My sister Shelley invited Harvey Heiges to her first prom in the 11th grade. She didn’t know him well, but at least he was the son of friends of our parents. This was one of the downsides of going to a girl’s school in the 1950s, we had to do the asking for dances and there was no way out of it. We had to have a date and we had to go to the prom. The neighborhood boys we knew were out of the question because they’d never behave.
Getting up the courage to make the call was painful, the terrible awkwardness of asking and the possibility of rejection. I was two years older and had been there already, nothing was worse. A call always took at least three attempts on our parent’s bedroom phone, door closed, pacing around the bed, revising the script. Harvey accepted right away and for Shelley, a short-lived relief was quickly replaced by other anxieties about a dress, hair, pimples, and even worse, what to talk about between dances. They were too young to have drivers licenses and the usual arrangement was that one set of parents took us and the other brought us back. On this occasion, the Heigeses brought Shelley home.
Dr Heiges was a physicist and Mrs Heiges was a water-color artist. They had emigrated from Germany after the war, probably no more than ten years before and they still spoke with heavy German accents. He was short and thin with a pencil mustache and wore round rimless glasses. He was very serious and intense. Mrs Heiges was short and stout and she wore small hats with long feathers. She was a sweet woman who laughed easily. It was wintertime, close to the holidays, and a new snow covered the ground.
When Dr Heiges pulled his car into our driveway, my father was waiting to help him back his car safely onto the icy road. He rushed out of the house wearing his bright red full-body winter long johns and approached the driver’s window and knocked. Dr Heiges rolled it down and startled when he saw my father. He exclaimed, “Oh, my god, vat is dat?” and immediately rolled his window up. My father walked around the car and knocked on the passenger window and Mrs. Heiges rolled it down. Equally alarmed, she burst out, “Oooh, here’s another one!” Shelley was smothering her giggles and snorting helplessly in the back seat. She bolted from the car and ran into the house.
Later, she told us the story as we gathered around the fire, holding her sides hurting from laughter. We roared when we speculated that Heigeses might be doing the same and how they’d describe their reaction to my father’s long johns. Over the years, the story has been told and retold, even in French (in which long johns is “caleçon”). Maybe it was told in German as well.