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Coupling

A long-ago first date

More than 60 years later, would that special girl remember me?

By Chester F. Jacobson
February 7, 2010

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Back in 1945, my friend Finney had a telephone, a novelty for me (a year later, my sisters would prevail upon my father to get one). Finney and I, freshmen at South High in Worcester, would use the phone to call drugstores and ask if they had Prince Albert in a can (a pipe tobacco). When the clerk would answer “Yes,” we’d laugh and say, “It’s time to let him out.” That’s not very funny now, but to us 13-year-olds, it was hilarious. After a while, that joke became stale, so we started phoning classmates instead. I can’t remember why, but I called Helen, a very pretty classmate.

Our conversation was about school and the usual gossip that teenagers are interested in. I was shy and blushed easily -- in our high school yearbook, under the class “superlatives,” I was cited as having the “nicest blush.” I never would have spoken to Helen face to face, but the phone emboldened me, so I asked her for a date. She said yes. I put my hand over the mouthpiece and said: “Finney, she said yes. What I am going to do?” Finney, always quick on the draw, replied: “Don’t worry. I’ll go with you.” Reassured that I was not embarking on this adventure by myself, I made plans to take Helen to the movies in Webster Square. She lived several blocks away, so I suggested she meet me at the theater. I wasn’t being very gallant, but I didn’t want to meet her parents, as I was still shaking in my boots at this unexpected turn of events.

Finney and I waited in a store doorway a short distance from the theater so we could see Helen arrive. She got off the Main South bus and hurried to the theater. Helen had had polio, so she moved with a slight limp. Even now, some 60-plus years later, I can still see her as she hurried to what must have also been her first date. I stepped out of the doorway to greet her, Finney at my side. If she was surprised by Finney’s appearance, she never showed it.

After the movie, Finney and I took Helen home to her mother, who never imagined this was to have been a double date. She gave us each a cup of hot cocoa, and, after exchanging pleasantries, Finney and I went home.

In the course of our high school years, Helen and I had several other dates, which did not include Finney. And both of us dated others. Our last date occurred shortly after we had graduated; Helen invited me to a dance at her new school, the University of Massachusetts Amherst. With the Korean War going on, I joined the Army rather than wait to be drafted.

Helen and I didn’t meet again until our 50th high school reunion. At first I didn’t recognize her; Helen’s hair, once light brown, almost blond, now was snow white. My wife and I met Helen’s husband, and I spoke to him about Helen’s and my first date, which he thought was amusing.

I was hoping to see Helen at our 60th reunion, but the organizer told me she couldn’t attend: She was in an assisted-living home in Shrewsbury, an Alzheimer’s patient. I also learned that her husband had died recently.

After checking with the home, I went for a visit. Arriving at Helen’s fifth-floor apartment, again I didn’t recognize her at first. I introduced myself, and she invited me in. I had brought my 1949 South High yearbook, and, sitting close on her living room sofa, we turned the pages and commented on the classmates who had attended the 60th reunion.

She really didn’t know who I was until I came to my picture, right below hers, and then there was a glimmer of recognition. It didn’t last, though, for after a few pages, with an engaging smile, she turned and asked, “Where is your picture and who are you?”

I said, “I’m Chet Jacobson.” “Oh,” she said with another smile, “you’re Chet Jacobson.” This questioning was repeated several more times.

We parted with a brief hug. By the end of the visit, I recognized the Helen I had once known. But she recalled me only in glimmers, connected only with that engaging, questioning smile, and I could think of nothing else to say.

Chester F. Jacobson retired as an engineer from Gillette and lives in Southborough with his wife. Send comments to coupling@globe.com. Story ideas: Send yours to coupling@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to ideas we will not pursue.

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