For One Fleeting Moment
Just a thought on how someone can affect your life just by their being, and not even know it. Kind of like JS, I suppose. . . . . .
April 1, 1892
As I sit in the terminal waiting to board the train to St. Louis, my hometown, I observe my 12-year old daughter, Adeline, who is sitting next to me. She is not a happy girl. Ever since her father accepted a position at the University of St. Louis, and she learned she would have to leave her home. . .her life. . . .in San Francisco, she has become quiet and subdued. This, along with the changes taking place in her body, turning my baby girl into a young woman, have made both she and I a little on edge.
She confides to me she thinks she is ugly, that she will be an ‘old maid’ by the time she is 16. I tell her I know how she feels, for I was 12 years old. . .once. She sighs and looks away.
While I admit she is at that awkward age, tall and thin, with white teeth a little too large for her tiny face, hair that doesn’t know if it wants to be curly or straight, and eyeglasses she despises, she is, to me, beautiful. I am able to look beyond the awkward 12-year old girl and see the dynamic young woman that is just a few years away.
After a few minutes, I see her staring intently at something. .or someone. .across the crowded terminal. I follow her gaze to a group of young men. .boys really, about 19 or 20 years old. They are college students, obviously enroute to some vacation destination, and they are a joy to watch. All are good-looking and fun-loving, but I notice there is one boy that stands out from the others. I mention this to Adeline, and she sighs that she knows, for she has been watching him, too.
The boy with the dazzling smile has a way about himself. . not just his good looks, but the way he carries himself, his self-assurance. The young women that walk by notice him above the others, and he seems to relate to this fact.
He appears to be the leader. The others look to him for guidance, for approval, for acknowledgement, much as a young boy would toward a worshipped older brother.
There’s just something about him. . .
Adeline stares at him, longingly, and tells me that someday, she hopes she has a young man. . .just like him.
‘Mother,’ she sighs, ‘he is the most perfect thing God ever created.’
Not quite, my dear. . . . .I smile to myself.
As the train whistle blows, the group of young men board while the young man ensures his entourage is aboard safely. He climbs the few stairs to the train, the back of his snow-white sweater and his sun-drenched blonde hair the last thing she sees of him. Her eyes are glued to the train, oblivious to the other passengers who are boarding. Finally, the train whistle wails one more time, and the train inches off, a puff of smoke obscuring the mighty vehicle.
In a few minutes, nothing remains of the train. . . or of him. . .only the smell of coal and the black smoke encircling the boarding area.
There are new passengers across the way, and occupying the seats where the group frolicked. . .where he was. . .is an elderly couple and a young woman with a small baby, unaware of those spirited young men that existed in those very seats just a few moments before.
Our time has come and we board the train to our new home, where my husband awaits. Adeline is quiet, subdued. She tells me she had found, but lost, the most ‘handsome man in the world.’ That he was there, within her grasp, but that now he is gone. Forever. I comfort her; I tell her he was only the first, that there will be many others, and eventually, the one meant just for her. When she’s older. But she doesn’t believe me. . . .
As Adeline cuddles up to me, I relish in her warmth, in her needing me. And I shed a tear. But her coming of age experience reminds me that it is a right of passage that happens to all young girls, and it is a fleeing moment she will never, ever forget, but will always cherish.
For it happened to me as well.
And I wonder whether it was really 22 years ago that I, like my daughter, found, but lost, the ‘most handsome man in the world.’ That he was there, within my grasp, but I knew he couldn’t stay in my world. For he was a man, and I was only a girl. . .
Yes, it was all those years ago, but it seems like only yesterday. . . . .
Morro Coyo, California
April 1, 1870
I sat with my mother in a small, stuffy cantina, and neither of us were happy. My father had accepted a banking position in San Francisco, which meant leaving my home, my friends, and my life, in St. Louis for the wilds of northern California. The trip west had been fairly pleasant until the stage Mother and I were taking to Stockton broke a wheel, and we were stranded in some god-for-saken place called Morro Coyo.
The two-hour layover turned into two days, and Mother and I were at our wits end. My father had wired us that he couldn’t come ‘rescue’ us because he had to start his new job at the bank the next day. After some telegrams back and forth between he and the owners of the stagecoach line, Mother and I were afforded, free of charge, the finest accommodations this hole-in-the-wall town could offer, which weren’t much. But we had a roof over our heads, beds to sleep in, and an open invitation to the town’s cantina.
