At Radcliffe Miriam eats lunch and studies at the Mt. Vernon Street Tea Room. She choses the leaden-pane window nook on the sunny side; tucks her gloves in a brocade satchel; pulls out a book, looseleaf and a compact; unpins her hat; powders her nose; peers into the mirror; and twists an errant curl into one of the long rolls circling her head like a black crown. The waitress brings Miriam’s usual: cucumber and cream cheese on rye and a pot of tea with lemon.


Unbeknownst to her, Sumner is watching.


He sits at a large table in the center–the Mt. Vernon Street version of the Algonquin Round Table. As his fellow Harvard Law students debate minutiae of the law, Sumner eyes Miriam’s every move.

She is the center of the nook universe: green crockery teapot steams to the east and clouds the window with its breath. Her book is to the west, looseleaf directly in front, and the plate of triangle-cut sandwiches is south; so she sometimes has to flick a bread crumb off the paper with her little finger as she reaches over the looseleaf for another section of the cucumber and cream cheese.

She squints and frowns to read the prices printed on the mirror menu behind the lunch counter (her budget doesn’t include funds for glasses); carefully counts change and leaves it on the table for the waitress; packs herself up; and heads off to class.

For the whole year Sumner studies her, but she’s near-sighted and doesn’t seem to notice. Or so he thinks. This changes on April 19th when Miriam realizes that she is about to be late for a final exam. She lingered too long over her notes and sandwiches and lost track of time.

Frenzied, she gathers her things and bolts from the nook. She casts her eyes around and meets those of my father. She rushes up to him and, without preamble, asks, Do you have 5 dollars for a taxi?  

Ignoring his chortling chums, Sumner jumps to his feet, knocks over his chair, reaches for his wallet, pulls out a five, walks her to the door, hails a taxi, helps her in, and sees her off–but not before he gets her name and phone number.

And the rest, as they say, should have been sweet history.

My parents told the How-We-Met story every April 19th; but, as a kid, it confused me because they bickered all the time. Now I think that telling this story was an attempt to find the ends of those ties that had come loose.



PATTY 4/12/13

15 thoughts on “Stories Remind Us of the Ties that Bind: Another One from the Raymond Family.

    1. Thanks, Ray. I’ve recently learned that my mother was actually engaged to a young doctor at this time, setting aside pans and doodads in his apartment. “What If” figures largely in any story, but needing a fiver as fast as possible seemed to be the stick that changed the course of that river that’s for sure.


  1. Checking emails for just a minute while preparing taxes I am drawn into your opening lines . I sit now stilled pondering the vivid images you brought to mind. This is good, really good. Please more.


    1. A taxing marriage it was too, so doing taxes while you read the piece makes sense! I’ve got a stack of Sumner and Miriams that I’ve tried to understand for years. So, with the keep it under 500 words as my initial revising tactic, I’m on it. (I have to admit that I like thinking of my parents in their good modes.)


  2. Thanks! It’s interesting to see what happens to a story and the meaning I eventually dig out of it–and the last paragraph is NEW info for my mind and heart–it’s interesting to see what happens when I cut the clutter out of the writing, try to simplify (this is why I’ve given myself the under 500 words rule–I don’t have many rules so this one seems quite disciplined!!–and keep asking “why does it matter so much to me.”


  3. Hi,
    Very beautiful I loved all the little details of the period like the hat and gloves. I also adored the photos!

    This definitely is a step back in time.
    My parents knew each other through a work friend of Dad’s who invited him and one of his wife’s friends. 🙂


  4. Hi Patty. This is so touching. I felt the same sense of deja vu I get with Sharon Olds’ poem about trying to stop her parents’ marriage on the day they met.

    But I also experience the chemistry that made it happen: a whole year of Sumner studying Miriam until, ohymygoodness, she rushes up to him! Your 500 word limit is great for immediacy. Morgan


  5. Morgan! That’s it; that’s the word for what happens when you shrink a 1300-worder to a 500 or less. Thanks for that. Also, I know that Sharon Olds poem. The paper doll image sticks in my head like a headache. Only problem of course is that if it–her parents’ marriage–hadn’t happened we wouldn’t have had all that luscious poetry.


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