Saturday, May 17, 1941
Today was the day I’ve waited for and worked for so long – my college graduation. As I waited in line with my classmates, donned in my cap and gown, I reflected on the last four years. In some ways, it feels like we were just Freshmen, all nervously getting to know each other at orientation, being subject to the Senior’s pranks, and now, here we were, getting ready to say goodbye and face whatever waits for us outside these walls. I couldn’t help it – the tears started to fall. I was very thankful I had thought to tuck my handkerchief into the sleeve of my dress!
We marched into the auditorium to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” as light filtering through the large stained glass windows danced through the room. I searched the faces for my family. There were so many people packed in the rows, I feared I would never find them, but Daddy’s height was a great blessing and I was able to locate his head in the crowd. He was smiling so proudly when I caught his eye. Mama, too, was smiling, but like me, her cheeks were glistening with tears. I think that this day may have actually meant as much, if not more, to them as it did to me. Even though I came on a scholarship, I know how much they sacrificed to allow me to come here, how much they dreamt of having a child with a college education. I can only hope that someday I can repay them for all that they have done for me.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that Maggie stood next to them, looking as if she would rather have been anywhere else. Couldn’t she at least have pretended to have been happy for me? Ah, the pain of being a twelve-year-old girl. I can only hope she recovers from it soon.
I was stewing a bit about Maggie’s attitude, but then I saw him – Joseph was there! He had a big bouquet of yellow roses and mouthed the words “For you” as I walked past. I felt like my legs were going to give out right then and there. He was the last person I expected to see. In fact, I hadn’t seen or talked to him since we had met two weeks ago – a fact that I assure you, had resulted in a completely out-of-proportion amount of emotional turmoil. If only men knew what they did to our hearts, perhaps then they wouldn’t trifle with them so. But in that moment, when I saw him, all was suddenly right with the world, and a day that I didn’t think could become any more perfect suddenly did.
I confess I don’t recall much of anything the speakers said. I should have been paying better attention – after all, this was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but I am afraid that while my body was firmly planted in row C, seat 14, my mind was most definitely several rows back.
I do remember Msgr. O’Neill announcing my name – Elizabeth Mary Phelps, and the feel of the diploma as Fr. Murphy handed it to me. It was mine. At long last, it was mine. All those hours of study had finally come to fruition.
After the ceremony, I rushed to find Joseph. I know – I should have looked for my parents first, but at that moment, I needed to find him. At first I couldn’t, and for a brief, terrifying minute, I feared that maybe the flowers weren’t for me at all, but rather for some other Lourdes graduate who had caught his fancy. But then, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see him smiling and handing me the flowers.
I thanked him and then pulled him to come meet my family who I could see approaching from the other direction. Mama enveloped me in a big hug and said how proud she was. Daddy kissed my cheek. Maggie sulked but I refused to allow her to ruin my day.
I introduced Joseph and was so pleased to see how warmly my father greeted him. Daddy invited him to the party they were having for me. Joseph looked at me, searching for what his response should be, and I whispered “Please.” I hadn’t known if I would ever see him again. Now that he was there, I wasn’t going to give him the opportunity to slip away.
I asked my parents if it would be alright if Joseph gave me a ride home – I didn’t want him to get lost, after all, or at least that was the reason I offered.
As we made our way out of the hall, I said goodbye to Kathleen and Mary Katherine. They have been like sisters to me, and I shall miss them so. We promised to write. How is it possible that we may never see each other again? I can’t even think of that right now, because if I do, I will start crying again, and I will never finish this journal entry. And I do want to preserve this day for always so that fifty years from now, I can look back and read these pages and smile.
In any event, after we left the auditorium and were making our way to Joseph’s car, I asked him when his graduation was scheduled. Do you know what he said? He looked down at his watch and said, “It should be finishing up right about now.”I couldn’t believe it! He skipped his own graduation ceremony – his doctoral graduation ceremony – to come and see me. He said that he had wanted to see me and he knew that this was the only place he was sure that I would be. He also said that since his parents were dead and his siblings were busy with their own families, he had no one to come and that, having already attended his graduation when he finished his A.B., he truly didn’t mind missing this one. He then told me that if I was upset that he had come, he could certainly leave, but that I would have a rather long walk home because my parents had already departed. I did my best to assure him that I was indeed quite happy that he was there.
The party was small, but great fun. The Smiths and the Rosemonds were there and Jane stopped by with baby Tommy. It’s strange to think of my childhood friends already having families of their own, but adorable little Tommy is living proof of that. I suppose, by comparison, I’m practically an old maid.
I think Maggie was attempting to flirt with Joseph. I suppose, in retrospect, it was an improvement over her sulking – at least now, she was smiling, and if possible, I believe she was actually attempting to bat her eyelashes. Can you imagine? I felt embarrassed for her, and for me. Truthfully, more for me than for her. What would Joseph think of me, of my family? To his credit, he seemed to take it all in stride.
When he had said his goodbyes to my family and I was walking him back to his car, I commented that I thought my sister had a crush on him. He told me that Maggie would be a heartbreaker some day, but that she was a bit too young for him at the moment, and that, in any case, he had his eye on someone else.
At that point, he took my hands in his and I started to tremble. Why do I do that when he is around? It is a completely involuntary reaction – I have absolutely no control over it. And then, he pulled me closer, kissed my cheek and then kissed me ever so gently on my lips. It was pure magic, and do you know what my reaction was? I pushed away from him and ran in the other direction. Even as I write this, I still don’t know why. I suppose I was scared, but of what? He called after me and I stopped, and he apologized and said that he thought I wanted him to kiss me, which I most definitely did, and asked me if he could see me again.
I stumbled over my response in a manner completely unbefitting a new college graduate and told him that I was the one who should apologize, that I didn’t know what had come over me, and attempted to do my best to assure him that I did indeed wish to see him again. And then, do you know what I did? I still can’t completely believe it myself – I have never done anything like this in my life, but I threw my arms around him and kissed him, completely losing myself in his embrace. I am rather pleased to report that he did not run at all.
We made plans for next weekend and I watched his car drive away. When I turned around, I cringed when I saw both Mama and Maggie looking out the window before they quickly closed the curtain. No doubt, they had seen the whole thing, although when I entered the house they both made a valiant attempt to look busy. Ah well, I suppose we all can use a little excitement, especially me. I’m already counting the days until next Saturday.
From The Rose Ring