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That Time? I Knew It Was Real

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It was a Saturday night in South Bend, Indiana.

I’d just exited the theater after watching an enjoyable Broadway Theatre League production of Lettice and Lovage.

I wasn’t quite ready to call it a night so I decided to drive over to Truman’s, the gay club in nearby Mishawaka with the awesome piano bar, and chill for a little while before calling it an evening.

After taking in a song or two at the upstairs piano bar, I went downstairs to order a drink. Across the way, the music was pumping as always: Jomanda’s Got a Love for You, CeCe Peniston’s Finally

…the usual.

The Notre Dame boys and their local counterparts were drinking, laughing, dancing up a storm.

Truman’s catered to a pretty young crowd. Indeed, I’d wondered how many even understood the bar’s namesake.

Or took a second to look closely at the scrip they received as change toward a future drink.

At 29, I felt like I was on the cusp of aging out.

Just off the dance floor, the curly-salt-and-pepper-haired guy immediately caught my eye.

It took awhile for me to muster up the courage to chat. I rarely felt comfortable in bars, and it wasn’t unusual for me to order my 7-and-7, Screwdriver, or Long Island iced tea and nurse it, listening to the music for the rest of the night, rarely venturing out on the floor.

And almost always solo.

Tonight felt… different.

I stood beside him and asked, “What would you play if you owned this place?” Without hesitation, he said, “Donna Summer.”

“Good answer,” I said, even while marveling at his choice. At the time, Summer was persona non grata to lots of gay men who had taken as fact rumors of her supposedly referring to AIDS as punishment for gay sex.

I didn’t believe the rumors. I was still a Summer fan.

So, when I heard this older guy stand up for Donna, I thought:

“OK: An independent thinker.

We chatted more and went upstairs to a part of the bar that once had been The Ice House, a restaurant I went to in high school. “Tell you what,” one of us said. “I don’t dance too much, but if Donna Summer comes on, we’ll hit the floor.”

“Deal,” the other said.

We settled at the booth to chat and became acquainted. I immediately warmed to his Southern drawl. He explained that he was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. How he’d lived in North Carolina for years before moving to Elkhart, Indiana to work at Miles. I told him how I’d lived off and on in South Bend since my junior year in high school when my dad moved the family from Chicago, my birthplace.

Then we stopped, shocked, as we heard the beginning of a Donna Summer song. (Guess we weren’t the only ones who dispelled the rumors.)

A deal was a deal.

So we went down to dance, laughing our way through what turned out to be a medley, ending with her most recent hit, This Time I Know It’s for Real.

As we went back upstairs and chatted until one in the morning, I got the sense that, maybe, Donna was right.

I told him, “I’ve got to get going. I have to get up early because I’m taking a youth group from my church to a musical performance more than an hour’s drive away.”

It turned out that he was Catholic, too, adding it had been awhile since he’d been to Mass. (Catholic boys are quick to confess.)

He asked me if I’d like to go out for dinner sometime, and — just a bit cautious — I gave him my work phone number. This would have amazed anyone who has ever worked with me because I have an extremely low tolerance for personal phone calls on work time.

On Monday, he called, and we made plans for Flytraps, a restaurant in downtown Elkhart.

“Sounds great! Gotta get back to work,” I said. “See you Wednesday night.”

That Wednesday, I drove the 45 minutes east from South Bend to meet him for dinner. He recommended the angel-hair pasta and said they knew how to make it right. I thought, “hmm, he knows how angel-hair pasta ought to be cooked.”

We talked more about his career and mine. And how I became involved with Little Flower Catholic Church.

At some point, he told me he’d just sold his house to move back to North Carolina, where he’d lived in the ’70s and most of the ’80s.

Oh, I thought — I met a nice guy.

Who was on his way out of town.

We enjoyed a great meal and, as we walked out, we stopped by his pickup truck. He asked if I wanted to stop by his place for a nightcap. I said, “Sure. Why not?”

