The Blind Date

Mary Bald­win

Near the end of my third year at UVA, some of my fra­ter­ni­ty broth­ers planned to car­a­van to Mary Bald­win Col­lege to take their girl­friends to The Rafters, a dance hall with a live band. One of them was engaged to a Mary Bald­win senior, who was leg­endary for set­ting up suc­cess­ful blind dates. She offered to match me up with one of her friends. My expe­ri­ence with blind dates had been dis­as­trous, to put it mild­ly, but her rep­u­ta­tion con­vinced me to sign on.

Mary Bald­win sits on the side of a hill in Staunton. We pulled to the curb at the foot of a flight of stairs that climbed to a yel­low build­ing front­ed with mas­sive white columns. We entered the lob­by; the sec­ond floor doors opened; and ten girls came down the steps sin­gle file. One of them caught my eye. Auburn hair, chin length, flipped up on one side, stun­ning hazel eyes. I won­dered which lucky guy would be paired with her.

The Blind Date

When my friend’s fiancé intro­duced me to my date, the girl with the auburn hair flashed a pix­ie grin that took my breath away.

We had a lot of fun that night, and I drove back to UVA in a daze.

I asked her out again and she accepted.

On our third date, I gave her my fra­ter­ni­ty pin. “Pin­ning” was a big deal back then, sort of a pre-engage­ment com­mit­ment. I was rush­ing it big-time, but she didn’t turn me down, so I thought maybe I had a chance.

Then the school year end­ed, and I despaired. She’d planned to grad­u­ate in three years. To fin­ish the few remain­ing class­es she need­ed, she’d enrolled in sum­mer school at Boston Uni­ver­si­ty. She didn’t intend to return to Mary Bald­win. I was com­mit­ted to a job in Vir­ginia for the sum­mer and had anoth­er year at UVA still to go. I thought I’d nev­er see her again.

In a great ges­ture of friend­ship, one of my fra­ter­ni­ty broth­ers offered to dri­ve me to Boston to see her that sum­mer. I took a week off from my job and spent it with her.

Franklin Park Zoo

She took me to one of her class­es. A guy who played gui­tar for The Jef­fer­son Air­plane sat in the row behind us. A full­back on the Boston Uni­ver­si­ty foot­ball team sat on the oth­er side of her. They were very inter­est­ed in her, and they were both good-look­ing, nice guys. I hat­ed their guts.

We were sit­ting on a blan­ket hav­ing a pic­nic lunch in front of the camel exhib­it at the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston when I asked her to con­sid­er return­ing to Mary Bald­win for anoth­er year.

“Why?” she said.

“I want to keep see­ing you.”

She looked at me curi­ous­ly, as though she didn’t under­stand, and I real­ized I had to tell her the truth. I swal­lowed hard. “I want you to mar­ry me after graduation.”


I don’t remem­ber much about the camels, the zoo, or the rest of the day. She was all I could think about after she said she want­ed to mar­ry me, too.

That fall, I met her fam­i­ly. I over­heard a neigh­bor talk­ing to her father. “What says they’re going to get mar­ried?” the neigh­bor asked. “That old pin, I guess.” The neigh­bor wouldn’t let up. “Is he going to give her an engage­ment ring?” A long pause. Then, “I don’t know.”

I planned to give her an engage­ment ring, but being flat-out broke, I hadn’t fig­ured out how I would spring for it. Back at school, I asked her what kind of ring she want­ed, think­ing it would be a tra­di­tion­al dia­mond. She launched into a detailed descrip­tion of a green jew­el sur­round­ed by a cir­cle of lit­tle dia­monds on a gold band. “A lit­tle green flower,” she said, giv­ing me that grin that got me in trou­ble in the first place.

I knew noth­ing about jew­el­ry, but I fig­ured a lit­tle green flower would be hard to find. The first ring I saw in the first jew­el­ry store I walked into sat in the cen­ter of a glass case near the door – an emer­ald sur­round­ed by a cir­cle of dia­monds perched on a gold band. A lit­tle green flower.

I thought it was meant to be! Until the jew­el­er told me its price. When I recov­ered my voice, I explained that I had to have that ring even though I couldn’t pay for it. The jew­el­er returned the ring to its red satin bed inside the glass case and turned the key on the lock.

Short of armed rob­bery, I couldn’t think of a way to get that ring.

“Why don’t you sell your stamp col­lec­tion?” my moth­er said.

When I was a lit­tle boy, my moth­er and I would save our loose change. Every cou­ple weeks, she would take me to a stamp collector’s store in Williams­burg and drop me off while she gro­cery-shopped, and I pieced togeth­er a lit­tle col­lec­tion of stamps that didn’t cost much.

“My stamp collection’s not worth any­thing,” I told my mom.

“Some of those stamps are pret­ty old,” she said. “Give it a try.”

I went to a collector’s shop in Char­lottesville. When the own­er gave me his bid, I almost faint­ed. My moth­er was right. Over the fif­teen years my stamps lay in a shoe­box in my bed­room clos­et, a few of them had become valu­able. The sale got me with­in strik­ing dis­tance of the ring’s price, and I bor­rowed the rest.

The lit­tle green flower burned a hole in my blue blazer’s side pock­et as I drove my auburn-haired blind date down Route 250 at noon toward the new Chi­nese restau­rant every­one was talk­ing about. It was closed. I sped back toward Char­lottesville and drove around fran­ti­cal­ly for what seemed like sev­en­teen hours, look­ing for a roman­tic lunch spot where I could give her the ring. There was no good place!

Howard John­son’s Charlottesville

Des­per­ate, I lurched off the street into the Howard Johnson’s park­ing lot and pulled her by the hand into the din­ing room. Dur­ing the six years it took to get a wait­ress to take our order, I began to chick­en out. I had pro­posed in front of a camel. Now I was giv­ing her an engage­ment ring at a Howard Johnson’s. I was blow­ing it!

It didn’t mat­ter. I had to get that ring on her fin­ger before I had a ner­vous break­down. I put my hand in my pock­et to draw strength from the flower. You have THE RING, I told myself. That’s what’s important.

“You know that engage­ment ring?” I said.

“Yeah?” An unsus­pect­ing tone.

“Which hand does it go on?” Because I was so stu­pid I tru­ly didn’t know.

“This one,” she said, extend­ing her left hand across a plate of fried clams.

“Which fin­ger?” I’m not that stu­pid. I was stalling while I tried to pull myself together.

She showed me her ring finger.

I took a deep breath, pulled the ring out of my pock­et, and slipped it on. It only made it half-way down her fin­ger because she clenched her fist with super­hu­man strength, crush­ing my fin­gers, both of us shak­ing all over, she from excite­ment, me from excru­ci­at­ing pain.

We got mar­ried the week­end after grad­u­a­tion. We had three chil­dren. Four grand­chil­dren came along a gen­er­a­tion lat­er. We cel­e­brate our forty-ninth anniver­sary next month.


My blind date still wears the lit­tle green flower. As I wrote this, just to see if I could raise that pix­ie grin, I asked her what she thought my old stamp col­lec­tion would be worth today if we’d held on to it.

“Not as much as my ring,” she said.

She’s right about that.