Do You Want to Know a Secret?
The events that stay in my mind from my seventeenth year always seemed important. The day before my birthday, February 7, 1964, a new English rock band called “The Beatles” came to New York for the first time. Sidney Poitier was the first black American actor to win an Oscar, and Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston in a seven-round fight. Because I had brothers, this was a big deal at the time.
I had a college boyfriend named Fred, who felt out of place taking me to my senior prom. Instead, I went with Bruce, and we danced to the live music of The Duprees. I tried to ignore the fact that Dotty D. was wearing the same dress as me.
While in high school, I worked in Loretta McGee’s boutique. More often than not, Sheldon would pass by just at closing time and walk me home. My parents set an extra place or two at the table in typical Italian fashion. We sat and talked, and my dad would give everyone a little wine. My mother and Sheldon discussed religion. She was Greek Orthodox and he is Jewish, and they were both well-read in their bibles.
My mother must have seen something between Sheldon and me even before I did, and started her pushback. “You know he’s Jewish, right?” It was more a statement than a question. Sadly, she made every possible effort to stop the relationship from blossoming.
Now and then, Sheldon and I went to a movie or lunch or to get ice cream. I tried hard not to fall for him because I had a boyfriend and he had a girlfriend. Sometimes we held hands and had an occasional kiss, which I enjoyed way more than any kiss I had before. Once, when he touched my knee in the movie theatre, I felt a lightning bolt shoot through my body.
Times were different in those days, and the war seemed to rule our world. Sheldon joined the United States Navy and committed the next four years of his life to Uncle Sam. It made me sad to know that he would be gone and in harm’s way. He was on two tours to Vietnam on The USS Enterprise, the first nuclear-powered ship to use aircraft for combat against the Viet Cong. He doesn’t talk about it very much.
The only way to communicate in those days was through letters, and we wrote lots of them. Sheldon described beautiful, exotic places, and would write “I wish you were here and could see this!” or “I miss you.” In the summer of 1967, I received a package from The Philippines. It was a beautifully carved wooden statue of a Madonna. The note said, “I saw this and thought of you.” It sits on my dresser still, 54 years later.
In the fall of 1968, I got a letter that said, “I’m coming home on leave, can I take you to lunch?” I was thrilled and meticulously selected my outfit—choosing the black and white hound’s tooth mini dress with the yellow Eisenhower jacket that looked good on me.
At eleven o’clock, when he called to say that he overslept, he asked “can we have dinner instead?”
I took the subway uptown to meet him at The Hawaii Kai, a Polynesian restaurant on 50th and Broadway. When I arrived, the hostess took me to a table in a thatch-covered hut, where Sheldon was seated. Since we hadn’t been together in almost two years, we talked over each other, asking questions. He spoke about the places he had seen, and he asked about my family.
I had one of those drinks with the little umbrella. I felt lightheaded and giddy, and realized how much I had missed the sweet guy across the table. I remember two things clearly about that night. I felt great sadness that Sheldon was leaving soon, and our good night kisses lasted a little longer.
The night was magical, and I was never happier.
“I will be out of the Navy in March,” he told me, along with “my family is moving to Florida.” I was disheartened, but before I could remark, he said ”I am not going with them.”
I was ridiculously relieved and told him so. As if this were the moment he needed, he looked at me steadily and held my gaze. “We should get married.” He was so matter-of-fact that I realized this was not a new thought for him. I laughed and said, “for the first time in my life, I am at a loss for words!” He smiled, took my hand, and said, “You don’t need to answer. Just think about it. We both know that we have always loved each other, maybe even in a previous life. Every time I saw something beautiful, I wished that you were beside me, so I plan to share the rest of my life standing beside you. I want to make you happy, and promise that I will always try to make you smile.”
Sheldon and I were engaged on New Year’s Eve at the dawn of 1969, and married on August 2nd of that year. Last summer, we celebrated our 51st wedding anniversary with our beautiful daughters, their wonderful husbands, and our remarkable grandchildren.
I will be forever grateful to the universe that I trusted my heart, because Sheldon kept his promise to me.
Joan is a twenty-six year resident of Westport, CT, born in Naples, Italy. She migrated with her parents and siblings to West New York, New Jersey, when she was eight years old. She is a wife, mother, grandmother, world-traveler, and passionate cook. She rediscovered her love of writing after retirement and recently published her debut novel "The Red Velvet Diary," a multigenerational story of three women, their lives, and their loves.
Feb. 25,1964 In a major upset, Muhammed Ali, the huge underdog, knocked out Sonny Liston, the reigning champion, in the 7th round. Prior to the fight, the brash Ali stated his iconic phrase “I’m young, handsome, fast, pretty and can’t possibly be beat.” Their rematch a year later produced the most iconic photo in boxing history.
On April 13, 1964, Sydney Poitier became the first African American to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, for his role as a construction worker who helps build a chapel in Lilies of the Field (1963).
On February 7, 1964, Pan Am Yankee Clipper flight 101 from London Heathrow landed at New York's Kennedy Airport—and “Beatlemania” arrived.
The first Beatles song to hit number 1 on the charts in America: I Want to Hold Your Hand. Here's their famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.