A GRAND ROMANCE

Laverda stood on the sidewalk in front of The Grand Hotel, wrapping her courage around
her shoulders like a shawl.

I can do this…I can DO this….I CAN do this….

Her words were silent now, but during the long walk from her house, she had whispered
them in time to her steps, trying to march rather than simply walk. Soldiers marched
into battle and they were brave; she would be a soldier today!

I CAN DO THIS!!

And she pushed through the revolving door into the lobby, marched across the polished
marble floor directly to the registration desk and looked the clerk straight in the
eye.

“I would like to see the manager, please.” Laverda was happy with the way her voice
behaved when she spoke. No nervous squeaks or false starts this morning!

The clerk was known as The Guard Dog. He never let anyone see the manager unless he
knew the reason for their visit, and sometimes not even then. But he did always try to
be polite, so he looked back at Laverda with a gentle smile on his face.

“And why would a little girl like you need to see the manager?”

For some reason,these words roused the actual soldier in Laverda. She surprised herself
and the clerk with her answer.

“I may not be very tall, but I am hardly a ‘little girl’. And my business is with the
manager, not with you. Please be kind enough to call him.”

The Guard Dog did not know whether to bark or to laugh. He looked into Laverda’s angry
black eyes and decided that maybe just this once the manager could deal with A Problem
on his own.

“Please wait one moment, madam.”

He went to tap gently on a door marked OFFICE, disappeared for a few minutes, then
returned to his post behind the desk.

“If you will have a seat, the manager will be right with you, young lady.”

“Thank you.”

Laverda settled on the edge of a large leather chair. She was not nervous at all
anymore: the little skirmish with the clerk had relaxed her. For once she felt as
though she actually could do what she had dreamed of for so long: get a job, one that
would allow her to help with expenses at home on the farm. Times were hard. Jobs were
scarce, even for a high school graduate. Very few of her friends from the Class of 1919
had found work.

To keep her mind busy while she waited, Laverda looked curiously around the lobby of
the hotel, which she had never entered before today. There were more oversized chairs
and a few small sofas, most with reading lamps and coffee tables nearby. A beauty salon
in one corner, a cigar shop and newsstand in another.

To the left of the main entrance and directly across the lobby from Laverda’s chair was
the doorway to The Grand Cafe, the hotel’s popular coffee shop and another place
Laverda had never been. She made a quick decision: no matter what happened during her
interview with the hotel manager, she would treat herself to a ham sandwich and a
lemonade before the long walk back home. She had twenty-five cents in her coin purse;
even in a fancy place like The Grand Cafe, that would surely be more than enough money!

Just as her tummy began to gurgle at the thought of a sandwich, the manager appeared
beside Laverda’s chair.

“Very sorry to keep you waiting, Miss. How may I help you today?”

Laverda took a deep breath and stood up. This was it, the moment she had been waiting
for!

“I understand that you need a new daytime switchboard operator. I am here for the job.”

The manager supressed his urge to laugh out loud at the nerve of this tiny young lady
staring up at him so intently. He himself had just been informed yesterday that the
current operator was moving out of town, yet here was his first applicant for the
position! Well, times were hard, people rushed to any rumor of work. Why should this
girl be any different?

“I see. But what about your schooling? Wouldn’t a job interfere with your classes?”

Laverda sighed. Sometimes she truly wished to be taller! But she had prepared herself
carefully for this day and nothing was going to stop her. She reached into her purse
and produced her high school diploma, offering it to the manager with a smile.

“I can start tomorrow.”

This time the manager did laugh out loud. And he said the words that would mark the
beginning of a new era for Laverda.

“Fine. You’re hired. Come to the office; we’ll fill out some paperwork. And if you
really can start tomorrow, you can spend the morning with Louisa learning the board,
then be on your own by the afternoon. How does that sound?”

She wanted to jump up and down, sing for joy, run home and share the news! But Laverda
simply smiled.

“That sounds perfect.”

They took care of the paperwork in the office, then the manager took Laverda to the
cubbyhole room that held the switchboard and introduced her to Louisa, who welcomed her
with a hug and a whispered “Congratulations, Cousin!”.

After explaining the plan for the following day the manager left the two women alone,
supposedly to get acquainted, but once the door closed they embraced again and fell
into a fit of relieved giggles.

“I knew you could do it, Laverda! I just knew it!”

“Oh, Louisa I was so nervous! And then that desk clerk made me so mad! I wanted to
slap him!”

This idea caused another giggle fit but finally they got themselves under control. Then
Laverda’s tummy made a hungry grumble and she told her cousin about her decision to eat
in The Grand Cafe before returning home.

“Good idea! The food’s delicious and if you sit at the counter instead of a booth
you’ll be able to watch the cook!”

“And why would I want to do that?”

“Well why else, silly…because he’s tall, dark and handsome!”

“Oh, my stars, Louisa…I won’t have time for romance! I have a job now!”

“Just go sit at the counter and enjoy yourself, dear!” Louisa gave her cousin a gentle
push out the cubbyhole door, then watched her cross the lobby and enter the cafe.
“Okay, Ben, it’s your turn now!” she whispered as she sat down and began making
connections on the glowing switchboard.

Inside the cafe Laverda climbed onto a stool at the counter and tried not to look as
nervous as she suddenly felt. Cousin Louisa had been talking about this newest
short-order cook for weeks; ever since the day he first arrived at the hotel “in the
middle of a raining cats and dogs thunderstorm, dripping wet and laughing about
stepping on every poodle in the street”.

