My father had always been an astute observer of human character. Within seconds of meeting someone, he could sum up their strengths and flaws.
It was always a challenge to see if any of my boyfriends could pass Dad’s test. None did. Dad was always right—they didn’t pass my test either. After Dad died, I wondered how I’d figure it out on my own.
That’s when Jack arrived on the scene. He was different from any other guy I’d dated. He could sit for hours on the piano bench with my mother, discussing obscure composers. My brother Rick loudly announced that Jack wasn’t a turkey like the other guys I’d brought home. My sister, Denise, belly-laughed with him over old Danny Kaye films. And Jack was great with my brother Chuck, who has a mental disability.
One time, Chuck put his greasy hands, just dislodged from a cheeseburger, on Jack’s shoulders, kissed his cheek with ketchup-covered lips and called him by the wrong name, shouting, “Ah, Jeff, I luv ya!” Jack didn’t miss a beat. “I love you too, George!” Jack passed my family’s test. But what about Dad’s?
Then came the weekend of my mother’s birthday. Jack was coming down from his home in Milwaukee to Chicago. The day he was supposed to drive, I got a call: “Don’t worry,” he said, “but I’ve been in an accident.” His car had stalled; when he pulled over, another car careened into it. “I’m fine—but I need you to pick me up.”
Thank God he’s okay, I thought, as I drove up to Milwaukee. When I got there, we rushed to a flower shop for something for Mom. “How about gardenias?” Jack said, pointing out a beautiful white corsage.
“You never see those this time of year,” I said. The florist put the corsage in a box.
The entire ride, Jack was unusually quiet. “Are you all right?” I asked. We were pulling onto my mother’s street.
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking,” he said. “I might be moving.” Moving? When was he going to tell me this? After he packed? Then he added, “Moving in with you.” I nearly put the car on the sidewalk.
“What?” I asked.
“I think we should get married,” he said. He told me he’d planned his proposal for a fancy restaurant, but after the accident, he decided to do it right away.
“Yes,” I whispered. We both sat stunned, tears running down our cheeks, unable to speak. I’d never known such a tender moment. If only Dad were here to give his final approval.
“Oh, let’s just go inside.” Jack laughed. We got out of the car and he walked up the driveway, carrying the corsage. My mother opened the door.
“Happy Birthday!” we shouted. Jack thrust the box at her. She opened it up. Suddenly, her eyes brimmed with tears. Jack and I looked at each other.
“Mom, what’s wrong?” I asked.
“I’m sorry,” she said, wiping her eyes. “This is only the second gardenia corsage I’ve ever received. I was given one years ago, long before you kids were born.”
“From who?” I asked.
“Your father,” Mom said. “He gave me one right before we were engaged.” My eyes locked on Jack’s as I blinked away tears.
Dad’s test? I knew Jack had passed.