My best friend, Ba, and I sat across from one another in a booth of The Cellar, a favorite meeting place on the Stanford campus. As we sipped chocolate cokes from The Cellar fountain and waited for our sandwiches, she caught me up on the events of the last two weeks. While I had been away on vacation between summer and autumn quarters of 1939, she had become friends with Bill Johnson, a very nice graduate student of electrical engineering. He had been meeting her here almost every day at lunchtime. She had barely finished telling me this when Bill appeared, accompanied by another student.
“This is Otto Smith,” Bill and Ba chorused, hardly taking their eyes off each other as Bill slid into the booth beside Ba. Which left Otto to slide in beside me.
This is the bare tale of how I met my future husband. But was it love at first sight? Not by a long shot! We made pleasant conversation, established that I was majoring in art and that Otto was a graduate student of electrical engineering and an assistant at the Ryan High-Voltage Laboratory.
During the autumn quarter, a sort of loose alliance formed among five or so electrical engineering students and Ba’s and my best friends. It had started largely because of Bill’s and Ba’s growing infatuation. None of the rest of us paired off (yet), but we went on picnics and hikes together, riding in Bill’s already antique Hudson named Bessie, or Bill Brennner’s equally ancient car. I think I sat with Otto in the rumble seat of the latter on one of our excursions.
During Christmas break, the YMCA and YWCA planned a folk-dancing party at the Duveneck’s ranch in the foothills of the Coast Range. The Duvenecks generously shared their property with many worthwhile organizations. Their beautiful home, where the party was to be held, was set among tall redwoods.
Bill and Ba offered me a ride to the party in Bessie, which I accepted happily, as I had no wheels of my own. When they arrived I was surprised to see Otto was sitting in the back seat, since I knew that Margaret was planning to go with him. But then I thought that we would also go to pick her up too.
But no. The car wound its way through the foothills, and Otto held my hand. Lights streamed from the ballroom of the Spanish style house and music had already started when we arrived. To me, happiness is a fast polka or schottishe, and Otto apparently agreed. We danced. And danced. We became so hot from the exercise that cups of punch no longer sufficed, and we escaped through the French doors into the damp coolness of a foggy night, with fog drifting among the huge trunks of the redwoods and a carpet of soft needles underfoot. We held hands and drifted downhill, and suddenly I felt like a bird about to fly. That was the beginning of my falling in love with Otto.
And I’m still in love with him sixty-nine years later.
P.S. Ba and Bill wed not long after, and lived many happy years together until Bill’s death. Otto and I were guests at Ba’s 90th birthday party last December.