He’s always marked our anniversary from our first date.

I’ve always marked it from the night we met.

Either way: we recently celebrated 30 years since our paths crossed in ways neither of us expected, leading us to places neither predicted.

I stopped by the site of the former Truman’s when I visited up North this past summer.

Our dance on our back porch the night of our wedding reception, not to Donna, but to Percy Faith’s Theme from ‘A Summer Place.

Thanks, Donna.


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Chuck Small

Journalist-turned-high school counselor. Happily ensconced in Raleigh, N.C., with hubby of 30 years (8 legal).

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Pauly Steyreen
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Pauly Steyreen
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December 4, 2022 11:33 am

Awwww… this is such a wonderful meet-cute! Warmed up my dreary Sunday morning. Congrats on your recent anniversary. Thanks for sharing Chuck!!!

My wife and I planned our wedding to fall on our first date anniversary, so they could always align in our celebrations (actually they’re like 2 days off, but close enough. Who has a wedding on a Monday night?) Last month we celebrated 18 years married and 19 as a couple. 😍

Aaron3000
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December 4, 2022 1:49 pm

Awesome story Chuck, congrats on 30(+) years together! (And I love that Donna song, one of the better products to come out of the SAW factory.)

Personal quickie: my wife and I were married on a Saturday (January 13), but when our pastor signed the marriage license he mistakenly dated it January 14. We went ahead and submitted it that way, so now we have a two-day anniversary… the 13th (our real anniversary) and the 14th (the “official” date on our marriage certificate).

Virgindog
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December 4, 2022 2:40 pm

Sweet.

Phylum of Alexandria
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December 4, 2022 2:54 pm

That was lovely, Chuck! Congratulations on 30 years!
Now that’s a Summer of love that’s worth thinking back on.

(Truman hot take: Toby Jones did a better Capote than Philip Seymour Hoffman. The whole movie critic world is just wrong!)

JJ Live At Leeds
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December 4, 2022 3:51 pm

A Sunday surprise with a real feelgood story. Happy anniversary (or is it anniversaries given you have two to choose from?) and here’s to plenty more!

dutchg8r
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dutchg8r
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December 4, 2022 11:29 pm

Love it, Chuck – both the meet-cute tale and the way you tell it. Thank you for sharing, and a toast to your recent 30 year anniversary!

In February it’ll be 23 years since the Mr and I first met. We moved in together about 6 months later. Has it been easy? Good Lord no – you have to actively work every day at it and both be committed to everything being a team effort. But I wouldn’t change a thing; still totally worth it. 🙂

LinkCrawford
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December 5, 2022 8:21 am

I remember elements of this story from you telling it over at The Number Ones. I’m not complaining…just saying the story is memorable! Stories like yours will help me relate to my gay son if he ever gets into a relationship. He’s only 20, so I may have some time.

thegue
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thegue
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December 5, 2022 1:12 pm

Great story Chuck!!!

lovethisconcept
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December 5, 2022 1:39 pm

What a wonderful story. I love that you remember the dates so accurately.

My husband and I don’t have a “meeting” story. We were children in the same neighborhood and knew each other by sight from our earliest recollections. It was later that we really got to know each other well, but we always knew “of” each other.

Ozmoe
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December 6, 2022 3:24 pm

I love this recollection! And it was great meeting you in person over the weekend too, of course! Happy 30th to you both!

DanceFever
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December 7, 2022 10:19 pm

I’m taking advantage of being logged in again to catch up on all these great stories!
Congrats on your years together!
I, too, remember bits of this from the Mothership and I also told my story on there about me and Mrs Dance. Thirty Six years for us, and, yes, Link, we also have a gay son (our youngest) and while it hasn’t been easy, we keep working on it.

Edith G
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Edith G
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December 10, 2022 8:04 pm

Lovely writing Chuck, and TTIKIFR happens to be one of my favorite songs from Donna. Congratulations about all those years of happiness.

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