How I Met Your Father
“Count these records,” said Charlie after introductions.
The year was 1969. The records were five-inch vinyl-printed cardboard squares recorded by our candidate in the Northern Virginia district where I lived with my parents. The square records would be dropped off at every house to deliver his campaign message.
Hundreds were loose in each big three-foot-square box. I started counting. I was fairly nimble at age 26, but the older lady next to me was faster.
“Why don’t you just count the records in one box and multiply by the boxes?” I asked Charlie.
“Just count them,” he said. We argued until he finally explained, “We don’t know how many are in each box.
“You know,” he added “that lady counts faster than you do.”
I didn’t see Charlie again during the campaign, so I didn’t know that he was trying to catch up with me at weekend campaign activities. He missed me one weekend because I had gone to Calvert County to be a bridesmaid at Christ Church on Broomes Island Road.
On Election Day, I convinced my date, Richard, that we should go to campaign headquarters. I was interested in more than election returns: Charlie might be there.
We sat in folding chairs to watch the returns come in. Charlie ignored proper social behavior and sat at my feet. Our candidate lost; the campaign was over. So was my time with Charlie, whose last name I still didn’t know. He might have known mine, but he didn’t know my phone number. Only the campaign director, Bill, knew that.
I solved my first problem by dragging Richard over for an introduction. “Richard, I’d like you to meet …”
Now I had to get him my phone number.
“Well, it’s been fun,” I said. “Do you know where Bill is? I need to tell him goodbye.”
Charlie understood my code. He got my number from Bill and called soon after. We went out a few times.
A year later, Charlie confessed, “I’m in love with Susan.”
I already knew; women know these things. As it happens, I was also in love with someone else. Dino was a motorcycle-riding world vagabond, a sensitive guy with a big heart. He was just back from the Far East, and we had arranged to meet at a friend’s house in upstate New York.
I hopped into my Volkswagen Beetle with one door the wrong color and a bent crankshaft. It could only be started in the engine by lifting the back hood. I drove to the rendezvous and waited. Dino never showed.
Charlie phoned to say he was coming on Friday. We shared a perfect weekend amid five-foot snowdrifts. By Sunday, I was thawed.
“I have a dream of a knight in shining armor coming to rescue me,” I told him.
“That’s not me,” he quipped.
After our weekend, I waited until Friday for Dino. Finally, I took off, ignoring the blizzard along the top of the Alleghenies. The wind blew my car across the road on every icy bridge. No traffic passed. If I needed help, I was alone. With my starter not working, I had to leave the car idling at each stop.
When I got home at 11pm I called Charlie. He came over.
There were ups, but there were also downs.
Once he cancelled our date to a Redskins game but wanted a goodnight kiss. I refused.
“We’re done,” I told a friend. “I can quit thinking about him.”
“He’ll be back,” she said.
That summer, 1971, I took a job evaluating VISTA projects around the country, figuring that absence makes the heart grow fonder. It does, but it works both ways. I discovered I was in love with Charlie while listening to Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” as I drove country roads alone.
Charlie, meanwhile, took my absence as an excuse to date another girl. “If You Can’t Be With the One You Love, Love the One You’re With,” he told me, quoting the lyrics of an equally popular song.
Apparently he hadn’t figured it all out yet.
The next January I said, “I want to get married.”
“What if I don’t?”
“Then I’ll go away.”
I accepted an invitation to work on a political campaign in California.
“Don’t come for me without a piece of paper in your hand,” I told him.
I packed my car and headed west.
It was painful as I reached the turn-around point and aimed toward Louisville, where I would pick up a friend, Harriet, to ride with me.
We enjoyed the ride until Nebraska. On its steep up-and-down hills, my VW threw a rod. With only three pistons firing, the car spewed black smoke and chuck-chucked up to the plateau. We were in the middle of nowhere. By some miracle, a VW repair shop stood at the top. The owner had a refurbished engine that could replace mine. “It’ll take all day,” he said.
I called Charlie for advice.
“You don’t have a lot of options,” he said.
The new engine took us west. In New Mexico I dropped off Harriet. In California, I joined the campaign.
A few days later, the crew was eating out when the waitress told me I had a call. Cell phones hadn’t been invented; this call came on the restaurant pay phone by the back door. He’d found me.
My hand was shaking as I held the receiver. “If I’m your girl, then I have no business being in California,” I said. “If I’m not your girl, then I need to start a new life out here.”
That was Friday. On Sunday, I got a message that Charlie was in the air and would arrive at 5pm. With a blue-sky day, I went for a bike ride with my new friend along the beach. I didn’t know that Charlie broke a Saturday night date and got drunk on champagne with his roommate, toasting his future married life.
We headed for Las Vegas. Rather than be married in one of those garage-sized wedding parlors, we chose the Justice of the Peace. I recruited two witnesses from the local VISTA project I’d evaluated.
That evening from our room at the Stardust Hotel, we called my mom. Charlie thought we’d surprise her; he was feeling pretty smug.
I didn’t tell him that before going west, I’d gotten her permission.
“Catch him any way you can,” she’d said.