MY LIFE - Barbara’s favorite gift

MY LIFE - Barbara’s favorite gift

A pictorial history, of a first date

Selecting stunningly perfect gifts for people has never been my strong suit, and this year was no exception as I struggled to think of what to get for the hard-to-buy-for people in my life. And then a serendipitous find pulled my fat from the fire, and not a moment too soon.

It was the day before Christmas Eve. I had wracked my brain trying to come up with something meaningful for my daughter Barbara and was unsuccessfully rummaging through storage bins in the basement in search of one item I thought might fit the bill (which I won’t identify just in case I ever find it and could use it at a later date), kicking up dust and old memories as I went. There was a folder of old report cards and drawings from my children’s grade school days and my own diplomas from grade school, high school, and college. Another held clothing I hadn’t seen in years. And so it went until in a bin full of stuff that looked like it had been dumped intact from the drawer of an old bureau that I was getting rid of, which was exactly what had happened, and amid old handbags, gloves and other sundry and useless things, I found the perfect item.

Groucho glasses.

“Oh my God!” I thought to myself as excitement raced through my blood. “These are the actual glasses!” And I knew exactly what I had to do as I raced up the stairs and found the two old photos I had run across just weeks earlier.

Here’s the story:

Many years earlier, in January of 1986 to be exact, as the date on the back of the photos testified, I was playing Trivial Pursuit with my 15-year-old son Tom, my niece Kelly, my sister Bev and her two teenage sons, Mike and Dave, when my daughter Barbara’s date arrived to pick her up.

Jonathan was new to us and to Barbara. His brother Lance worked with Barbara and had been trying to fix them up for weeks before they finally relented, if for no other reason than to get him off their backs. This was their first date and they had no sooner left the house than Barb came back in, asking where would be a good place to go since she had been out of the area for years while she was in college and Jonathan didn’t know the area either. Kelly suggested Kay’s Restaurant in Woonsocket, and off they went.

That’s when Kelly turned to us and said, “You know what would be funny? If all of us followed them to Kay’s.”

Genius idea! We could all wear dark glasses and spy on them. We could only come up with five pairs of sunglasses, but not to worry. I just happened to have a pair of Groucho glasses that Dave could wear, and in a high state of merriment, we were off and running.

If you’re familiar with Kay’s, you will remember that on the far side of the restaurant there are booths separated by a low wall, and as blind luck would have it, the booth right alongside theirs was empty, so we filed in.

Barbara and Jonathan ignored us. So we all began slowly leaning farther and farther in toward their direction. Barbara just kept on talking, seemingly oblivious to our presence, but Jonathan started nervously glancing our way. And so it went until Barbara finally turned around and said, “Okay, I know it’s you. Take off the glasses.”

The look on Jonathan’s face was priceless. His jaw dropped as he declared with amazement, “Barbara, it’s your family!”

“Yes, I know,” she dryly replied, asking if I still had my camera with me, referring to the old disc camera that was always in my pocketbook back then. Yes, I did. She took it, told us all to put the glasses back on and stepped back to get a picture of all of us. Then she passed the camera back to me as I handed her dark glasses and Groucho glasses so I could take a photo of them.

That was 33 years ago this month, and it says a lot about Jonathan’s off-kilter sense of humor that they are still together, married and the parents of two lovely daughters now in their early 20s.

As for the gift, after carefully measuring the depth needed to accommodate the nose (1 and 1/2 inches) I dashed out to buy a shadow box frame large enough to hold not only the glasses, but both photos, and got them all mounted and gift wrapped in time. Her reaction when she opened the gift on Christmas Eve was everything I could have hoped for as she burst out uproariously laughing and planning to find the perfect place to display it.

The addendum to this story is that just prior to the birth of their first child, we had found a pair of tiny little Groucho glasses that we gave Barbara with instructions to put them on the baby to have her first hospital picture taken. Alas, Barbara was discharged before photos were taken and both the moment and the glasses were lost to history.

Rhea Bouchard Powers is a writer from Cumberland.

The shadow box Rhea Powers made for her daughter Barbara for Christmas recalls the memory of Barbara’s first date with her now husband, Jonathan.