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Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011 03:31 pm

A Christmas memoir

Found in an old desk, a bracelet of baubles and spheres

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It was in Grandmother’s desk, the same desk she used to write to her sister in the 1880s. It is the same desk my mother used to write letters to me while I was in the army, and I have some of them in a drawer yet. My daughter used the desk to doodle on and do schoolwork in the 70s. Now it is in my bedroom and I like it there. It is comforting to know the old desk has served so many of our family through the years and I am using it now to write this Christmas memoir.

This desk is where I keep a pair of cuff links that I never wear anymore, a bow tie that I can no longer tie. My sterling silver railroad watch that I wear on special occasions is there. The desk is where I keep my old things that I want to see and remember and that is where I found Alice’s bracelet of baubles and spheres, the one she never got a chance to wear on Christmas Day some 60 years ago.

Back then there were square dances at the North School in the winter months. A few weeks later they would have dances at the South School gymnasium. They were both new schools at that time and fine for dancing.

I was a country boy from out of town, didn’t know my way around in the city but I kept coming to the dances, dancing with one and then another. The girls were more interesting than the ones around home so I came to the city to find more interesting girls.

We danced and as we danced I couldn’t keep my eyes off a girl who was just the right height, just the right slimness and just the right hair of strawberry blond. I watched her while she danced, the geometry of her steps, the way she carried her arms. All her swinging and twirling was striking a melody in me and she had the most kissable lips I had ever seen. I wanted to dance with her.

I would try to find out her name and have the courage to ask her to dance. So, with a faster beating heart I approached her and found her name was Alice and, yes, she would dance the next square with me. I was in seventh heaven and the dance went well. We danced another set before the evening was over. I found she was a real dancer, anticipating my every move and carrying through to the end.

We said our goodbyes, voiced our thank yous and went on our way in the night. Would I see her again in the weeks ahead? The weeks went slow, the days went slower still. Finally it was time for the dance at the South School. And she did come. She came with a group of her friends, looked around the room, saw me and smiled the sweetest smile, kind and warm.

We danced that night again and again. We were becoming closer. Her father complimented me on how I kept my car so clean and polished. Her mother talked to me at length and invited me to Alice’s Rainbow Girls initiation ceremony. For that she wore a blue dress, a beautiful blue gown, and from then on in my own thinking she was always my Alice Blue Gown.

It was getting toward spring. I was a young man; she was a few years younger than me. I had graduated. She was a high school girl but we maintained our relationship.

The dances were no longer at the schools. They had moved to Nichols Park and the Grand Pavilion. It was a romantic place with the lights shimmering off the water, the moon shining brightly overhead and the Sassenberger orchestra was playing “A White Sport Coat and a Red Carnation.” It was almost too much. Then came “Cherry Blossom Pink and Apple Blossom White” from the trumpet and sax, echoing through the night air among the trees and grasses. It was almost like a dream and I was dancing the night away with my beloved Alice with the strawberry curls.

I had gone with Alice for several months now and wanted to give her a gift, something nice for her birthday but her birthday was not till spring. I thought of Christmas. It was far away too, but I was a patient man. If I saw something really nice, I’d buy it for her no matter the time, no matter the cost.

I saw a bracelet in the jewelry store window. It had baubles and spheres and a shiny gold band. I knew she would like it. It was nicer than anything her friends had and cost more than I wanted to spend, but I bought it anyway. She would get it at Christmas, the best time of the year.

It was the last dance of the summer season. School had already started and there were lots of high school boys and girls amongst the grown-ups – and I shall never forget.

I had picked up Alice before the dance. She was all her beautiful self, but she was somewhat withdrawn. No hello kiss that night, she didn’t talk much in the car. Something was on her mind.

We danced awhile, politely and kindly. As the dance was finished we were standing there making small talk. A tall good-looking classmate of hers approached us. He addressed me and then turned to Alice and said, “Are you ready to go?” She said, “I suppose so.” With that he took her hand in his and they walked off the dance floor.

My heart sank. It sank to the floor at the sight of my Alice leaving with another guy. No warning, no easy letdown. She just vanished. My Alice Blue Gown was gone.

I was devastated and put in a sleepless night, felt tough the next day. I couldn’t figure it out. In a week or so the hurt was less. My broken heart had partially mended. I thought of the bracelet. What would I do with the bracelet with Alice out of my life? I put it away in a box.

The other day when I ran across it in Grandmother’s desk, slowly the thoughts came back to me of 60 years ago.

I fingered the old bracelet, turned the baubles and spheres in my hand and thought of that night. She was so young, so young she was, and I have forgiven her a thousand times through the years. I’ll keep the bracelet in the desk drawer in remembrance of the months we enjoyed each other’s company. How she felt, how we danced, how she moved and with her hair so strawberry blond.

Wherever you are I thank you for all the good times you gave me. May you be blessed this Christmas season, my Alice Blue Gown.

Roy L. French is proprietor of the Caraway Seed shop, on the courthouse square in Virginia, Ill. He is 78 years old and has written a Christmas memoir for Illinois Times every year for about 30 years. His book, Hickory Road: Stories from Hickory Hollow (Publish America, 2011), is a collection of his stories, many of which have appeared in Illinois Times. The book is available by sending $19.95 to Roy French at P.O. Box 133, Virginia, IL 62691.
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