Intercontinental Blind Date
They met on a blind date in Chicago in 1950 arranged by their roommates, who were mutual friends. He hailed from Shanghai, China, and she, from the Land of Oz, Topeka, Kansas. Dad told me that when he met Mom, he immediately wrote home to break the news: he had fallen in love with a woman who had the eyes and the smile to rival the popular actress Vivian Leigh. As a little girl I loved looking at old photos of Mom. Her eyes truly were striking, a sea glass green fringed with lashes of ebony. Her dark hair fell in waves against her pale complexion. She had what I have heard referred to as the coloring of the ‘Black Irish’ and made one think of fairy castles. Not very tall, she liked to think of herself as ‘pleasantly plump.’ She was, and still is, an undeniable beauty.
Dad was a serious, scientific fellow who made his way to the states with the hopes of his parents behind him all the way. That was in 1946. Dad never made it back to China in time to see his parents alive. The Communist revolution was brewing, and his concerned parents sent him encouragement by mail to make the best of his life in America. Both university educated, they sternly instructed their son not to even think of marriage until he could support his wife and family sufficiently.
“Send your wife to school. Intellectual life is very important for a woman. Make sure she is happy,” his mother scolded. “Take care of her. Do well.”
Their first real date was to a flower show. Mom lived at the Eleanor Club in Chicago, a residence for single working women. She worked at Marshall’s Department store doing filing. Just before she died this past spring, I was sampling some Fracas perfume given to me by a friend. Mom’s reaction was instantaneous: “The Eleanor Club! That’s the smell that greeted me when I first moved in. I’ve been looking for that fragrance all these years!” I like to think of those working women, spritzing Fracas by Piguet, their affordable luxury, creating everyday beauty for themselves.
In those days the women adhered to curfews, strictly enforced by a supervising house mother who saw to it that the “girls” had no male visitors in their rooms or callers at inappropriate hours. Dad told me that at first Mom wouldn’t go out with him but he wouldn’t give up. Once his persistence paid off, he endured regular disdainful looks from the house mother at every date. Even though he was educated and working as an engineer, this was the 1950’s and interracial relationships were frowned upon. Dad had pretty thick skin and a cosmopolitan upbringing in the French Quarter of Shanghai, where he was used to seeing individuals from all over the world. Growing up, I don’t recall ever hearing derogatory comments about other races or cultures from either of my parents. though our family was on the receiving end of them often enough.
Dad often told me he loved the way my mother enjoyed life. How she could laugh. He loved to see her smile. I think he felt that she warmed him, infused his sober self with some gaiety. Early black and white photos show Mom laughing, her entire face open and joyful. Dad looked darkly suave with his American Beauty on his arm. Theirs was a proper, old-fashioned engagement that lasted nearly two years. When Dad landed a job in New York City, he ended up renting two apartments so that Mom could follow him there and keep to the rules of what was considered decent until they were properly married. They had a small ceremony at city hall in Manhattan in February of 1952. Born Wei Lim, Dad became William, and took Dolores to be his wife.