Hello Day, the Luckiest Day of My Life

A few days after I started school at Lincoln High we had to go to assembly. This was “Hello Day.” All of us were encouraged to say hello to other students to get to know each other better.

I had always been a loner. Easier to stay out of trouble that way. I was sitting near the front in a row of seats only occupied by me. In the row behind me there were two girls also sitting alone. Even though I was an extrovert (loud mouth and show off), I was really shy. If it had not been for “Hello Day” I would not have said anything to these girls. Hello Day made it so easy. One girl, Maria, was so very beautiful and so soft spoken.

I really wanted to know her better. I didn’t know what to say, so I kept saying “hello.” When she told me that it was sufficient to say hello only once, I asked if I could walk her home. I met her at the front gate. I rode a bike to school, so I pushed it along as I walked her to Gibbons Street just off of North Main Street next to the river. I found that she was as shy as I.

Maria was also in the tenth grade. We even had the same home room teacher, Mrs. Baker. She was cool to me. (In 1949 “cool” did not mean good.) I was persistent. I knew if she just got to know me, she would like me. I walked her home every day hoping she would not tell me to get lost. She didn’t. Then she invited me to her birthday party on October 22d at her Cousin Josie’s house.

There was dancing to a record machine. At the end of one dance, I announced that she was sweet sixteen and kissed her. That was a very nice kiss, but by the expressions on her Aunts and Uncles’ faces they obviously did not think it a very nice kiss. I was the only “Gringo” at the party. (I found out later, that was her first kiss from a boy, and that my kiss had embarrassed her almost to tears. Her family told her that proved I did not respect her.)

I think it was in November that I got to take her to the ROTC Ball. I rented a car and after the ball, we and another couple went to Chinatown for dinner. It was wonderful. I had her almost alone and I could hold her hand. I think it was then that I gave her my ring, a “go steady ring” which she wore on a chain around her neck. When I took her home I even got to kiss her goodnight. (There were no Aunts or Uncles around.)

In February I dropped out of school to enlist in the Air Force. I was sent to basic training at Lackland AFB, Texas, and then on to MacDill AFB, Florida, for duty. Two years and many letters later I came home on leave. It was during Spring break. It was also then that I realized I really loved Maria, and if I did not grab her then, I would surely lose her. I certainly could not expect her to wait another two years for me while I was 2,600 miles away without a commitment to marry her. It made no sense to wait two years if I were going to marry her. I was awake most of the night thinking about this. When I made up my mind, I planned to take her some place romantic, get on one knee and ask if she would marry me.

Well, we had planned to go to Knott’s Berry Farm. I knew she did not have a dime in her purse. I wanted her to have some money in her purse whether she needed it or not. I tried to give her five dollars to carry in her purse.

No way!!

I told her she could give it back when we got home. No way!! She said that proper girls did not accept money from men. I tried to tell her this was different. I did not expect anything in return and she knew it. This went on for five minutes. I was furious.

Finally I grabbed the “go steady ring” I had given her which she was still wearing on a chain around her neck and held it up so she could see it and asked her if I made that real would she take the darn five dollars. That was a stupid way to say “get engaged,” so she had no idea what I was talking about. I made the proposal more plain. She was dumbfounded and just stood there staring at me. Then the terrible realization dawned on me that she might say no. I had not even considered this in all my previous thinking. I must have really looked pathetic. In my mind I was saying, “Please say yes. Please say yes. Please say yes......” After about thirty seconds she said, “Yes.” It seemed like ten minutes. I got her to take the five dollars, but I sure messed up a fine, romantic proposal.

We had little more than a week to make all the wedding arrangements. The most worrisome were the three “bands” that had to be announced in church. The priest finally agreed to make one announcement on Sunday and the second at the 6 O’clock mass on the next Sunday and we would be married at the 9 O’clock mass. The Bishop would forgive the third band.

Now all the flack from her family started. Maria was the first person in her family to marry a “Gringo.” I never knew that Mexicans were so clannish. I had always been indifferent to Mexicans except for the Pachucos who were our local gangsters. Her Uncle Henry summed up the family sentiment, “He just wants you because he thinks you are a ‘Hot Tamale.’ When he gets tired of you he will just throw you away.” (Two years later his oldest Son married a “Gringa.” They are still married too.)

We married on March 16, 1952. This fact was reported in the following issue of The Railsplitter, “Bride returns to school” (or something like that). I made her stay in school so she could graduate in June. Then she flew out to join me in Florida.

The Hello Day that started all this was in September 1949. We married in 1952. On March 16, 2014, we celebrated our 62d anniversary. I did not throw her away. I think sometimes I still embarrass her. That’s my nature. She is the funniest person I have ever known. She is the most romantic, compassionate, loving person I have ever known. She is the love of my life. She has taught me the secret for a long and happy marriage—find the right girl!!!

After two years I left the Air Force. Then we lived two years in Los Angeles and four years in San Francisco. Then I joined the Army. That took us to Oklahoma, Virginia, Italy, North Carolina, Germany, and Sacramento. I spent a year each in Korea and Vietnam away from her. We retired from the Army in 1976. After a year in Vista, CA, we have been living in Oceanside, CA, ever since.


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Updated 1/17/2015