During a recent trip to New York City I spent more time in Central Park than during prior trips; I was in the city for work purposes and after a long day of teacher-talk all I wanted to do was wander around that green space with my camera. Something I stumbled upon that I had missed in previous park strolls were the engraved brass dedications on the park’s benches. These plaques describe love and loss and life and longing; they are stories, each and every one. I was so excited about my discovery that I ran from bench to bench, digitally recording the small moments. Today’s essay is the first of those stories. Poetic license is in full force, but I am also amazed at the real people my tiny bit of research has discovered. (If you find yourself in New York, spend some time reading the benches; it’s a delightful way to spend a few hours.)
I cannot share this story without publically thanking Haley Blevins, 3rd grade teacher extraordinaire’. Haley believed me when I said, “The basin is really close; it’s right over there,” and backed up her belief by following as I led her hither and yon, stopping at every bench to read and record. Haley, that walk in the park was one of my favorite memories of the week, especially when we stopped and realized the Super Moon was gazing at us through the Manhattan skyline. I hope there are more walks in our future!
I so hope you enjoy this small story – I so enjoyed writing it and imagining . . .
Hat in hand, Frederick, better known to his friends as Fritz, paced back and forth, wondering when; wondering if; she would come. Had he been too obvious when asking her to meet him in the park after she finished up at work? If his eagerness to see her this night at this bench revealed his romantic scheme, well, there was nothing to do now except wait. What was done was done and there was no looking back; yet the longer he waited, the more he began to doubt her answer. Yesterday he was so sure.
Fritz remembered the moment when he’d first laid eyes on Liane only five months before. Five months? Impossible. He felt as thought he’d known her forever. He recalled the day he’d overheard his mother speaking of a new family in the neighborhood, the Basny family from Germany, and remembered that she had specifically mentioned a daughter. There was nothing unusual about that; his mother constantly mentioned young women of late, dropping not-so-subtle hints within Fritz’s hearing.
“You’re not getting any younger,” she’d say.
But at 25 he wasn’t old, either. A third year law student, he was far too busy to spend time worrying about his marital status. That is, he was too busy until that moment five months earlier . . .
. . . “There’s a new family – the Basny’s – from Munich. Nice family. They’ve a daughter. Laurie? Lee? Liane? That’s it Liane . . .”
His mother said more, but he wasn’t really listening as he drained the last bit of hot tea from his cup. Yes, he was too busy.
As big as the city was, it was in many ways just a small town, and even busyness cannot prevent paths from crossing when destined. The next Sunday, while taking a short path through the park, he overheard someone shout, “Liane? Liane Basny?” The name jogged a memory – hadn’t his mother mentioned that name recently? He turned to look and there she was. Her. Liane Basny. There was something about her – a bright smile on a diminutive face set off by open blue eyes – and when those eyes met his, he was smitten.
Over the next few days he made subtle inquiries and found that she – Liane – had been arrived in 1938 and was settling in the city with her family. A student at Columbia University, she also found work as a clerk at a travel agency. A query developed into a personal introduction, which progressed into a cup of coffee after work, which developed into more coffee dates, strolls in the park, dinners with their respective families, stolen dinners alone and long conversations. He was taken with everything about her. Liane spoke excellent English, but her German accent, with its rising and falling, made everything sound more inviting. She loved to laugh, but didn’t foolishly giggle as so many women seemed to do these days. Her eyes took in everything and she displayed a sensitivity that balanced his own sometimes ruthless inclinations. And her notes – she was constantly writing little poems and snippets for people – words to celebrate a birthday or a success or words to simply brighten someone’s day. He kept each and everyone that had been written for him, reading and rereading until the folds in the parchment became worn.
Yes, it had only been five months, but he knew. Liane was the woman he desired as his wife. Frizt had plans, big plans, plans to climb the corporate ladder and practice law with the best of them in a city, The City, New York City, the city of opportunity and open doors. He needed a woman who wasn’t afraid of the lean years that would most likely come before the plenty, a woman who needed him, but a woman that he equally needed. He needed Liane. Fritz had hinted around talk of marriage, but he’d never been so bold to talk about it directly. Liane’s words and glances and smiles led him to believe that she thought of marriage as well, but now he was having second thoughts? Had he interpreted her signals correctly? Did she want to be his wife? Was she ready? At 22 she was certainly old enough, but the bottom line was, did she love him? He was about to find out.
“Fritz? Fritz!” Hearing his name, he turned to see Liane quickly walking towards him, hand on her dainty pert hat to keep it from blowing away.
“Oh Fritz, I’m so sorry to be late. We had a last minute client who needed a new itinerary and . . . Fritz? Are you okay?”
Fritz realized he was staring, staring but not listening to a word Liane was saying, and she realized it, too.
“Fritz? Did you hear me? I’m sorry I’m late. Fritz, what’s wrong?”
This was it. This moment. Grabbing her hand, he pulled her to the park bench beside him, oblivious to the rush of city dwellers walking home after the workday. He suddenly realized he was hot; June had been especially hot this year; but he didn’t want to take off his suit jacket for fear it would be too informal for such a momentous occasion. Taking both of her hands in his, he, without even realizing it, slipped off the bench onto one knee. Her open blue eyes seemed to open even fuller and he noticed her tiny, gloved hands were shaking just a bit.
“Liane, I know we’ve only known each other a few months, but, well, I just, I was thinking . . . “
Liane raised her gloved fingers and placed them on his lips, hushing his rush of words.
“Oh Fritz, what took you so long? Yes. My answer is yes, to you, to this city, to our life and whatever it may bring. Oh you silly dear, yes.”
Getting up off of his knees, Fritz lifted Liane from the bench and kissed her long and deeply. Yes. She’d said yes, and it wasn’t until years later that Fritz realized she hadn’t even made him ask the question.
Fritz and Liane Beebe were married in 1939, a year after Liane had moved to the U.S. from Germany in 1938. Their lives became filled with children and charities and corporations, and Liane most likely said yes to moves and changes and long absences created by business. I like to imagine that “the” bench served as a reminder of that first yes, and after Fritz’s death in 1973, my mind’s eye sees passerbyers strolling, occasionally catching sight of a beautiful, petite woman sitting there, smiling softly to herself.
You can read a brief overview of Liane’s life in her obituary from the New York Times, March 11, 2007 http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9501E7DA143AF932A25750C0A9619C8B63.