Once I’d planned to marry the boy back in Michigan, but so much had come between us. We were victims of parental interference, communication complications, physical distance. Tom Kleskowski and I decided to get married after the four or five occasions when we were together, if you count: one, my cousin’s wedding our freshman year of college when we met: two, Christmas Day a month later when he formally called on me and met some of my extended family in a scene straight out of Jane Austen; three, going to the movies with his four year-old brother in tow; four, New Year’s Eve; five, two months later when he proposed by saying, I have to make something of myself because I want to marry you.
Without hesitation I said, Yes but I am keeping my name and I am going to
have a career, so he understood I was deadly serious about that. When I told my
mother about this fortunate turn of events, she stopped saying, as she had all
through high school when I talked of a Career with a capital C: I don’t know what
is going to happen to you, Lorraine. Meaning: Women don’t have careers like that.
What about the normal thing—marriage, children? Now I was going to have the
normal thing, and the career to boot.
Tom and I were attracted to each other the second he walked up to me at my
cousin’s wedding, me the maid of honor in cranberry velvet, and said, You’re not
from around here. The wedding was in my mother’s home town, Jackson, a
medium-sized town seventy miles from Detroit that I looked upon with barely
concealed disdain once I became a teen. Yet when I looked up from my seat
holding up the wall, there he was—tall, trim and handsome, with a wide forehead,
a killer smile, and brown/hazel eyes behind glasses thick enough to ensure he was
brainy. In an olive green corduroy suit and pale blue button-down shirt, he was
appealing, but I gave him a hard time for a few moments. He was not invited, but
there because his best friend’s mother was a close friend of the mother-of-the
bride, and the Polish Falcons Hall where the reception was taking place was
practically around the corner from where he lived. Yes, almost a wedding crasher.
After remarking that I didn’t know who his friends were—I’m from Detroit, I said
with a certain haughtiness, implying, the Big City, not this burg—I decided enough
was enough and asked him if he wanted to sit down.
|Yes, that's him. One of the few pictures I have.|
It was after dinner but before the cake was cut. I had to leave this surprising tête-à-tête to cut the cake and pass it around on a big silver tray, a job that fell to the maid of honor, whether or not she would rather be otherwise engaged. Duties over, I sought him out after. We walked around, we walked
outside, he met my father, he met my mother, we chatted with his friend, we
danced without him. By midnight, we kissed by the side door.
People must have seen us, for the next morning my mother warned me that
she’d heard from the mother of the bride—her sister, my Aunt Clara—that Tom
Kleskowski had lots of girls chasing him, I ought not to get my hopes up. How did
my Aunt Clara already happen to have Tom’s dating précis so handy? Tom’s best
friend’s mother was Aunt Clara’s good friend, remember? Obviously we had set
tongues wagging. We had been side by side for nearly the entire evening.
The next day my family drove back home to Dearborn. The wedding was on
Thanksgiving Day, a Thursday; his letter arrived the following Tuesday, and we
were off to the races. Buses run between Cleveland and Detroit, do they not?
Getting together required planning, fortitude and frequently concealing his
whereabouts from his parents because they were against our liaison for reasons
then unknown, except the obvious: A girl could get pregnant, especially if the
couple seem crazy about each other. We were eighteen.
When Tom asked to transfer to Wayne State the following year, his father
announced he wasn’t going to let his son go to some school because he had “some
broad” there. I went from girlfriend to broad in the time it takes to say the word,
understanding immediately his parents were worried their son was going to “knock
me up,” to use the parlance of the day, and then be trapped in marriage to someone
unworthy of their golden boy.
Yet our social situations were not dissimilar: his parents had a corner grocery
store; my parents owned that motel; metaphorically, we both lived above
the store. It mattered not that I was Polish Catholic as he was, which should have
given me suitable creds, as the Poles back then were tribal, and the familial
pressure to marry one of your own kind was robust. Never mind. His parents were
adamant in their opposition, ignoring the fact that Number One Son was a
testosterone-fueled, good-looking lad in need of a steady girlfriend. Girls liked
him, that is true, but he was not, in today’s parlance, a player. I know it sounds like
I am writing about the era of arranged marriages and hoop skirts. Come to think of
it, I did wear a hoop skirt (under a gold taffeta gown Cinderella might have worn)
to another cousin’s wedding a few months later. My cousins were getting married
right and left back then.
I did want to be married someday—but also to have a career—and with that
firmly in mind, as well as the admonitions of the Catholic Church dancing in my
head, it seemed like a good idea to Not Go All The Way. From what I’d heard birth
control was incredibly iffy; a girl could get pregnant amazingly easy, and abortion
was not an option. Thus getting pregnant would be a catastrophe of seismic
magnitude. So during one particularly steamy session on my bed with neither foot
on the floor and my parents downstairs I told Tom that I only wanted to Go All
The Way with one man in my life, and that would be him—after we married. He
did not push his luck. Besides, there is a lot of leeway between a kiss and All The
Way. Even for a Catholic girl. Who had decided this was no business of the priest’s.
Understand, Dear Reader, this was well before the era of constant
communication, before email, cell phones, instant messaging, texting, Twitter,
Instagram and whatever the next new thing is. This was when long-distance phone
calls were listed separately on one’s phone bill, time and charges noted—meaning
one’s parents always knew if you called someone in a distant city. Oh, you could
stand at a pay phone with a stack of quarters, when quarters were like dollars, and
hope your beloved was home. This was when lovers depended on letters in
longhand delivered by the U.S. Post Office to keep their passion intact. I usually
wrote once or twice a week. He wrote three, four times a month. But he always
signed off with: I love you.
