Intercontinental Blind Date

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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.

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About reneetamara

Writing about death, mental illness, spirituality, art and perfume. Because beauty feeds the soul, and love is beyond what we think.

5 responses to “Intercontinental Blind Date”

  1. Garce says :

    I was always struck by the fact that your father married your mother at a time when interacial marriages were not only rare but a felony in some places, like the state I live in now. You could go to prison for marrying outside your race. I’m also struck that your fathers parents were so cosmopolitan as to tell him to send his wife to university that an intellectual life is important to a woman. This semes like such an unusal view for China, even today. And then the revolution came. Did your grandparents survive the revolution?
    Garce

    • reneetamara says :

      Hi Garce,
      I was about 12 when I read about anti-miscegenation laws quite by accident in an encyclopedia. When I realized that my parents’ marriage was illegal in a good number of states when they were married, (laws were declared unconstitutional in 1967) I thought they were exceedingly cool and pioneers of a certain kind.
      My grandfather was educated in the US at the turn of the century and at the time of the revolution, I understand that his western texts were gathered and burned, much to his sorrow. I’ve been garnering details about Dad’s history from his journals and from my cousins and will be writing about it in more depth as this blog rolls onward.
      Thanks for reading and thanks for your comments.
      Renee

  2. Lenny Thiesen says :

    I regret not having met your parents. Your loving admiration of them is so rare and refreshing in these cynical times. I’m going to go find the letters that I wrote to your father all those years ago. I loved reading this.

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  1. July 5, 2012: Scent of an Old Man « Dad's American Beauty - October 20, 2012

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