Author’s Note: This story is an excerpt from a work in progress, Summer of Love, the 3rd book in the Timeless American Historical Romance Series of the saga of the McIntyre family as each of their members experience important historical events woven in with their story of love and discovery.
On their lunch half hour, Peggy and her friends, Cherry, short for Cheryl, Laurie and Shirley always went to the Automat across the street from their secretarial school.
At the Automat for just few nickels and dimes and in a very short time, they could get a full meal of main course and dessert, plus coffee from walls lined with human vending machines where armies of people insert freshly cooked food from behind the tiny individual glass doors. The variety of food offered the opportunity to eat different each day, depending on your mood.
Peg liked macaroni and cheese with chocolate cake. But somedays tuna salad and lemon meringue pie or pie ala mode were her fancy. Sometimes the girls would make different choices and trade, like a tasting smorgasbord.
But the other thing the automat served was a runway of men in uniform office suits on their lunch time. Tall ones, short ones, rich ones, poor ones, old ones and young ones all paraded by them each day like window shopping where they could pick their favorites, trying to guess what lies beneath their starched shirt and brill-creamed surface.
Cherry and Laurie loved man shopping and directed the daily selection by labeling each man a wolf or a sheep.
Queen Cherry definitely wanted wolves. She liked the excitement of a man who knew what he wanted and would take her long for a ride. But that ride better be in a limousine, or Rolls-Royce, dripping with diamonds and pearls. Cherry only went first class. She looked for the men who were gray in the temples and didn’t particularly care if they were married or not, as long as they kept her in the lap of luxury so she didn’t have to work.
Demure Laurie couldn’t care less if they were sheep or wolves. She’d even settle for a wolf in sheep‘s clothing, but she looked for wedding rings with exacting precision. No married men for her.
Describing her perfect man she said, “Handsome is a bonus, but I’d trade looks and personality for a decent bank account. I just want to be taken care of.” She saw her life as wife and mother, but with a housekeeper, so she could be a lady who lunches.
Shy Shirley looked for young men with pale rosy cheeks and sweet smiles. In other words.. a sheep…an easy-going man who will follow along with her or fall in with the pack. Cherry and Laurie helped her spot them by making a “baaaa” sheep noise and laughing when a likely candidate walked by. Shirley bashfully lowered her chin when any man passed but when she heard the sheep sound, she’d perk up and find a way to look. “I just want someone who I can go on picnics and long drives with and bring to church and home for Sunday dinners. Someone I can make a home with,” she explained of her Prince Charming. She didn’t have the highest expectations for a whirlwind romance…just a nice guy.
Peggy was different. Unlike her friends, to her marriage meant restraint just like straightjacketed suits the men wore. She didn’t want to be put in a pretty blue box with tissue paper and a bow like something with sweetness, fragility or beauty to behold. And she didn’t see a life cooped up in an office either. Peggy craved freedom. A life where she could persue her music for fun or for a job, letting her hair long auburn hair down to wave in the breeze, free from the stiff ponytail and bow she had to wear in the office. Somewhere she could walk in her bare feet through a field of flowers and never have to worry about tight skirts, heels and hose or being locked in the pretension of a life that would imprison her, like her parents wanted.
But, she knew the life she wanted may be beyond her reach. She was trapped in a societal situation that forced her to pick a door. She could have a respectable office job or she could have a husband.
While she enjoyed their lunchtime game, soon she realized she had to pick one door. Every day she thought again, married men were for Cherry, not her, but she liked the idea of danger and excitement. Older men however, she felt would be less dangerous. She didn’t care about money so Laurie’s ideal didn’t check her box either. The image of endless martini lunches complaining about their housekeepers and husbands was not appealing.
Then she thought maybe Shirley had the right answer. A sheep. He would be easy-going enough to let her pursue her music and maybe could be a friend. But the picture of a white picket fence and PTA meetings left her screaming in her head. No, her man would not be in a suit. But no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t make herself choose that life.
She had to find door number three. Then as if on cue, looking out the window she saw him. A street musician with long blonde hair and fringe leather vest over a tie-dye shirt. He was playing a guitar and had a harmonica stand around his neck. Because of the noise in the Automat, she couldn’t hear what he was singing, but she was entranced by his aura. She found her door. She would choose a husband but not one in a suit or in an office, she’d marry a musician. A sheep, but hopefully in wolf’s clothing.
(c) Suzanne Rudd Hamilton 2023