Wally had just finished pouring his shop specialty, a rich, frothy chocolate soda, for a new customer that graced his quaint pink and white ice cream parlor. She was a curious woman. She ordered her confection with her head down, as if she was shy or unaccustomed to her surroundings. Wally surmised that she must have been a visitor to the shopping area on 63rd and Green on the south side of Chicago, a blue collar area of town, but what confused him the most was the way she dressed. It was a scorcher of a day, and most women had on brightly colored sundresses, flopping hats, and their children were in tow. Not this newcomer. She had a long, wool, navy, apron dress over a cotton, long sleeved blouse, and her auburn hair was pinned in a bun under a matching scarf. She was quite unusual, and not just in Wally’s eyes.
Wally was expecting his pal, Ed, to swing open the glass entry door to the shop and make the bells chime any second now. It was just about 2:00 p.m. everyday when Ed closed his boss’ butcher shop and treated himself to a quick conversation with his friend, devoured the best homemade ice cream in town, and then went back to carving whole sides of beef and serving a line of customers. If Ed had a vice, it was his penchant for sweets, especially plain old vanilla and chocolate ice cream, which, if he had the time, he would eat a quart of each. He never touched the sauce, be it chocolate, caramel, marshmallow, or even of a more potent nature served at the corner tavern.
While Wally served the stranger her bubbly chocolate soda on a white paper doily, he asked, with a friendly smile, if this was her first visit to the shop and, if so, was she from out of town. Before the intriguing woman could lift her head to respond, the bells on the front door rang and Ed Wood burst through the door. His eyes were intent on Wally; however, they quickly diverted to the lady being served by his best friend.
Normally, Ed would say hello to Wally and sit at the far end of the counter next to the wall and near the restrooms where he could meet with Wally for chat time when he wasn’t busy with customers, but circumstances were different today. Ed, an extremely handsome man, who resisted the flirtations of women of all ages and marital status, whether in his shop or on the sidewalk, was altered when he entered the shop and saw the enigmatic stranger who met his gaze for but a moment and then, out of shyness, turned her head to sip her soda.
“What will it be Ed, ole’ buddy, chocolate or vanilla?” Wally asked with his usual highpitched, cheerful voice. Wally was a short man with dark hair that was barely visible under his little white cap that matched his full apron; however, the apron was smeared with yellow, brown, and pink ice cream from the cones he made for the three boys sitting on the round, white cane chairs with their elbows on the shining chrome tables in the middle of the establishment who ordered banana splits. There was also neon green liquid drizzling down Wally’s front, compliments of the recent order from the elderly man in the corner sipping on a green river.
For the first time, Ed sat at the front of the counter, just two seats away from the woman, and he ordered. “Wally, I’m going to surprise you today and have what the young lady is having,” Ed responded with his deep voice. He was all man. He had suaveness from being a business man whose customers were primarily ladies, an enviable physique from the physical labor of his trade, and the looks of a movie star. When he filled the orders of his customers, he would tell the women how lovely their hair or dresses looked. When he walked down the streets of the south side of Chicago, ladies would stare and even stop as they watched him pass. Ed was used to being approached by the prettiest girls in town and he dated several, for he was now twenty-five years old, but he was never one to fall for the looks of the 1920’s woman with the heavy makeup and flamboyant style of dress. Ed was a simple man with simple tastes.
“Excuse me, Miss. May I ask what you are having?” Ed inquired in his polite manner.
“Certainly, Sir. I have a chocolate soda,” the stranger responded in a soft spoken tone. Her bundled auburn hair created a frame around her face that highlighted her soft, ivory skin and serene, blue eyes.
“A chocolate soda—what a great choice. I’m sorry. I don’t know your name. May I ask?” Ed requested as he turned on the charm and perched himself more confidently on the stool at the counter.
“I am Edna. I suppose we have our names in common with mine being the female version of yours,” she said with a smile.
“What a beautiful name. I have never heard it before,” Ed responded with delight. He could hear the comfort level rising in their conversation.
“I’m afraid I have been teased because of my name, but I have heard names such as Pancracretius and Thaddeus that I would not want to wish for anyone!” Edna joked.
“I agree with you there. Did you hear these names in books? Ed asked quizzically while trying to drink the extremely rich soda before him.
“Well, no. It’s a long story, and you probably wouldn’t be interested, Ed,” Edna replied timidly and covered her mouth with a napkin.
“Please continue, Edna, if it is not an intrusion. I am enjoying this so much, and I have all the time in the world for you,” Ed wasn’t truthful with the latter, which shocked Wally who was eavesdropping on the entire conversation.
“Well, I live in the Carmelite Convent just about fifteen miles from here, and the nuns take on or, more accurately, are given saints’ names when they take their final vows, some of which are quite extraordinary. You may be wondering why I dress so plainly in this heavy blue smock and plain black shoes. It is because I intend on becoming a nun. I start my postulancy in a few months. I have been with the Carmelites since I was orphaned at eight-years old. I really don’t know any other way of life. I just came to town to get some cloth and sewing supplies next door. There are only two of us who can leave the convent; everyone else is cloistered, which is what I will be in a few months.”
“I don’t know if all of this talk is disorienting me, or if the bus ride rattled me, or if I am not used to having a chocolate soda, but I think I need to get some air. Would you excuse me, Ed?” Edna exclaimed with exasperation while patting her forehead with a handkerchief embroidered with red roses.
“Oh, please, let me assist you,” Ed quickly responded as he took Edna’s arm, paid the bill, and waved to Wally.
Outside Ed found a bench for the two of them to sit on in the shade of an awning from a nearby store. A cool summer breeze whiffed over their bodies on the walkway and Edna felt renewed. Ed noticed how petite Edna was, just five feet tall with the daintiest fingers and feet. She was a delicate flower that required no adornment, no makeup or bobbles as the fashion of the day dictated. Her beauty was all natural.
“Thank you so much, Ed. You are such a gentleman and I truly enjoyed our ice cream together, or at least out time together. I must be getting on with my errands to catch my bus,” Edna hesitantly stated.
“Edna, I would like to see you again. Is that at all possible? I know you have plans for your life, but that’s all in a few months. This may sound strange to you, but I can’t let you leave today without the hope of knowing I will be in your life,” Ed gently pleaded.
“Oh, Ed, I don’t know. I rarely get out of the convent. It’s been months since I came to town for supplies, so I don’t expect to be back until near the holidays,” Edna responded with frustration.
“Can I visit you?” Ed eagerly inquired.
“No. That wouldn’t be a good idea,” Edna replied with a stunned expression.
“Then I can write,” Ed quickly retorted.
“If you write me, you will have to drive to the convent and put the letter under the rock by the mailbox on the roadside. I will check for your letters every morning and leave my reply the next day. Do you think that will work, Ed?” Edna asked with hope in her eyes while her heart was beating with rapidity.
“Oh, yes, Edna. You just made me the happiest man in the world,” he exclaimed while shaking her hand.
They exchanged letters for thirteen days and on the fourteenth day after they met, Ed and Edna were married. It was a two-week courtship that turned into nearly forty years of marriage.
-- Therese Jones is an assistant professor at Lewis University and has served as the editor of Lewis’ Arts and Ideas Magazine (Fall-Spring of 2002-2003) and is the current Editor, Designer, and Coordinator of Lewis’ annual journal, Windows Fine Arts Magazine (2003 to present).