I hold her hand as I tell her the story. Our story. I always hold her hand, every time I tell it, and I’ve told it lots of times. Seventy..

Four. Seventy-four times, yes, ma’am, and this will be seventy-five. Seventy-five, Clara, can you believe it? Seventy-five years ago, I asked for your hand, just as soon as I got home from..

Over there, over there. Overseas, the war, yes. I knew you were waiting, and I knew you were the one. Those letters you sent, every single one, they kept my dreams alive. They kept me alive. I knew I had to come back to you.

You were the very first call I made when I got back in the States. I dialed the operator, my hand was shaking! I still remember that exchange. Lake. Lake..

Lakeview. Lakeview four-two-two. I remember it rhymed.

So, I took a big breath when you answered, and asked you to get dressed for dinner, remember? Took you to that fancy place. Lot fancier than I’m used to. But it was special occasion, you see. I put a spit polish on my stompers, even. Took you to that place, what was it?

Chez Paul, forgive me, that was the place. French, yes. I’d told you that one day I’d show you the best parts of France, and you got my little joke when I was parking the Ford. Remember those big fenders? I washed and waxed every inch of that car, and I scrubbed those whitewalls for an hour, but you didn’t mention them, and I didn’t want to grandstand. But I sure wanted you to be impressed, at least a little.

We went in, and. Wait, when I first saw you. Wow. So beautiful. All bundled up. The hair. The hat. The gloves. The you. Always making my heart beat like Gene..

Gene. That drummer, you know? Gene Krupa. Oh, man, my heart was pounding. I had doubts I could pull the whole thing off, but I couldn’t chicken out. It was ten degrees outside and I was sweating.

That maître de, he was a Frenchman for sure, had the twirly moustache, too, remember? I slipped him a fiver, and he took us to that great little table in the bay window. Pretty sure you knew what I was up to. But you didn’t let on, you were so calm. Kept smiling at me, and every time you did, I knew I couldn’t back out.

And then my voice cracked when I said I’d order for both of us. I was really trying to wow you, ordering in French and everything, and you kept giggling. You had my number, Babe, you did all along.

And everyone always said how shy you were, and when you talked to me you weren’t shy at all. Like you were talking to your best friend. I know I was. So, you were talking about your parents, and your eyes teared up. You said..

You said, “Mama told me, ‘Your Papa used to keep the bad guys away from you, Clara. Now that he’s gone, you have to watch out for yourself. You find one of the good guys.’”

And then you looked at me, big brown eyes. Beautiful eyes. Beautiful. You were teary and I swore to myself I’d never make you cry. And you said to me, “Jim. Are you one of the good guys?

Me, I was nervous, my hands were shaking, about like they are now.

Look at that, still shaking seventy-five years later. You see that? Course, at the restaurant, I’d had a cup of joe to warm up, but then, a couple glasses of that red wine for bravery. It was that French stuff..

Bordeaux, of course. And I felt all warm inside, and I said, “Am I one of the good guys? Baby… Baby, I’m one of the best guys.”

And you just cracked up, did you ever. I was sort of proud of myself for saying it, didn’t even mind you laughing. All those other couples around us, talking and laughing and ordering, must have been dozens of people. But there was only you. You and I right then. Just us.

And that band. Remember them? Playing our song, only you didn’t hear, you were still laughing. But they played the song. The one that goes..

You know..

Kiss me once, and kiss me twice..

You know..

Harry. Harry..

Harry James, yes. “It’s Been a Long Long Time.” It has been, Clara, sure has been.

“I’m one of the best guys,” I said.

And you laughed so hard you inhaled some of that pink wine you were drinking, and it came out your nose, and I laughed, and you blushed, but you still kept laughing. And you know me, I’m the perfect gentleman, so I grabbed my napkin off my lap.

I grabbed the napkin, it was cloth, only it wasn’t the napkin, it was the edge of the tablecloth.

And there went my wine, and yours, and the..

The soup. It was cold, Chicago winter, was real cold, and we were having soup. I said that already. Forgive this old geezer.

Onion soup. Course, I said it “soupe à l’oignon” to show off, and you giggled, and when you laugh, that always encourages me. So, anyhow, the soup..

Oh, my tie, remember the one with the polka dots I had on, with my pin-striped suit? And it went right in the soupe! I thought you were going to lose your breath laughing.

Then, I fell. No. I didn’t fall, I dropped something. Yes.

And I rapped my fat head trying to catch it, and my face got bright red just like yours. But I caught it, quick as that. They were still playing our song, though you couldn’t hear it for your laughing. I love your laugh, always have.

So then you saw I had a ring, and you stopped laughing on a dime, Clara. I never seen anything like it, how you stopped laughing and started crying just like that. It was all so..

Confusing. You got me all discombobulated, and I wondered should I have said that about being great. I thought I’d blown it, just like I worried I would. And I asked you. Remember? I said, “Is that a No?”

And boy was I ever relieved when you started laughing again. You have no idea! Then, then..

I think you were laughing and crying, and if you hadn’t said Yes like you did, boy, I don’t know. You had me all befuddled, you sure did, Clara. I don’t know what I would have done if you’d said No.

And we hugged and kissed and I yelled “She said Yes!” You got embarrassed, but I couldn’t help it. I think the band played our song again. You said Yes.

And then it wasn’t but a week later, was it? Didn’t give you time to change your mind. We got married, and you went back to crying, happy crying, and your Mom was crying, and the minister smiled and. And then. Oh, it’s coming to me..

Norman. Norman, he went to give me your ring, and you said, “I’ll take that.” You didn’t want to risk me dropping it again, see? And everybody laughed, all the folks in the church, but it was our joke. You and I. We got it. They were just laughing with us. What a gas that was, what a gas, wasn’t it?

That was seventy-five years ago today, Clara, you believe that? Our anniversary. And, seventy-five is..

Diamond. It’s our diamond anniversary, who’d have thought? Well, I knew all along, of course. Anyhow. And so.

I hold her hand as I tell the story, as I always have. So cool, so frail. I cry while I fumble for..

The diamond ring. Her anniversary present. I brought it, didn’t I? It’s..

It’s in my pocket. I’m not letting go of her hand.

I drop the little velvet covered box on the floor. Clumsy. Leave it.

Her hand squeezes mine just a little. I look, and she’s smiling.

Her face lights up.

And the room lights up.

And all those machines light up, and start to beep, more beautifully than Harry James’ orchestra.

The nurses are smiling and crying.

And so am I, because now I know I’ll hear her laugh again, finally.