Monday, June 26, 2006

Meeting Paul By Bea; Meeting Beatrice by Paul

In May 2001, Bea composed one of her little messages for us to find later. The handwriting is a bit shaky, but, considering she was 92, writing even a page by herself is pretty incredible. Here is what Bea felt inspired to share: “It gives me pleasure to recall the circumstances under which I met my future husband. I was living in Georgetown and had arranged with my widowed hostess to have an occasional dinner party. It so happens that in the same office in the government was a man I had met earlier: Paul Grabbe. I invited him to my party, but he had another engagement. However, as a friendly gesture, he invited me to cocktails at a Georgetown café. Cocktails led to dinner and, as it was June, a walk along the nearby canal. He told me that he had been married and that it hadn’t worked out. As I later learned, his first wife, Laura Harris, had given up an excellent job as children’s book editor at Grosset & Dunlap and then found that living in Washington without her career bored her and went back to NYC. We walked along the Potomac Canal that June night. Paul asked if he could kiss me. I thought that unusual because men usually proceeded without permission. I felt then that there would be more …”

Now, it just so happens that I also have my father’s version of their first date. He recounts in his memoirs that they were both working at the Library of Congress, transformed into offices during the war:

“The azaleas were in bloom the day I met Beatrice, a svelte blond with intense, cornflower blue eyes. I was attracted to her at once. She headed up the Radio Section, which reported on how war news was being presented to the American people on the radio. We had been introduced at a meeting with many other people present. Ever since, I had looked forward to getting better acquainted.

Smokers were required to go outdoors, so I left my desk five or six times a day. I would grab some documents and briskly walk down the aisle. I hoped no one would notice that instead of making for the door, I detoured past Beatrice's desk to have a look at her. I walked fast, as if intent on some important task. What I did not realize was that my frequent appearances had piqued her curiosity. It wasn't long before she waylaid me to find out why I kept striding by.

“What do you do here?” she asked.

“Come over to my desk and I'll explain.”

As she followed me, I wracked my brain for an adequate response. It certainly wouldn't do to admit that so far I had accomplished nothing but reading reports and attending staff meetings. I glanced down at my watch. “Nearly noon!” I exclaimed, as if in surprise. “If you happen to be free . . . there's a good place near here, fairly quiet. . . where we could have lunch.”

We found a table at the Greek restaurant across the street. I ordered sherry for us both. “It's gotten cooler today,” I said, leading her eyes towards the window. “Seems there was a shower.” I studied my companion and hoped she didn't think I was staring. Beatrice looked unusually attractive in her suit of charcoal gray, accented by an orchid pinned to her lapel, and a chartreuse sweater. Perched on her head was a saucy little hat to match the suit. There was a silence while the waiter brought our drinks.

“You were going to explain your work,” she reminded me, taking a sip of sherry.

I told her some of the things I had done before the war and explained my bafflement at the ways of Government. Beatrice listened closely and asked several questions. Then I suggested she tell me about herself.

“I graduated from Vassar ten years ago. After that I worked as a producer of educational programs for CBS radio.”

“So you came down here to help in the war effort?”

Beatrice minimized the importance of what she had done, but I was impressed, for it seemed there was nothing comparable in my career to date. Time flew by. We parted, promising to see each other soon again.

A few days later, as I was about to call her on the intercom, she called me first. Her voice sounded ebullient: “I'm giving a dinner party next Friday and hope you'll come. I've invited a glamorous Spanish girl you'll enjoy meeting.”

Didn't Beatrice realize I was interested in her? I scrambled for an appropriate response. “Friday?” I said, trying not to reveal my disappointment. “I would have loved to but unfortunately have an engagement I can't break. I’m really sorry.” I felt I couldn't let it go at that, so I added, “How about we have supper together some other night, say next week?”

It turned out we lived only a few blocks apart. We walked over to Martin's on Wisconsin Avenue, then strolled along the Chesapeake Canal. It was June, and the warm summer evening lent special intimacy to the occasion. Looking sideways at my companion, I thought that surely she must be the most alluring creature I had ever known – apart from Veta. But Veta was long ago and far away, while Beatrice was here and now. On an impulse, I told her about my marriage to Laura and of our imminent divorce.

We paused to watch the city lights reflected in the Potomac. There was no one around. We could barely hear the sound of distant traffic. I felt a sharpening of all my faculties, a sudden keen awareness of the woman at my side. I counted to four, trying to quiet the pounding of my heart, then took her in my arms …”

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