We Minnesotans take the idea of “think spring” to heart after four months of darkness and cold, don’t we? We rake still-frozen lawns, jog in shorts and haul out the patio furniture at 40 degrees.
And of course, for many, there’s prom.
Oh, these kids. The other day my wife and I overheard some high-school dudes plotting how to ask girls to prom. One plan involved a marching band, another a “polar plunge” and another Opening Day at Target Field. My wife, the pragmatic one, said: “Why can’t they just go up to her at school and ask her!” That got me thinking. Once …
Way back when, there was Jenny. Just watching Jenny swipe her hair from her eyes could make me nearly keel over. Could I dare ask her to prom? Don’t roll your eyes, kids, but this is how I did it:
In the school cafeteria, I watched Jenny nibble her apple cobbler as she laughed comfortably with her friends, three tables down and one over from ours …
She glanced my way. I stared down at my tray of greasy chicken and Wonder Bread and butter. That went on for a while. Finally, I guess, Jenny had had enough. She wasn’t glancing anymore. She gazed at me with purpose — steadily and with intent. Jenny meant business. But she did that swiping thing to her hair, and without much thought I mouthed “prom,” to which she responded wordlessly with a single nod. The deal was done.
All it took was one word, a nod and beshert. That’s a Yiddish word that means “meant to be” or, better yet, destiny. Add the exhilaration that accompanies the transition from Minnesota winter to Minnesota spring, and it motivates us to do things we wouldn’t ordinarily do.
Then, the prom, as best as I recollect: dinner at the Nankin; riding the elevator to the top of the Foshay Tower; some local band singing their renditions of “Satisfaction,” “Get Ready” and “Tighten Up”; our dates swooping in and out of the restroom all evening like flocks of synchronized birds; Jenny’s sky-blue dress and white shawl.
But mostly: Jenny and I driving home in the springtime midnight. Somewhere on E. Lake of the Isles Boulevard, I remember our conversation — because even now, when I drive that way, I think about it — going something like this:
Jenny: “Are you going to college?”
Me: “Sure. Probably the U if I get in.”
“Don’t worry. Everybody gets in. What do you want to be?”
“I want to be secretary-general to the United Nations or a teacher. What about you?”
“Me? I hate seeing poor children who are starving. I’d like to help them. Or maybe a TV reporter.”
“Girls can’t be TV reporters, but you’d be good at it.”
“My mom says I have a big nose even though she says I’m pretty.”
“I think your nose is fine.”
“So, you think the Beatles will break up?”
“No way. They’re making lots of money. They’re probably millionaires.”
“I really love George. He’s always been my favorite one.”
“I don’t think he’s that groovy.”
“Well, you’re not a girl. I like your car.”
“It’s my dad’s.”
“I know, but I like it anyway.”
“So maybe we can go to a Twins game sometime. You like baseball?”
“I guess. My dad always complains about the Twins when they lose.”
“I was at the World Series. My dad pulled me out of services at our synagogue and surprised me with tickets, and we went in our suits. I wanted to see Sandy Koufax pitch but he wouldn’t because it was a Jewish holiday, and he’s Jewish.”
“You mean you’ve never heard of Sandy Koufax?”
“No, but I know who Jim Kaat is. He’s a pitcher, too, right?”
Then, the moment of truth. I walked Jenny to her door. I have no idea why, but I left the car engine running. At the doorstep, I was nervous. Jenny thanked me for a “nice time.” Then:
“You know, you never really asked me to go to the prom.”
“Sure I did.”
“No. You just said ‘prom.’
“Then how did we end up going?”
“I knew what you meant, so I nodded. … So why don’t you make up for it and ask me to a Twins game sometime?”
We faced each other in an awkward silence. But there’s something about a gorgeous spring night in Minnesota that can make things feel right. And just like that, in the freshness and stars and moonlight, Jenny looked up at me — steadily and with intent, again. It could only have lasted for a second or two. And she kissed me.
Not long after that, as exhilarated and brash soon-to-be-high-school grads, Jenny and I skipped school and went to a Twins game on a picture-perfect spring day.
Dick Schwartz is a retired teacher in Minneapolis.