The knock on my cabin door startled me. I had just boarded the SS Rotterdam on my way to Hungary to spend the summer with my relatives. One of the ship’s stewards was standing outside. “Would you please come with me! There is an urgent phone call waiting for you on the captain’s deck.”
Feeling a bit apprehensive, I followed him upstairs where the captain was waiting and handed me the phone. I was surprised to hear Tim, my boyfriend’s voice, on the other end. He was trying to persuade me, at the last minute, to get off the ship and spend the summer with him in Toronto. I agreed that it was a very nice idea but impossible, as I was just watching the gangways below being removed by the dock workers. The ship was ready to depart at any minute!
“In that case,” he continued, “I have to to tell you that my mother is also traveling on the ship with my younger brother. I asked her to look out for you.”
His mother and brother—how did they end up on my ship? We had been dating for less than a year while I was attending teacher’s college in Toronto—it really hadn’t occurred to me yet to review his family tree!
Finally, we were on our way! I unpacked and organized my outfits and decided to explore my new floating surroundings. A few days into the trip I discovered that it was just my luck that the number of young female passengers outnumbered the eligible males—fifty five to thirteen! They were in hiding throughout the entire trip for fear of being trampled upon by eager young women wearing seductive outfits.
One day a reserved, elegant lady approached me and asked if my name was Edie. She introduced herself as Tim’s mother. Since I was not displaying a name tag, I wondered how she recognized me. Thank goodness I was wearing my beige sack dress, instead of my favourite low cut red and white polka dot one. The only thing she wanted to know was if I had attended the noisy party on her deck the night before. I assured her that I had spent the evening reading in my cabin. That was our only encounter throughout the entire trip before disembarking in Rotterdam.
By the time I arrived in Budapest my relatives were well acquainted with the name “Tim.” My cousin had a hefty bundle of letters waiting for me from Canada. They all wanted to know—who is Tim? It became a ritual, that along with my breakfast, I was served a letter from Tim every second day and I sent one back in return. The purchase of a second suitcase was necessary just to carry the accumulated correspondence.
For the last two weeks of August we went to my family’s summer house on Lake Balaton. Time passed by quickly, enjoying family visits, meals and just having fun. On the last day a distraught postman knocked at the door looking for the girl from Canada. When I appeared he gasped and said, “Thank goodness I found you! We have to get to the post office quickly as there is a long distance phone call waiting for you!”
Barefoot, I hopped on the back of his bike and he pedalled furiously through dusty roads to the other side of the small village where a lone telephone operator was waiting in the office. Upon seeing us, she immediately started cranking a large handle on an antique switchboard. It started wheezing and sputtering as she plugged in a red wire.
She said in Hungarian, mesmerized, “This is our first long distance call from Canada!” and handed me the phone.
Even though they didn’t speak English, the two postal clerks stood still, waiting intently, aware that they were privy to something very special that day.
Tim’s voice came through loud and clear on the phone and the speaker in the room. “I can’t afford to talk long—there is a postal strike here and I have not received a letter from you for two weeks! I bought a used Volkswagen Beetle and found a third floor studio apartment on Walmer Road. I cannot wait for your answer—I have to know right now—will you marry me?”
Somehow, I always imagined a proposal would be like in the old movies, sitting in a fancy restaurant with soft music playing in the background, holding hands across the table, looking into each other’s eyes—me wearing a pink gabardine dress. I gazed down at my frayed blue jean shorts, dusty bare feet and blurted out—“YES!!”