Tucked under a box of Kleenex and a small sewing kit, the Dutch Masters cigar box rested in the drawer of Grandma Beth’s small oak nightstand. On Monday, after her funeral, my son Jesse and I started to pack up everything in the tiny apartment. I sat on the bed and opened the box. She’d kept some frayed ribbons, a couple of dried roses and Grandpa Dave’s service medals. Stuck in the corner of the box was something she’d told me about decades ago. I’m not sure I ever believed her, that is, until now.
She told me they met on the train from Hartford to New York City in October of 1956. Wearing a navy blue dress, Beth was going to a job interview at Macy’s, eager to get to the city and begin her adult life. Dave sat across the aisle, reading the sports section of a newspaper, humming an unfamiliar tune.
He looked across the top of the newspaper, “First time in New York?”
She looked down at her hands, clasped together across her lap.
“No, I’ve been there many times.”
“Sorry, I can usually spot new folks right away. Maybe I’m wrong about you.”
Beth smiled, “That’s okay. I’m afraid my nerves must be showing.”
“Well, young lady, what’s your business or pleasure in the city today?”
Beth looked him over for a minute, trimmed dark hair, expensive looking three-piece suit and hat, wool overcoat draped across his lap, smoky brown eyes. Her stomach tightened and her palms started to sweat. Beth swallowed hard.
“You first,” she said, “What’s your business in the city? And while we’re at it, what’s your wife’s first name?”
“Okay that’s fair. First of all, I don’t have a wife. At least, not yet. Just haven’t gotten around to it, I guess. My business is selling insurance for Metropolitan Life. They keep me pretty busy most of the time.”
“Okay, that’s good. Don’t they ever let you out to play?”
Folding his newspaper, Dave chuckled, “I’m only allowed out to play if the Yankees are in town and winning.”
“I don’t really follow baseball. My father and brother do, but they’re Brooklyn Dodger fans.”
Beth saw Dave looking at her legs; she pulled down the edges of her skirt.
“Okay, your turn. What’s your business today?”
“That’s fair. I have a job interview at Macy’s. To tell you the truth, I’m a bit nervous. My first job was selling ice cream and sodas at the Woolworth’s in Hartford. This is quite a step up from that.”
He reached across the aisle and put his hand gently over hers. He smelled like Aqua Velva and pipe tobacco.
“Here’s my secret when I sell insurance to someone. Look them straight in the eye, smile when it feels right and be yourself. And you’ll do just fine.”
Beth blushed, feeling more than a little foolish listening to this handsome stranger. Dave withdrew his hand, turning toward the window.
“Thank you. I hope you’re right.”
“Tell you what, if you get the job and I see you again on the train, maybe next spring you’ll be so kind as to allow me to escort you to a Yankees game.”
“I don’t know the first thing about baseball, but it sounds like fun. Besides, it would drive my dad and brother crazy. Okay, you have a deal. Shake on it?”
Dave laughed, shaking her hand, “Okay, young lady, you have yourself a deal.”
I remember Grandma telling me how his eyes sparkled when he laughed. She told me she was in love with him from that very moment. I heard this story over and over again growing up. But I figured most of it wasn’t true.
For one thing, I couldn’t picture Grandma Beth working or even riding the train into the city by herself as a young woman. It seemed so out of character. The woman I knew rarely left her house and only to go to church on Sunday with her best friend Helen. The woman I thought I knew didn’t have an adventurous bone in her body.
Maybe I didn’t really know her as well as I thought I did. In my hand was proof that Beth had, in fact, taken at least one significant risk. It was an honest-to-God paper ticket, a Yankees baseball stub issued in 1957, the Mantle era, cardboard rubbed slick with sweat, hope and desire.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was selected from entries submitted to our Creative Challenge Series #3: Last Sentences, which required that the last sentence in the text must be used as given. Read other Creative Challenge winners. To find out how to participate, go to Creative Challenges.