“The Little, Red-Haired Girl”

Gary R. Vencill and his “little, red-haired girl,” his wife, Gail. She made the Valentines below for Gary.

Milby stopped for a red light directly behind a beat-up old pickup. The Dodge’s headlights revealed that sitting next to the driver, as close as one can possibly sit to another, was a beauty with long, blond tresses. Wes Milby was my best friend at the University of Nebraska. He had a green, yellow, and white 1955 Dodge. It looked like a May Basket on wheels, the sort of car a young man might expect young women to gather round to admire. They didn’t. We were driving back from city campus, lamenting as usual the woeful estate of our romantic endeavors, when we stopped behind the pickup.

We followed that pickup for several miles speculating about what that guy could possibly have to offer women that we did not. Why would a beautiful woman date a guy with a beat-up old pickup? What was the matter with us anyway? Just before we reached Ag campus, the pickup driver stuck his arm out the window to signal a left turn and then stopped for oncoming traffic. When he did, “the gorgeous blond” turned her head. Illuminated by the headlights of oncoming cars, as well as by Milby’s headlights, we saw her face in full profile. She was an Afghan Hound.

Milby and I were Charlie Browns, always waiting and hoping for a Valentine from “the little, redheaded girl.” My second year at Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, Milby came for his first year, and we roomed together. Milby returned from registering for classes all excited. He reported that there were beautiful, identical, redheaded twins in his incoming class. We should get a date with them, he thought, but he did not know their names. I said we could easily find their names by consulting the list of incoming students. Obviously, they would be the only women with the same last name.  

Where would we take them? I suggested taking them to a meeting with a Puerto Rican street gang at the Isham YMCA. I was employed there as the gang’s counselor. The “Y” was located in Old Town, Chicago’s Greenwich Village. Garrett women, I told Milby, with little evidence to be sure, always fell for that ploy. And it was a cheap date. We could sweeten the proposal by offering to take them, after the meeting, to The Chances “R,” one of the pubs in Old Town.

We phoned them. They said “yes.” Now Milby began his instructions: We would take his nice Dodge and not my Rambler. I was not to set off on any wild-haired philosophical speculations or political rants. I was to can my cuss words. We picked them up as they were getting off work. Did I mention that Milby was very fastidious about his car? No one had ever smoked in it. The women jumped in and immediately lighted up cigarettes. Milby said nothing. Then they began a conversation in a ripe theological language liberally embellished with cuss words. But he had been right about this much: they were beautiful.

They had not had supper. We took them to Moody’s Pub the Second. The place was called Moody’s Pub the Second as a dig at the Moody Bible Institute which was also in Old Town. The women ordered burgers—and beer! Milby, I had reason to suspect, was scandalized. But he said nothing. I had two concerns: Were we going to be late to the meeting? And did I have enough money to cover what my date had ordered for supper and any expenses to come later at The Chances “R”?

After the meeting, we took them to The Chances “R” as promised. I was now seriously concerned about money because the chances were that I did not have enough money to cover our tab. The pub was dark, and the waiter seated us in a particularly dark corner. The twins ordered liquor, so he asked to see their IDs. He took the IDs off to look at them in the light. He returned to say that their IDs had to be fakes because they were California drivers’ licenses with the same birth date for both women. Milby and I could have gallantly pointed out that this is not unheard of in the case of identical twins. But we said nothing. We left and took them home, and glad to be shed of them we were. Had they been served their liquor, later consultation confirmed, we could not have paid for it. And so, in seminary we continued to collaborate in the same calamitous social life we had so enjoyed in college.

My life has been, at least in this respect, more fortunate than has Milby’s. He married a blond. But I did, after some years to be sure, receive a Valentine, the first of many, from “the little, redheaded girl.” That “little, redheaded girl” is my wife Gail. And she makes the cards herself.

(With apologies to Charles Schultz and Charlie Brown.)

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