“Pardon me, ma’am,” a male voice broke the silence.
Eloise sat on a bench facing Independence Hall in Philadelphia. In the springtime, she enjoy spending her lunch hour outdoors. The interruption caused her to look up from her half-eaten ham sandwich.
“Do you happen to have the time?”
A jolt of expectation overflowed Eloise when she looked up. A tall, handsome sailor gazed down upon her. Suddenly, she felt an instant connection, and she smiled.
A cockeyed smile played across the stranger’s face. He swiped his white hat from his head and kneaded it in his large hands.
“It’s just twelve-thirty,” Eloise responded, glancing at her heart-shaped clock pin.
“Plenty of time,” the sailor jovially announced. “Thank you, ma’am.” He replaced his hat on his crew-cut head and turned to leave.
Seconds swept past. Still, the man continued to hesitate. He removed his hat again and circled it with his hands. Then, he turned back to her. Eloise waited expectantly.
“Ma’am, I was wondering,” he began, then halted. His Adam’s apple bobbed when he gulped. “If you weren’t busy just now, can you show a stranger a good time?”
Eloise considered her ham sandwich, then she rolled it up in its wrapper. She did not wish to waste the crisp Philadelphia day in the hot bakery.
“Perhaps, if I knew a stranger’s name, I would,” Eloise responded, a grin playing at her lip’s corners. Naturally, she wanted to show him around. However, she could not resist the urge to tease him.
“Durham, Petty Officer Third Class, ma’am,” he responded, straightening his back. “To my friends and family I’m known as just plain Seth.”
“In that case, Withers, Eloise,” she chortled gleefully. “And drop the ma’am if you please.”
When Eloise rose, Seth offered her his elbow. She weaved her hand through his arm, and they strolled along the sidewalk. The golden afternoon invited them to explore the City of Brotherly Love.
Historical sites abounded in Philadelphia. Following a tour of Independence Hall, they explored Benjamin Franklin’s house and the first post office. Then, they viewed the Mint and watched the pressing of coins.
When Seth grasped her hand, Eloise sighed contentedly. She realized, despite their short acquaintance, that she loved her new companion.
The rest of the day became a whirl of excitement. Laughing merrily, they stumbled into a restaurant for dinner. Beneath the table, her foot caressed his ankle. He looked startled for a moment, then joined her game. Their eyes sparkled and met over champagne flutes. Later, they continued their stroll around Philadelphia.
“Meet Me in St. Louis,” Eloise remarked, indicating a movie theater marquee. “Shall we watch it? It’s my favorite.”
Seth instantly agreed and they stepped inside. When Judy Garland began to sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, Seth reached out to squeeze Eloise’s hand.
“This is my all-time favorite Christmas song,” he whispered into her ear.
“Mine also,” she returned, tears welling in her eyes. Every time she heard the song, her heart pinged in memory of her sailor companion.
In the twilight, the couple stood beside the bench they met at earlier in the day. Eloise felt a tug at her heart as she thought of parting from Seth. Suddenly, she hated to say good-bye. Fear gripped her when she thought she might never see him again. His ship was sailing the next morning—on it’s way to the Bay of Tonkin.
Would he think of her and remember the Philadelphia day and the woman he met there? Navy men knew many ports, met many women. Perhaps she was just another face in a long line of faces. She longed to hang on to every moment between togetherness and departure.
The old woman rocked her chair—back and forth, back and forth—as memories came flowing back to life. The parting had been inevitable. Durham, Petty Officer Third Class would sail away in the morning and disappear from her life. As twilight faded from the skies, she watched Seth walk away. His footsteps echoed back long after the night engulfed him. The day ended along with any hope of seeing him again. With a sad heart, she realized they had not exchanged addresses.
The snow globe weighed heavy in her lap. The bittersweet Christmas tune continued to tinkle. Again, her lips silently formed the words:
“And here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more
Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow”