In households I have lived in, females have always been in small numbers.
I grew up with three brothers but no sisters.
I spent my first two years of college in a coed dorm, but the women, mostly graduate students, were on the top two floors, safely segregated from us freshman and sophomore boys. There followed two years in a fraternity house with no women at all – at least not full-time residents.
My wife and I shared a house for 18 years with one son. We hoped to give him a sister – or a brother. We even had names picked out. But it was not to be.
So there was great cause for celebration when my son brought home the woman who would become his wife.
I visited Will and Mary Ellen last month in their apartment in New York. I have a bad habit of showing up during the work week, when Will is busy at the office. But when that happens, Mary Ellen always manages to take time off from her job to spend time with me.
A few years ago, when they lived in Florida, she accompanied me to a Spring Training baseball game. This time she joined me in a long walk across Brooklyn.
We set out around noon on a Monday, heading down Atlantic Avenue and past the Barclay Center, where Mary Ellen had watched games during recent Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournaments. After stopping for hamburgers at Shake Shack, part of a restaurant chain launched in nearby Manhattan, we continued east on Flatbush Avenue.
We are an unlikely looking pair. Mary Ellen is tall, thin, young and beautiful. I am short, chunky, old and unbeautiful. Beauty and the Beast.
But we both like to walk and explore.
Flatbush Avenue led to Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, the gateway to several nearby sites, including the Brooklyn Museum, with impressive art exhibits, and Prospect Park, a 526-acre green paradise designed in the 1860s by Frederick Law Olmsted, architect of Central Park in Manhattan. Mary Ellen and I, both Southerners by birth, inspected the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch, a huge monument dedicated to “The Defenders of the Union” during the Civil War.
We found the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library closed for Columbus Day. Instead we visited the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, a 52-acre collection of gardens perhaps best known for its 400-plus cherry trees, which blossom in the spring.
Mary Ellen and I sniffed blooms in the Cranford Rose Garden and the Herb Garden. In the Shakespeare Garden, we admired more than 80 plants mentioned in William Shakespeare’s plays and poems. On the Celebrity Path, we read markers honoring famous Brooklynites from Woody Allen to Barbra Streisand to Walt Whitman.
Late in the afternoon, we headed downhill from Prospect Park into the Park Slope neighborhood, with its handsome brownstone apartment buildings. We followed Union Street into the blue-collar Gowanus neighborhood, which shares its name with the Gowanus Canal, a 1.5-mile industrial waterway polluted in the 1800s and 1900s with factory waste and raw sewage.
Mary Ellen always knows the right moment to take a break. On Union Street, we stopped for a glass each at Black Mountain Wine House, which a magazine lists as one of New York’s top 50 bars.
I am not a great conversationalist. But the white wine we shared from France’s Loire Valley stirred memories of a stay in a castle there seven years ago. And the words flowed – about the writing class two other travelers and I took there from my wife and about the novel I dreamed of writing then.
After the break, we turned north up Court Street and on parallel streets until we returned to the apartment.
I was shocked when an app on Mary Ellen’s phone showed we had hiked 8.5 miles. I rarely walk more than 3 miles at a time.
Something else I admire about Mary Ellen is that she is principled. Later that week back in Lexington I planned to serve Mediterranean food to my book club. But I was wrestling with whether to buy the food from a Turkish restaurant I like in High Point.
The president of our country had just rashly agreed to the president of Turkey’s request to shift some American troops along the Turkish-Syrian border. This enabled Turkish troops to attack Kurdish troops in Syria who had been American allies. In the continuing conflict, more than 90 civilians have been killed and more than 300,000 have fled their homes. Mary Ellen encouraged me not to buy food from the Turkish restaurant.
On Tuesday, she and Will both had to go to work. On Atlantic Avenue, I went to a Lebanese grocery to buy Mediterranean food for myself for that day’s lunch. Instead, I bought a chicken shawarma sandwich on pita bread from the Syrian bakery next door.
On Thursday back in North Carolina, I bought food for my book club from a Lebanese restaurant in Winston-Salem. I hope things will change in Turkey so I can soon return to the Turkish restaurant in High Point.
At this stage of life, I really like the idea of finally having a daughter. And I look forward to more adventures with Mary Ellen in the future.
Bill Keesler is a retired reporter and editor for The Dispatch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.