Today is Derby Day, an important date for any Kentuckian, like myself. More importantly, at least in my personal history, it is the day I met Deloris, my wife and the love of my life. Some years ago, I wrote a piece, entitled “Tiptoe Through the Juleps,” describing our initial meeting. While it is a bit long, it’s also kinda a fun story. I have copied it here.
Tiptoe Through the Juleps
The first Saturday in May generates an almost religious feeling for those of us who grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s Derby Day! I am a proud son of the Bluegrass, and a member of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels. While I seldom go to the track, I always read all about the horses in the paper and was aware of the excitement and public attention Louisville received the week before the Run for the Roses.
As young boys, my friends and I would sit on the sidewalk, feet dangling in the gutter, counting cars with out of state licenses. There sure were a lot. When I was a teenager, we moved to the suburbs, outside the flow of racetrack traffic, but near the small, non-commercial airport. The arrival of numerous private planes heralded the beginning of the horse-race-centered social season. The only poem I can ever remember writing was an ode to the Derby. Unfortunately, or perhaps not, that poem no longer exists.
I only went to the Derby only. When I was in law school, my roommates and I, with our girlfriends, drove down from Chicago and camped out at my parents’ for the weekend. Early Saturday morning, we loaded the car with food, blankets, and coolers of beverages, mostly of the adult persuasion, and headed cross-town to Churchill Downs, to spend a hot, sunny day in the infield with tens of thousands of others. We were more what would be termed hard-core partiers than racing fans. That there were actually horses running around an oval track, on which one could bet, was a side-attraction. It was the atmosphere, and the sense of being present at an event that was the important thing. And, of course, the mint juleps!
So, it came as no real surprise to me that my life was changed by an encounter years later at a party on the other side of the country in a location where the First Saturday in May had a totally different significance. In Seattle, the first Saturday in May is celebrated as the opening day of boating season. The event is marked by a long parade of decorated pleasure boats, many crewed by people for whom a Saturday on the water means imbibing quantities of their favorite adult beverage. For my friends who lived in a house along the parade route, this event required hosting a bunch of non-boating friends who were equally intent on celebrating. This, then, was the setting for my major life- transforming experience.
I had been invited to Ben and Fredericka’s party, although I had accepted an invitation to escort a good friend to another gathering at some friends of hers who lived down the beach. In early afternoon, I decided to wander up to Ben and Fredericka’s and say “hi” to my friends at their party. As I entered their yard, I was greeted by their little dog, who mistook my bare ankles for party food. Or perhaps, she just didn’t like lawyers; the dog and I were never the best of friends. Shooing her off, my ankle sore but not bleeding, I entered the house, greeting people on my way to the upstairs den where I knew the horse race would be on TV. I was dressed in shorts, sandals and a bright red shirt, with pinball machines being the central design feature, and wrinkles the secondary one. This was not quite my white linen suit, string bow tie, Southern gentleman fantasy dress, but it was much more comfortable. The small room was filled with about ten people.
“Anybody want a mint lep?” I asked. Heads swiveled in my direction and hands began to be raised. I took a count and headed downstairs, where I had dropped off my bag of fixins. Derby Day calls for mint juleps, a beverage my New York-bred, Scotch- drinking daddy likened to bad cough syrup. Yet, it is the traditional drink for the day, and in the South, tradition is of central importance. So, juleps it was, and juleps were what I had now been drinking for several hours. The first batch for this party completed, I returned upstairs and distributed the drinks to everyone in the room, except one woman who seemed surprised by my return and my actions.
“You were serious?” she said, surprise mixed with disappointment in her words. “What do I have to do now to get a julep?”
Through somewhat alcohol-hazed eyes, I looked at this woman, whose reddish-blond hair, falling in page-boy bangs, framed an attractive face with clear, intelligent eyes. I did not know her, but felt an immediate desire to do so. “You have to be very, very nice to me,” I replied.
“OK,” she said, getting out of her chair to follow me downstairs. We had about fifteen minutes before the race began, plenty of time to do another batch of juleps.
The Cuisinart whirred to a stop, the ice clearly crushed. I removed the top and reached my right hand into the bowl to scoop up the crushed ice, forgetting about the sharp stainless steel blade lying below the surface. Bright red blood spurted from my thumb, coloring the ice. My fingers were so cold, there was no pain. I was, however, more than a bit surprised.
Ben, who was talking to someone on the other side of the room, rushed over when he heard my yelp of surprise, concern etched on his face. “Oh my god. What happened? What did you do?”
“I was crushing ice to make some mint juleps. I forgot about the blade. Those things are damned sharp! I don’t have such fancy appliances in my apartment, where I usually just use a hammer.”