On that late Tuesday morning, Mother and I were notified the stage would be leaving, finally, at 1:30 p.m. She insisted that we have a good lunch, as she didn’t know when, or where, our next meal would come from. To be honest, I wasn’t feeling particularly well; the tiring journey, plus the life event that happened to me the night before, for only the third time, left me feeling less than enthused about life. How I longed for my home in St Louis; for my room, my friends, hell, even for my dog that had to be left behind.
Life just wasn’t fair!
So here I sat, in this cantina, half-heartedly eating my lunch, occasionally scanning the room to see who entered this less-than-stellar establishment. Mother prattled on about how great life would be in San Francisco, how I would fit in before I knew it. Half listening to her, I lifted my eyes to peruse the room, and I remember that as I did so, I did a double take. The mysterious, exotic-looking cowboy standing just inside the batwing doors caught my eye—and I suddenly found it very hard to breathe. Never in my life had I seen anyone like this person who stood, just stood there. . . scanning the room.
He didn’t move. But underneath the hat worn low with a drawstring encircling his face, I could see his eyes move ever so slightly, from side to side, as if he was looking for someone. He was absolutely the most enticing man I’d ever seen. He wasn’t exceptionally tall, but extremely fit and very well put together. In those few moments, I found myself ‘undressing’ him with my eyes, and I felt myself become very warm as my eyes rested upon the gun belt that he wore around his lean hips.
But it wasn’t the gun belt that made me tingly all over. . . . .it was where the buckle was located on his perfectly-formed physique. And deep down I knew I shouldn’t have been looking at that particular part of his anatomy.
But it couldn’t be helped!
He seemed satisfied as he pushed the batwing doors all the way open and made his entrance into the cantina.
I noticed his walk: it was cocky, self-assured, as if to say ‘Here I am. . .’ He walked in my direction and I noticed the way he was dressed; certainly no one in St. Louis dressed like that, and I sure as heck hadn’t seen anyone in these parts dressed like this either. He was flamboyant. His shirt was, well, pink I guess you could say, but on him it looked striking against a black bolero jacket trimmed in gold that ended just above his slim waist. Some sort of embroidery decorated the shirt around the neckline, but I couldn’t quite make out what it was.
As he made his way to the bar, I noticed his pants—they were dark brown with a small flare at the bottom, and silver buttons, or conchos I would later learn they were called, up the side of them, accenting his lean legs. As he walked, I heard a jingling sound on the floor, and I would later learn those things he wore on his boots were spurs.
I watched as he walked past me, his back to me, and I noticed his pants were very tight, revealing a very nice. . .very appealing. . .behind!
And I suddenly felt like a very naughty girl. . .
I also noticed that with his entrance and his walk to the bar, the other customers became very quiet; it was almost as if time stood still as they watched him. . .but it was not fear in their faces. It was awe. And respect.
I think that Mother noticed him as well. Her talking ceased as she saw me looking in his direction. I snuck a look at her and noticed a look of surprise, and then a pleasing smile, cross her face as she spied him. Then she turned to me, and with the look only a mother could give, told me to ‘look but don’t touch. He’s much too old for you, dear.’
‘But mother, he’s beautiful!’ I sighed.
‘Yes dear,’ she smiled. Then she went back to her lunch.
At the bar, he put his hands to the small of his back and stretched. He gave his order to the bartender, and the two men exchanged pleasantries. His drink ordered, he made his way to a table in the back of the room, and sat in the chair with his back to the wall, leaning the chair on its two back legs. I had a perfect view of him! Close enough where I could see every detail of him, but far enough away where I knew I wouldn’t be caught. . . .
He removed his hat, and it was then that I saw his face. . .the most perfect on anyone I had ever seen. He continued to scan the room, and it was then I could clearly see his eyes. They were indescribable! Blue, so very blue, like my mother’s sapphire broach. And he had the darkest, thickest hair. . .it was tousled from being under his hat, but I saw him take his hands and smooth it down, just a little.
I felt myself becoming very excited. . .
The waitress came to his table and served him his drink, along with a basket of chips and some sauce. I could hear his voice as he spoke her name, ‘Rosita,’ and they conversed in a language I had come to learn was Spanish. I remember thinking that the sound of his voice was the most beautiful thing I ever heard, even though I couldn’t understand a word he said.
He affectionately put his hand around Rosita’s tiny waist, and brought her down to his lap and they giggled; then their lips touched in a long, lingering kiss, and at that moment, all I wanted more than anything in the world was to be that Rosita girl.