The idea that anyone could be so cheerful under such conditions had intrigued Laverda.
Whenever Louisa had stopped by the house, chattering away about everything under the
sun as usual, Laverda had listened closely for any scraps of news about the cook. But
even though she had decided that he was indeed a very interesting person, she never
thought she might one day have a chance to see him herself.

She peeked a time or two through the large order window, where she could see part of a
huge stove and the usual clutter of a busy kitchen, but there was no sign of any tall,
dark and handsome cook.

Laverda accepted the menu card offered by a waitress, using it only to check prices.
She needed to be sure she could afford the brunch her tummy was demanding.

“I’ll have the five cent ham sandwich,lemonade, and a slice of apple pie, please.” The
sandwich would surely be small, but Laverda didn’t want to spend more than ten cents,
even on a celebration meal. She was too careful with her money according to Cousin
Louisa, but she simply did not like the idea of an empty coin purse and always tried
to keep some change available.

The waitress fastened the page with Laverda’s order onto a revolving wheel and clapped
her hand down on a small silver desk bell. “Ordering, Ben!! Give me one Covered Piglet,
a Johnny Appleseed, and smash a few lemons!!”

Laverda laughed at this description of her meal. She was still giggling when the cook
suddenly appeared in the order window.

Oh my stars, Louisa was right, he IS handsome! That was her first thought. Her second
thought was Oh my stars, he’s looking at me! And her third was Oh my stars, he just
winked at me!!

With that wink Laverda lost the poise she had maintained all morning. Her face felt
warm, and she desperately wanted to look somewhere besides into the cook’s brown eyes,
but she simply couldn’t turn away.

Then he smiled, and the already friendly face became a spotlight of joy. Laverda’s
heart did a somersault. Oh my stars!

A waitress rang the silver bell. “Ordering, Ben!! Give me a Naked Turtle On A Cloud!!”
The cook winked at Laverda once more, then turned to prepare his orders, leaving
Laverda with time to puzzle over what had just happened. And something HAD happened,
she was certain of that. If the waitress had not rung that bell and asked for whatever
a Naked Turtle On A Cloud was, Laverda would surely still be looking into the cook’s…
Ben’s, she allowed herself to think…into Ben’s sparkling eyes!

She watched Ben moving gracefully around the kitchen. He was tall but not clumsy like
her brother. She could hear him whistling a little tune that made Laverda tap her toes
and wish for a dance floor. Then before she was quite prepared, Ben turned again and
put an enormous ham sandwich on the shelf of the order window. He slapped the bell,
called out “Order up….one Covered Piglet and a Johhny Appleseed!” And there was that
smile with another wink too!

The waitress placed Laverda’s sandwich on the counter but surely there was some
mistake…this couldn’t be her small five cent sandwich?!

“Excuse me, but is this really just a Piglet? It’s huge!”

The waitress gave Laverda her smashed lemons and laughed. “I don’t make the meals,
dearie, I just dish them out! If Ben says that is a Piglet, then it’s a Piglet! Enjoy
your food, sweetie.”

The bell rang again. “Order up…one Naked Turtle On A Cloud!” The waitress turned to
the order window and Laverda caught a glimpse of the Naked Turtle: some kind of fruit
salad on a heap of whipped cream, apparantly.

One more peek at the order window, but Ben was not there so Laverda picked up half of
her Piglet and began to eat.There was a spicy flavor that she couldn’t identify, yet
definitely this was the best ham sandwich she had ever tasted. She ate the half, but
knew she would not have room for the rest; not if she wanted the apple pie too. She
sipped her lemonade and wondered what to do.

“Is there something wrong with the Piglet, miss?”

Oh, my stars! There was Ben sitting on the stool next to her! She glanced quickly to
the order window and saw a different cook there, a grumpy looking tubby fellow.

“Was the seasoned mayonnaise too spicy for you? I might have put too many chilis into
it this time.”

Somehow Ben’s concern for his creation relaxed Laverda. “Seasoned mayonnaise! So that
was the special flavor?! No, it was not too spicy, it was delicious! I just was not
expecting such an adult Piglet. I’m afraid I’m nearly full already, but I still want my
Johnny Appleseed so I thought I’d rest a bit first.”

Ben laughed with her and they began to chat, the business of the cafe whirling noisily
but unnoticed around them. She told him about her new job; he told her about his plans
to become a bus driver for the city. She told him about her family on the small farm on
the edge of town; he told her he had been wandering the country since leaving school
one day at age fourteen. She told him about racing through the meadows on her little
black pony; he told her about competing in Golden Gloves boxing tournaments.

She told him about her dream to someday have her own little house in the city; he told
her he had the same dream but was waiting for the right girl to come along. And when he
smiled at her, Laverda felt herself blushing again. Oh, my stars!

Eventually they both realized that the rest of the Piglet had somehow been eaten, and
the waitress had been by more than once to try to shoo them away. Ben would not let
Laverda pay her tab: he fished a dime out of his pocket and left it on the counter,
then offered to walk Laverda home, promising to walk slowly since his legs were so much
longer than hers.

“I may not be very tall, but I am hardly a slow walker, Ben. I will easily be able to
keep up with you! As a matter of fact, I might even need to walk slower just for you!”

Ben’s rich laugh filled the hotel lobby as they left together. In the cubbyhole of the
switchboard room, Cousin Louisa heard the sound and smiled. “I knew you could do it,
Ben! I just knew it!” And she continued making connections on the glowing
switchboard.

 

Copyright Debbie Zapata OCTOBER 12,2011

 

 

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