The year was 1952. Cushing Veteran’s Hospital near Boston was full of long barrack-like halls. It’s hasty construction for postwar casualties did not satisfy the higher standard to which a Federal Reservation should aspire. The announcement on the bulletin board was very clear: We are closing our doors. You may choose any other VA facility in the USA and receive a transfer without loss of benefits.
Elaine Carter was weary with the cold anyway. In a burst of youthful enthusiasm she and her friend Gretchen Bennett hurried to get on the list for a much sought after V.A. hospital assignment in St. Petersburg, Florida. One freezing cold February morning the two young nurses set off in Elaine’s used Desoto to begin the adventure of a lifetime.
There were no interstates then. The main topic of conversation on the three-day trip was the pitiful supply of eligible men they had left in New England. They decided the pickings might not be so slim with a romantic backdrop of palm trees and warm salty breezes. “Yes,” they each vowed, “that is where I will find my rendition of Mr. Right.”
In a few weeks, cute little Gretchen, Swedish by decent, caught the eye of a native Floridian named Charlie. He worked in the lab. They usually double dated with Elaine and whichever “nice guy ” she would accept. Most of the platonic outings involved the beach and eating.
Gretchen had not realized how much she had come to depend on Charlie’s opinion until she and Elaine got it in their heads they wanted to buy a horse. He rushed over before the deal was closed and took one look at the poor beast. “Psst…girls, you are about to take this ancient nag off of the guy’s hands just so he won’t have to bury it!” They had no earthly idea where they would have put Mr. Ed or what they would have fed him. Charlie’s timely intervention saved them a bale of woes.
During another impulsive stab at adventure, the Florence Nightingales decided it would be fantastic to live on a houseboat. They found a charming one for sale. “How cute is this?” one squealed while the other was mesmerized by the tiny galley. “I’d better call Charlie and get his opinion,” said Gretchen. She did. He came running…and just in the nick of time.
“Where,” asked the boyfriend, “is the engine?”
“Engine?” they chorused. “It has an engine?”
After a thorough inspection of the floating home, he advised them to save their money. The sensible young man figured it might be a good idea to just marry Gretchen and keep her out of trouble, so he did.
A friend of Elaine’s in Rhode Island convinced her to come up to work in a modern Providence hospital. She claimed there were single, attractive interns and male patients coming through the doors by the hour.
Still scanning every horizon for good husband material, Elaine dated several very nice fellows, but she simply did not love any of them. She prayed, “Lord, you know how much I want to marry the man of my dreams. Please give me one that does not smoke or drink and who goes to church.” Then she abruptly moved back to Florida. It felt like the right step.
At a weekly singles group meeting, she sat in the basement of a community church chatting with a friend who admitted she too was casting her net for a man but was unsure exactly what kind of bait to use.
As they giggled over the silly metaphor describing an impending spinster’s situation, Elaine caught her breath. Walking in the door was the handsomest man she had ever seen. He was tall with dark hair and a gorgeous smile.
She whispered with quiet determination, “Stay put…I saw him first.” Then, she sailed across the floor to greet him with the most perfect lure she could find: homemade cookies. He was caught -- hook, line, and sinker. All she had to was reel him in
That was fifty years ago. Charlie and Gretchen are still happily married. Elaine and the dreamy stranger were together for forty years before he made a permanent transfer to Heaven (without loss of benefits).
Like Florida sunshine, it warms her heart to think he is waiting for her and for a taste of the sweetly remembered bait. ”Of course,” she asserts with a mischievous grin, “ that would be of the chocolate chip variety.”
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