After their kiss, he took a drink and offered her some chips, which he playfully fed to her, then she began to ‘scold’ him and they playfully conversed in Spanish until Rosita had to go back to work.
As she made her way to another customer, I heard him say, in perfect English so the whole cantina could hear, ‘I promise I’ll behave Saturday night!’ She scolded him in rapid Spanish, but he just laughed and went back to his drink and chips.
And I wondered what exactly what would happen on Saturday night. . . . .
As he enjoyed his chips and his drink, a few men came up to him and chatted. I imagined he must have been someone pretty important, and I came to realize that he lived here. .somewhere. .in this one-horse town. But I also ascertained that he lived in wealth, for his attire, and grooming, spoke of it.
Finally, he was left alone, and he seemed to enjoy the solitude. For a moment, he stared into space, a small, wistful smile on that boyishly handsome face, as if thinking about something, or someone, that brought him pleasure. The piercing sapphire eyes mesmerized me, and I remember feeling hypnotized for his very being was so dizzying to me.
Then, for a second, our eyes met. Whether he sensed he was being stared at, I don’t know, but the smile left and his face suddenly became serious, even a little dangerous looking, and it startled me. But it also brought out emotions in me I didn’t realize I possessed. . .a wanting for adventure, for excitement. Even for danger.
But when our eyes locked and he realized it was a mere girl staring at him, he looked away with an amused look on his face.
And I felt myself turn as red as a sun-drenched tomato in July!!
I remember thinking the red-and-white checkered tablecloth was suddenly very interesting, and Mother scolded me and told me to get my hair out of my food. But I couldn’t look up, I couldn’t face him again!!
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him rise from his chair. I gained the courage to raise my head up, and he was placing his hat back on his head. Then he tossed some coins on the table and bid a cheerful ‘Adios’ to the patrons of the cantina.
As he made his way out, I was horrified as he walked toward my mother, and I wondered just what on earth he would say to this woman who was totally oblivious to him. I just wanted the floor to open up and gobble me whole, so I wouldn’t have to face whatever it was he was going to say to her about me.
Something terrible, I just knew it. . . . . .
‘Ma’am. . .’ Mother looked at him, a little puzzled, but he was smiling. ‘You have a very beautiful daughter, I just wanted to let you know,’ he said, then looked at me and winked.
I think I felt my heart actually stop at that moment . . .
‘Thank you, young man. We’re quite proud of her,’ my mother replied, beaming from ear to ear.
He put his hand to his hat. ‘Ma’am. . .’ Then as he walked by me, again tipping his hat ever so slightly. . ‘Miss. . .’
I was totally numb, but I do remember that even my mother blushed!
I stared at him, not blinking for an instant, as he walked away from me, with jingling spurs, a body put together so well. . .a walk that was perfect. . . .
I willed him to stay for just a moment longer, for his presence electrified my boring, rather simple life, and gave me a feeling of excitement and pleasure I had never felt before.
Or since. . . .
He opened the batwing doors and walked through. I watched as he made his way outside, past the window of the cantina. . . .
And he was gone. . . with an empty table, an empty glass, and a half-eaten bowl of chips the only evidence of his existence.
How I wanted to run after him!
With his leaving, the room was void of his energetic presence, and I felt a genuine loss, like someone very special to me had just gone away forever. But at the same time, I felt like something inside me had changed. I suddenly felt. . . beautiful!
The flamboyant cowboy with the pink shirt, flared pants, and perfectly-placed belt buckle made me feel like a flower that had just bloomed and became a thing of beauty; he made me feel proud of who I was, and made me feel like I really was an important part of this big, sometimes cruel, world.
I’ve often wondered how someone who passed through my life for only an instant so many years ago could affect me like he did. For to this day I know nothing about him; not his name or what he did for a living or what his place was in this life.
Or even if he is still a part of this world. . .
But what I do know is that I will never, ever, forget the exotic cowboy with the sparkling eyes, the perfect white teeth against the suntanned skin, the thick, black hair, and the boyish grin that lit up a handsome face full of love, trust. . . .and kindness.
I went on with my life, as we all do, and it’s been a good life full of love for my husband and daughter. But I secretly admit I have never, ever, felt like I did for that one fleeting moment, when as a 12-year old girl who wanted so much to be a woman, I truly was in the presence of
‘One of God’s most perfect creations. . . . . . .’
Written by a sentimental Laraine on her 38th Lancer Anniversary. . . .
April 1, 1969—April 1, 2007
For JS, with thanks. . . .