like a puppy dog.” That was not a description that would have otherwise suited my father. That marriage lasted. Mother’s didn’t.
Mother’s great love, a short and stocky man she never married, had roots in those days. So did her third husband, “a clean old man” she accepted and took fierce care of after she’d given up hope of the kind of love that lights your fire.
I never fell in love in our supper club and cocktail lounge. But my mother gave me my first wedding reception there. A month later, the Stymie Club closed.
Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; firstname.lastname@example.org