Relief, mixed with amusement, replaced concern on Ben’s face. “Let me put a bandage on. First Fuji bit you, and now this. I don’t want to get sued. You damned lawyers.” This banter was part of our normal interchange. A research scientist, Ben was a non-practicing MD. Within minutes, he had encased my thumb in a bandage only slightly smaller than a dinner roll. If my finger was going to continue to bleed, there was no chance of any of it escaping this mummy-wrap. My right thumb was all but useless, which required me to finish my bartending obligations as best I could with my left hand.
I handed a plastic cup (not the traditional julep container) to the woman. “Here ya’ go,” I said. “Enjoy. By the way, my name is Allan,” using the beverage exchange as an excuse to introduce myself.
“Thanks. I’m Deloris. I’m an old friend of Fredericka’s,” she said.
“Me, too,” I replied. “Nice to meet you. We’d better get back upstairs if we want to see the race, and then I had better get back to the other party and my date.”
I don’t remember who won the Derby that year; I don’t even remember watching the race. I do remember seeing a friend who was a nurse as I was making my way out of the party. She took a look at my thumb and, after hearing the story, said, “Ben did that. Right?” It really wasn’t a question. Laughing, she took me back into the house where she unwrapped the yards of gauze and bandage, replaced the wad of wrapping with a small band-aid, and sent me on my way. It’s another example of why we want RN’s, not doctors, dispensing care at bedside.
About a month later, I was walking down the street several blocks from my office. It was First Thursday, the time when the art galleries in the Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle sponsor an “Art Walk” to attract people for art show openings and receptions. I was on my way to meet a couple of friends at a gallery when I ran into Fredericka and Deloris going the other direction. We stopped and talked for a few minutes.
“Why don’t you ever return phone calls?” Deloris asked with an edge to her voice.
“I always do,” I replied. “Especially when they are from women that I do not know well.”
“I left several messages and never got a return call,” she accused.
“I don’t know what happened. You probably need to try again.” I don’t know why I responded in such a flippant way, as I do not think it was really in character. It was as if the response had been voiced on its own, unbidden. However, to this day, I do not remember ever receiving her phone messages; I don’t even know how she got my phone number.
As there seemed little more to say after my response, we said goodbye and went off in opposite directions. Much to my surprise about a week later, Deloris called and invited me to meet her for a drink after work. For reasons neither one of us remember, we met at a Pizza Hut and shared a pineapple and Canadian bacon pizza; I do not recommend the combination. This meeting went much better than the earlier one on the street. Shortly before the pizza was finished, she invited me to her house for a drink and to watch the sunset.
Several days later, I arrived at her house, a quaint, old, artistically converted beach house overlooking Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains. The view was spectacular, even though it was to the East, opposite the sunset. Nevertheless, the setting sun’s colors reflecting off the mountains and illuminating the sailboats racing along the lake below us made up for the absence of a direct sunset view. Deloris had invited a friend to join us, either as a “chaperone” or, as she later explained, someone she thought might be interested in meeting me. She was surprised when her friend Elayne and I greeted each other with hugs and squeals of delight. Luckily, when Elayne and I had stopped seeing each other after a few dates, it was with no hard feelings on either side. Seattle is a socially small town.
The evening was enjoyable. Comfortable with each other, we drank wine, talked, shared stories, enjoyed the view. When Deloris heard that I had been involved in making a short film, she wanted to see it. Elayne did as well. We decided the best place to see the movie would be at an outdoor party, and the only people with an appropriate outdoor location were Ben and Fredericka.
“But they’re out of the country,” Deloris informed us. “How can we find out if they are willing to host the party?”
“Why don’t we just send Fredericka an invitation,” I suggested, knowing that she had seen the film and would likely be OK hosting a showing.
The plot was hatched. Elayne, an artist, designed the single invitation, which was mailed to Fredericka. When she opened her mail, Fredericka called Deloris, furious at what she had just received.
“I just got an invitation to a party — at my house. I can’t imagine who would have such nerve!” she fumed.
“I sent it,” Deloris responded, matter-of-factly.
“Oh. Well, in that case, OK.” Fredericka said, relieved at not being taken advantage of by a stranger. When she heard about the party’s planning and purpose, she was all for it. The party was held, the film shown, and, shortly thereafter, Deloris and I became an item, as they say.
Each year, on the first Saturday in May, I continue to make mint juleps. Rather than putting them into plastic cups, I now serve them in silver julep cups, embossed with the seal of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels. Deloris and I watch the race, remembering that fateful Saturday almost 25 years ago, when the drink and a televised horse race changed our lives, by bringing us together. Like I said, I don’t know who won the Derby that year; all I know is that I won the race!