- Historic Sites
Who Wants To Be A Mid-two-figures-aire?
How luck, television, and a saintly lurker on the Internet combined to let the author visit 1953 for half an hour.
July/August 2001 | Volume 52, Issue 5
I have no memory of his being a bridal consultant.
In the modern world, he is a stockbroker. He always has been. He founded his own brokerage business and ran it for 30 years, until selling it just last year. But back then, in the old world, fresh out of college and with only a young man’s limited vision of the future, he worked in his mother and aunt’s bridal shop in downtown Rochester. He was one of the few male bridal consultants in the country. That he was big, strong, and handsome only added to the surprise, which was why his girlfriend’s father—his future father-in-law—suggested that he get on the show.
The panelists begin and quickly determine that he is in the garment business. (They are very good, the panelists. They figured out the lifeguard, the worm breeder, and the goofy comedians with uncanny speed.) My father does little more than answer yes several times and no three times, bringing his tally on the flip cards to a whopping $15. It should have been $20, though. Mr. Day, “with your permission,” steps in on one question and changes a no answer to a yes. In a flash, I see the argumentative side of my father, the businessman side, the fatherly side; he seems, for an instant, ready to tell this Mr. Day just where to get off. But he relents and nods disappointedly in agreement. His smile disappears for a moment.
The panel is closing in, and I fear they will out him at any moment. But time is fleeing on the winds. Mr. Day announces that because the show must end, my father will take home the entire $50 prize. Then Mr. Day announces that my father’s occupation is bridal consultant. The panelists sit in awe at my father’s story. (I see it as awe, anyway. It’s more likely that they were just hot and eager to go home.) My father stands, shakes Mr. Daly’s hand, and walks, bent at the waist, offstage.
The show winds down with a few more plugs for the sponsor, a plug for the CBS radio version of “What’s My Line?,” and some polite good-nights from Mr. Daly to Miss Kilgallen to Mr. Allen to Miss Francis to Mr. Cerf and back to Mr. Daly. But I am not really watching. I am thinking about where my father is walking off to. As he passes behind Mr. Daly and exits stage left, he’s really walking off to marry his 17-year-old girlfriend. He’s off to the Army. He’s off to stumble accidentally onto the game of ice hockey, which will become the central focus of his young family’s life, a family he will begin four years from then with me. He will buy his first house. He will leave the bridal business to become a stockbroker for Merrill Lynch. He will have two more sons and buy his second and last house. He will start a company. He will stay married to his 17-year-old girlfriend for 46 years and counting. He will pass on to his children and grandchildren his love of sports and puzzles and Great Danes and tropical fish. He will endure prostate surgery. Twelve days before his seventieth birthday, he will be in a distant Midwestern hospital to have large chunks of his smoke-pickled lungs removed so he can breathe again. On his actual birthday, he will be recovering nicely, but far from his children and grandchildren, unable to celebrate in the way we planned. And then, when he is well and back again, we will mark his age, and he will watch this tape. I think that by our getting him the tape, the 70-year-old man will somehow reconnect with the 23-year-old boy. I think about how he got from there to here. And I think about how wondrous strange it is that we live in an age in which time can circle back on itself and how two versions of my father, the then and the now, can say hello to each other, face to face.
But that’s what I’m thinking. What he’s probably thinking, as he walks off the stage, is what to do with the 50 bucks, which was a lot of money back then.