That summer I worked as a waitress, and took two courses at the local
community college. Even when Tom appeared—as he sometimes did in the middle
of the day between the lunch and dinner hours—I had little time to play because I
had classes five mornings a week and worked every single day all summer. That
fall he ended up at Jackson Community College, and though he was physically
closer, I saw and heard from him less than I had the year before. With him living at
home and his parents keeping close tabs on him, our time together was actually
more limited than when he was at John Carroll. Yet, this was someone who wanted
to marry me? After a year I got fed up with his sporadic letters—even though they
always closed with “I love you”—and infrequent company, became distracted by
the ardent attentions of someone nearby, and said, Goodbye, Tom.
Big mistake. I knew it as soon as the words were out of my mouth, but
didn’t have the good sense to take them back, and he was too stunned or too proud
The distraction proved fleeting, and I soon broke up with that someone
nearby. But I couldn’t quite call Tom up and say, Hey! Now could I? That was not
done. Over the next year and half there were occasional hang-ups on Saturday
nights—usually I was at the movies with girlfriends—and always when I wasn’t
home. My mother suspected it was Tom. I desperately wanted her to be right, but I
didn’t let myself hope so. Besides, what could I do? How could a broad like me
call him at home? Then I heard he was at school in central Michigan, half way up
North. It might as well have been Patagonia. We had no mutual friends, no casual
way to get a message to each other, we never bumped into each other.
But fortune took a flyer on us in the form of his mother. At another wedding
in Jackson (which my family did not attend), Tom’s mother turned to Aunt Clara in
the ladies’ room and said: I shouldn’t have broken up Tom and Lorraine.
Weeks later this news flash made its way back to me, I sent him one of those
“thinking about you” cards—and a few days later we were sitting in a diner at
Wayne and by the end of the night once again talking marriage. Crazy, right? But
he was perfect for me, and me for him, and I was sure that if we were only in the
same city at the same time, everything would be as it should. I was two semesters
away from graduating, and, I thought, so was he. In the coming months, our plans
grew to include where we would live (some big city); children (at least one); how
we would decorate our house (modern with Asian accents); what we would drive
(sports car, make undetermined). The future seemed bright, glorious, together. The
letters came often enough. For a while.
Then once again, he pulled a disappearing act. I needed to work the entire
week between Christmas and New Year’s my senior year and thus wouldn’t be
able to spend that week in Jackson, as we’d hoped. By then, the motel had been
sold, and my family had moved into a small apartment not suited to having him
overnight, so his coming to Dearborn wouldn’t work either. When a letter to him in
January went unanswered, I did not write again.
Email and texting and cheap phone calls likely would have saved this
romance—surely I would have gotten in touch—but that is now, this was then. So
when the hunky and arrogant editor-in-chief of The Daily Collegian (of which I
was Number Two), asked me to a screening of Dr. Strangelove, I put on a sexy
coral mohair dress in the Jackie Kennedy mode my mother made for me and got
distracted all over again. As it took him a month to ask me out again, I was sure
my too distinctive Roman profile put him off initially, but he got over it.
Jim was haughty, all right, but intelligent, tall, brawny, attractive and quick
with the bon mots and besides, almost every female on the staff wanted to be his
girl. Dating him was like being the last woman standing on The Bachelor and
getting the rock, and it’s not until later you question whether you are soul mates.
But there we were, in each other’s orbit nearly every day at the Collegian and then,
always on weekends. The two of us were like characters out of an old movie,
sparring at the office to the amusement of our audience and naturally, each other. If
my mother recognized the flame between Tom and me, she appreciated the way
Jim joked around with her. My father had a wait-and-see attitude and looked at
every suitor with a flinty eye.
In my senior year, the Collegian was nearly a full-time job, and in addition
to that, I worked one ten- or eleven-hour shift every Wednesday at the Guide back
in Dearborn, and carried a full load of credits. Months passed, without a word from
Tom. I was hurt, I was angry, but I was too busy getting ready for the next chapter
of my life to take to my bed and mope. The Collegian’s faculty adviser, a crusty
Irish newspaper man, told me one afternoon that I ought to pack up and Go East or
Go West—but go to a coast! I’d find better pickings there than in the stodgy center
of the country. Fusty women’s departments were likely to be all the Midwest
would be serving up for some years to come, and someone like me would be
cracking her head on multiple glass ceilings.
First, I had to find a job, any job. The best offer I got—the only one that
made any sense—was, alas, in a women’s department (the last place I wanted to
be) on The Saginaw News. One of my assignments would be to write up the
weddings, a task that requires no more skill than knowing that verbs follow
subjects in sentence structure and how to spell peau de soie. At least the News was
a daily, ninety miles from Dearborn. Jim and I said Goodbye, it’s been good to
know you. Where was Tom?
With considerable hullabaloo—nice girls don’t leave home, none of your
cousins have!—I left my parents’ abode and moved into a teeny furnished three
room apartment on the second floor of a house in Saginaw. The owner and her two
young daughters lived downstairs; an older woman lived across the hall. The rule
was: No men overnight, no exceptions.
It did not seem like a problem. --by lorraine from hole in my heart: memoir and report from the fault lines of adoption
From Chapter 1, Back Story.