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The Missed Opportunity of a Lifetime

November 07, 1985|FLORENCE G. MITCHELL | Mitchell is a Studio City free-lance writer

An old acquaintance of mine, who proved to be a wise philosopher, once commented, "Don't ever be sorry for the things you've said, but be sorry for the things you haven't said."

In 1945, after V-J Day, the campus at the University of Pittsburgh was overflowing with returning veterans all anxious to achieve their higher educational goals, hurrying to make up for the years spent at the battlefront and to get on with the rest of their lives.

At that time, my days as a full-time college co-ed began. The ratio of four men to every woman was an answer to every maiden's dream. Everywhere you looked there were men. It was not unusual for classes to enroll as many as 500 in lecture periods using the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall across the street from the university.

Owner of a Spacious Pontiac

At first, public transportation was my only means of traveling from the small industrial town about 17 miles away from Pittsburgh where I shared an apartment with my parents. Then I heard of Bernie, whose father was a local jeweler, and who was the proud owner of a spacious Pontiac. I also knew that five passengers already filled the seats, but I decided to be assertive. The word no was not in Bernie's vocabulary and when I meekly approached him for a ride home in order to escape the tedious and bumpy ride on the red and white Pittsburgh Transit streetcar he assured me that it could be arranged.

The arrangement was that I sit on the lap of one of the five male passengers. Bernie introduced me to the riders. Most of them looked familiar from my McKeesport High days. The only one I could not recall meeting was Don, who was a returning veteran and older. Being the stockiest built, he was designated to be the one whose lap I would occupy the 25 minutes that it took to get home. Although my 105 pounds were not a cumbersome burden, I always felt that I was somewhat of an imposition on this nice, quiet and well-mannered fellow.

It seemed that Don appeared everywhere in my life while I attended Pitt. He was in my American history class. The professor alphabetized the group and because both our surnames began with a "G" we sat elbow to elbow every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 10 o'clock. The instructor's monotone voice was boring and when I would doze off, Don would kick me gently.

Coincidentally, we picked the Alldred Room Library on the 36th floor, the same time and the same table, to complete our assignments and our friendship began.

'Look Who's Here'

Saturdays I commuted to Pittsburgh to work at Kaufman's department store selling handbags on the ground floor and as I stood on Fifth Avenue waiting for the transit to get me to my job, I spotted Don with his dark brown, wavy hair edging upon his broad forehead and his rimless glasses sliding slowly on his rounded nose. "Well, look who's here," he grinned. Yes, he was employed at the same store selling ties across from my counter.

The ride, which once seemed endless and burdensome, soon became short and smooth as our conversation floated lightly and easily along. Our days commenced pleasantly.

Practice Teaching

Our senior year arrived quickly, and we were both assigned to Taylor-Allderdice High School to fulfill our practice teaching requirement. Again we prepared our lesson plans side by side in the faculty lounge.

Commencement came. Standing in an alphabetized order, we were presented with our diplomas together. Don graduated with high honors. I just graduated.

Upon completion of his Bachelor of Arts degree, Don left for New York with hopes of attaining a master's degree at Columbia University. I remained in my hometown to begin my teaching career.

The glamour of New York appealed to me, and the following summer I enrolled in a writing workshop at Columbia University.

Friendship Was Renewed

One sizzling July afternoon I retreated to the campus snack shop, the Lion's Den, to get a cold drink. As I trudged down the narrow stairway, I pushed against someone ascending the steps. There was Don, just as surprised as I was. That summer our friendship was renewed.

Our relationship was platonic. We liked each other. We spent many hours at the Lion's Den engaged in our favorite pastime--gabbing. It was so easy to talk to him. Anything I said seemed right. Anything he said perked my intellectual senses so that our conversation never ceased to be stimulating.

When the summer session was over, we agreed to write. I sent him light and carefree letters that were just a wee bit suggestive. His letters were always polite, pleasant and informative. Then there was no more mail from him. Shortly afterward, I read in our local newspaper that he had married a socialite from Long Island.

A few years later, I became a Californian. I decided to make my home in Los Angeles. Here I married a businessman and we raised a son.

'He's Living in Long Beach'

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