Tom Croley; Cleveland Heights, Ohio
I was seventeen or eighteen and I didn’t drink that much yet. I was having a beer, a social drink at Irv’s Deli. I wasn’t in there for the ambiance, though. I was sitting in there and this girl comes walking in and she had something I wanted, she had some of Irv’s French fries and gravy. I said, “You got French fries and gravy? You must be a regular here.”
She goes, “Nah, well, sometimes.’ And I go, “Can I have a couple of those French fries and gravy?” I said, “You can have a sip of my warm beer, but not in that glass, that glass hasn’t been washed in a thousand years.” That glass used to move by itself.
This girl is sitting there talking to me and she is pretty sparkly so I say, “What’s your name? “My name is Sarah,” she says. “No, No, No, what’s your last name?” She said, “My last name is Wisely.” and I think huh, that was my high school principle. Couldn’t be the same.
So, I said, “Wow that is an interesting name.” And I drank some more, some more and the next day she showed up there again with French fries and gravy. And I said, “Okay, you can sit here. Just sit on your coat.” And I just looked at her closely and I didn’t notice she was scratching or anything so I knew it was safe.
She said she was a waitress at Diamonds. And so, I don’t know, I must have been rich back then because I had this 1959 Ford. Well, I wasn’t rich, and it burned oil but it would make it from Irv’s to Diamonds at Severance Mall. I went up there to see her and I was sitting next to this cop. We are talking away and he says, “Have you been drinking?” and I say, “Last night.” He says, “You smell like booze.” This is nine thirty or ten in the morning “Nothing’s open yet is there?” He didn’t tell me Knotty Pine was open then.
So anyway, Sara started coming back to Irv’s and she said, “Do you want to meet my parents?” And I am like “Oh, God, I don’t want to meet your parents but I guess I could.” So, we went over there to her parent’s house which was a ranch style house over there in Leave It To Beaver Land. Across the street there were all those Rockefeller houses which were built like bomb shelters for the Big One. Those were beautiful houses. So, the people who bought their Rockefeller’s with all their money had to look at Wisely’s house and Wisely got to look at their fancy-schmancy houses.
Wisely comes out the door, and it was my f****** principal, Oh My God! I had a big old Harley-Davidson in high school and none of those straight A students had one of those things but I did. I used to scare the hell out of everybody until I went right through the court yard and down the steps like Steve McQueen. And I got suspended for three days, by Wisely! By that guy!
So Wisely goes, “ I remember you!” and I go, “I remember you! So he said, I spent years and all my money putting Sarah into private girls schools to keep her away from people like you! So Wisely looks at my “59 Ford with the mattress in the back and it is in his driveway and he is looking and he goes,”Do you collect old cars?” And I say, “Oh, yeah. Can I have a dollar for some gas?”
So years went by and Sarah kept going, “I want a commitment, I want a commitment.” What the f*** is a commitment? I want some more French fries and gravy. So she said, "At least get me a Ring!" So, I go to the bowling alley at Severance Mall. They had that coin operated machine where you could get a wedding ring for fifty cents. But they were sold out! I was down there going, “The wedding rings are sold out Sarah.” She says, “We have to go somewhere else." and I go, “Woolworths?”
So, we went up to Woolworths and we went up to the candy counter and I say to the lady, “Do you got any wedding rings? And she goes, “We got these.” And it was a big, huge diamond. And I go,” How much is that?” She said, “These are three dollars and fifty cents.” I go, “Sarah do you have three dollars and fifty cents?” And I got her this ring and I go, “She takes a size six.” The lady says, “All you do is squeeze them to make them fit.” Sarah put it in a bag and goes over to my Mom’s house to get my check that was mailed to her house and says, “Mrs. Croley, do you have Tom’s check?” As she was waving her hand around. And my Mom is like, “What the heck is that thing?” Sarah said, “Oh Tom and I are engaged.” “Really?” says my mom, “Then on Friday we are going to have to take you out to dinner for this festivity.” So, we went out to the Green House on Murray Hill and that was pretty fancy. Sarah’s mom said,” So what are you getting dressed up for?”
“Well, Tom’s parents are taking us out to dinner because……” and Sara’s mom says, “Let me guess, you are engaged to Tom!”
In a weeks’ time that ring went to glass, it turned white, it looked like a broken coke bottle on her hand. I am like, “Oh, shit. Sarah goes, do you have any money?” I had just cashed a check so I had three dollars and fifty cents and I went back to Severance and the same lady was there she said, “Mr. Croley you can’t put that ring in the air, it will turn to glass.” And I say, “What am I supposed to do put Sarah in a case?”
So, we are finally getting married in this church and I am walking into the church and I hear “Hey Tom, Hey Tom,” and it was the minister and he was in the bushes with a flask of whiskey. And I was like, "Wow this is great! I am going to start believing in God and Jesus and everybody now!” So, we go into the church and the place was packed. Sarah had invited way too many people. Everybody was amazed that I had showed up. “Nice, Tom,” they say, “but you forgot to comb your hair and you forgot to get a haircut.” But my mom had rented me a tux.
The preacher goes on and on and I am just standing there with Sarah and her dad is right there with my parents. And the minister goes, “Now I pronounce you man and wife. You can kiss the bride.” So I kiss Sarah and I turn around to Sarah’s father and I say ”Hi Dad, we are even!” Wisely has been drinking heavily ever since.
Debra Wuliger, figurative artist working with color, texture and pattern to celebrate life.
Image silhouetted with story. Ready for hanging.