Today is the 83rd birthday of Ralph Norman, my first husband, who died in 1973. I want my grandchildren to know how I met him.
It was 1946 and the boys were back from the war. I walked into registration at Evansville College, not knowing what to expect but I noticed immediately there were a lot of men around. The GI bill had been passed and millions of veterans were enrolling in colleges. As I looked around I figured there were at least 10 men to every girl. And I was engaged! On this first day of my new life, however, I’d left my ring in a drawer at home.
In the busy hall, full of tables and crowded with young people, I stopped at the first table. I was asked,
“What is your major?”
I hadn’t thought about this, but guessed I should be practical and said, “Business.”
After filling out required papers, I looked around and saw a table marked “Band”. There I met the band director and told him I played the marimba. He welcomed me and suggested I might like to join the group at a rehearsal in the band room later that afternoon.
I easily found the band room next to the path I would take to go home later that day. I saw a wooden one-story structure with three doors – one to the office area and two to a large rehearsal room. I avoided the gaggle of students crowded around the first two doors and chose the one farthest to the right, entered and sat down in a chair. I looked around the room that was rapidly being filled with students holding various instruments: a clarinet here, flute there. I listened to squeaks and howls as the group warmed up. In the back I saw the percussion section, three tympani’s sprawled across the middle of the rear row; a dark haired boy turning knobs with one hand while thumping on the surface with a mallet on the other. Next to him stood a bass drum on a stand, which another boy pounded with a larger mallet. Then came a snare drum and a third boy whisking over its surface with a brush.
“I bet my marimba will fit over there in the corner. This is going to be interesting.”
I’m sure the entire band was giving me the once over, this strange girl from some unknown town – maybe Oakland, just outside Evansville, or even as far away as Terre Haute. No one would guess I was from an odd place called Rhode Island.
The warm-up began with the long notes of a scale, the director pointing to various players to adjust their tone. He announced the music to be played and I heard rustling as students flipped through their stack of tunes. Soon he led them, swinging into a lively march and I smiled, I loved military music.
“Dum, de Dum”, I hummed when I felt a warm splash on my face. I turned, surprised and looked at a plump young man holding his trombone in one hand while he squirted its slide with an atomizer, flipping it up into my face. I looked away but glanced again and noticed his moustache, full face, and brown hair swept back to lie long at the back in the current ducktail style. I wasn’t impressed.
Sometime later we talked and he asked to drive me home. Mother always warned us girls not to take a ride with stranger, but it was only two blocks so it couldn’t hurt. We walked toward a beautiful, sleek, dark green roadster convertible. He flipped his hand to the mufflers sticking out beneath the rear bumper -
“Twin Smittys,” he said.
“Wow, twin Smittys,” I said trying not to display my ignorance.
He ran his hand over the side of the car.
“Seven coats of lacquer.”
“Gee, I can see my face in it.”
He smiled and led me further, tapping on the top of the car.
“Lowered it four inches.”
“Gee, wow, four inches,” I echoed.
Reaching the front of the car, he rapped his knuckles on the hood.
I’d run out of exclamations and reached for the door handle, but he said,
“Wait,” And opened the door for me. In the twenty-seven years I would know him, I never opened a door when this man was around.
As we drove the two blocks to my home, I opened a textbook on the floor and discovered his name: Ralph Norman.
“Strange,” I thought, “Two first names”
Later that night I excitedly told my mother and sister of my first day adventure at college, the buildings, the band, the many men, and the classy convertible.
I finally mentioned its owner. “But, wouldn’t you know, with all these men around what do you suppose I get but some fat boy with a moustache!”
I have often wondered what my life would have been like, had I instead of taking the door to the right, sitting by the first chair trombonist, took the door to the left and sat beside the last chair clarinetist.
©Natalie Norman Baer