I was brought back to gentler times, leafing through the pages of Menchu Concepcion’s tribute to her husband, Ronnie, on his 80th birthday, three years ago. She had left a copy for me at the wake of the son of an old friend, a nephew of hers.
I lingered on her old pictures for nostalgia (she definitely was our Natalie Wood) and on their courtship; it was a time when girls were properly wooed, a time that contrasted starkly with the new age that dawned toward the turn of the millennium in America, a place we’re never too far behind in such things.
I happened to have just begun reading the lead and title essay in Tom Wolfe’s collection “Hooking Up,” which Vergel had just put down. (I usually pick up a book after he’s done reading it, for usually he has read parts of it to me, leaving me properly hooked for it.)
It begins: “Only yesterday boys and girls spoke of embracing and kissing as getting to first base… Home plate was going all the way. That was yesterday… In the year 2000, third base is going all the way. Home plate is learning each other’s names.”
I’m no prude, really, but the passage made me a little uncomfortable; it hit close to home. A niece is married and expecting; she had met her future husband via the Internet, and they walked down the aisle within the same year of hooking up, the wedding kept between immediate families, themselves meeting probably for the first time—we didn’t make the list ourselves.
Nowadays, it’s common practice to have girls and boys study together in each other’s home. My own 18-year-old granddaughter, Rorie, studies and does homework together with her boyfriend at her house. They are classmates in only one subject, Biology, and her mother likes to tease her that they seem too concentrated on it. “It’s the hardest subject, mom,” she protests.
In the old days, the first question the girl’s parents wanted satisfied was, “Whose son? Hijo de quien?” Naturally, everything got easier when the pair’s parents were friends; in fact it wasn’t unusual for them to encourage the relationship.
I was myself being paired with the son of a friend of mom’s by both my parents and his, with other common friends going along, some volunteering to be godparents at our wedding. It didn’t matter if he was already madly in love with his future wife, and I dating my future husband: They still dangled incentives and bribes so we’d change our minds. We did go out a few times, just to raise their hopes and the stakes, all in good fun, but just couldn’t be anything but friends.
Menchu herself writes that things were smooth and easy for them, her and Ronnie’s families having common values and traditions. Still, as tradition dictates, their dates were chaperoned by Menchu’s niece Josie, only 13. In that role, I myself was older, in first year college, chaperone to Uncle Ding and future Aunt Baby. Ding always brought her home first, as only proper.
Double dating became acceptable when my own turn came. If no other couple was available, my mother’s trusted maid came along. I never dared bring my younger brother, as cousin Ninit did hers. No date of mine could have handled a 13-year-old prankster the way her future husband, Manolo, did; he presumably knew, being 13 years older than Ninit herself. But, again, their pesky chaperone may have also hastened their plans; within their year of courtship, they were married.
It’s interesting that in the end it seems to matter little how romances or marriages started. Many scandals and “accidents” happened even in our time. But old-fashioned courtships have ended up well, almost always. The trick seems to keep the home fires burning until the point of no return, like a golden wedding anniversary.
Menchu crossed the bridge nearly three years ago, declaring in her book that she has loved the same man for 52 years and that, in fact, the courtship has not yet stopped.
Just last week, a high-school classmate of mine in her mid-70s was asked by the priest officiating at her and her husband’s renewal of vows what she wanted him to promise her now, 50 years into their union. Without a moment’s hesitation, with jealousy perhaps but not the slightest tone of reproof, she turned to him and said, “Your fidelity.”
We don’t even remember what he asked of her in turn, because my own husband and I locked eyes. It was the first time we met her husband, yet already we looked at him in a special light, and felt happy for them.
I’m actually looking forward to old-age loving, whatever that means. In a book, “Love After Ninety,” lent me by friend Lorna T., herself surely counting on it, a granddaughter asks her 90-year-old, just widowed grandma, “When did you stop making love?” The old lady looks at her quizzically, “We never stopped.”
Rorie would have grabbed a vomit bag at the mere thought. Only 12 at the time, and before any acquaintance with human biology, she told her mom, with obvious great relief, how those poor animals on National Geographic needed to mate to have babies—“unlike you and dad, right, mom?”