Before Sundown is a good old-fashioned, true love story with a twist of wry humor. In the beginning of Chapter One, Chance Meeting, Albie and Phyllis are young teenagers. As the story unfolds in First Date and After, they fall in love and try to elope. They’re underage, and her mother and aunt step in and stand up for them in a city hall marriage ceremony.
In this heart-warming story, Albie sums up the success of his long life, more than sixty years, with Phyllis.
Our strong bond of love and joyful life held together and grew to new highs as we aged because we kept family harmony, and we were devoted to a long term marriage. We accepted that all people have differences, and we made a Vow and Pact not to hold grudges, to eliminate strife with peace, forgiveness and love before sundown each day.
All of that and more. They both had a knack for humor, and what makes a joyful life but love and humor.
In 1945, before I met Phyllis, I found an after-school and weekend job pumping gas at the Sunoco petrol station, a short three mile bus ride from where I lived. In my dream big mind, I thought since I’d be 16 in November and I’d have a steady job, I’d be able to drive and maybe buy my own used car. At the same time, it was obvious at earning 50 cents an hour it would be years before I could buy a car, not even an old 1930’s model. These back and forth reality checks went on pretty much all the time, especially about money. At an early age in a poor immigrant family, I learned, “don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” Anyway, aside from that, this petrol station job was far better than cutting rich people’s estate lawns in Wyndmoor, where I lived, so to speak on the other side of the tracks. It also beat delivering morning newspapers, or helping muscle-bound men deliver concrete burial vaults to cemeteries outside of Philadelphia.
Good news on the money side, the gas station job paid more than the 35 cents an hour I got on a previous job as an errand/clean-up boy for the Farnsworth Electronic Tube Laboratories. Even though the money was less, it was the most interesting place to work. The laboratory made Cathode Ray Tubes for radar installations on the east and west coasts of America. The laboratory workers told me that these tubes would soon be produced for what they called television sets! And one day every home will have a television set! Even at my young age, I knew what they were talking about. When I started working there, my mother and I were invited by one of the top managers to watch an experimental demonstration. I stood in a semi-circle with big executives and my mother, inside the laboratory, completely awed watching the radar tube TV simultaneously show a beautifully dressed young girl tap dance and sing outside on a lawn stage. I’ll always remember being a spectator at one of the first television experiments.
On April 12th 1945, a few weeks after I started my new petrol station job, the sad news flashed on the small radio in the station that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died of a brain hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Georgia. I remember that time in April well because Phyllis would have been 14 on the 22nd, and I would have been 16 the following November.
On that particular balmy, bright spring day, Mike Hardy, the station manager, told me to wax a customer’s car, which I moved from the station’s direct sun to under the shade tree across the street. It was cooler there and easier to get a shine on the car.
Several times, at a distance, I’d seen Phyllis and her older sister Joyce walking home from their bus stop near the Sunoco station.
My fellow workers, Joe Zak and Bill Brody, older and wiser, egged me on too often, saying, “Albie, her mother’s a customer here and she’s beautiful, so I bet her daughters are really pretty. You should meet up with one of them someday when they walk by”
As luck would have it, good or bad, while I waxed and shined the car I looked up and saw two pretty blonde haired girls get off the public bus at the corner. Both were wearing glasses, but I knew one was Phyllis and the other one was probably a friend. Her sister had brown hair. I thought, wow this is my chance to meet Phyllis…but how and what to do or say? I wasn’t sure this was a good luck time, but they were just steps away on the sidewalk and would pass right by me! I watched them out the corner of my eye as they stopped within inches of me. Both took off their glasses as if to get a better look at the grease monkey gas station attendant. I could feel my heart pounding. From the station’ radio I heard the faint words of a popular song, “Candy, I call my sugar Candy because I’m sweet on Candy and Candy’s sweet on me.” Was this an omen, and it was really going to happen for me?
I turned my head just enough to look at them, and I was struck by the friend’s beauty, her light, pale blonde hair and pink angora sweater took my breath away. Phyllis on the other hand had honey blonde hair and a plain blue button-up cardigan, sensible, and smart looking. I had a moment of doubt. What young, hormone ridden guy wouldn’t? I had choices, so I threw chance to the wind.
With my best winning smile, I glanced at one then the other and said, ‘Hi girls,” and waited. At 6’2, I towered over both of them, about 5’2’.
I was surprised when Phyllis made immediate eye contact; her big brown eyes sparkled in sync with the sun light streaming through the fresh spring leaves of the big shade tree.
Dazzled a little by that, but I recovered and asked, “Do you girls go to Germantown High?”
Phyllis said, “I do, but Grace goes to the Stevens School in Chestnut Hill. She’s visiting her uncle, who lives close to my house, and sometimes I walk his dog. I met Grace before on the bus. Her uncle’s a writer, and I always hear him tapping on his typewriter.”
Her friend, Grace, had not said a word. She was looking away, sometimes staring at the ground, and she didn’t seem interested. This was a disappointment. With my ego bruised, I told myself that Grace was a stand-offish snob who went to that ritzy Stevens Private school, and she lived a high faulting life like a princess. She definitely didn’t want to be seen talking to a poor gas station attendant wearing a grubby tee-shirt and oil-stained coveralls. Even though I was tall, blonde, blue-eyed, and pretty good looking.
Then I came to my senses and thought, what business did I have anyway thinking either one of them would be interested in a nobody like me.
I know now that Grace at that young age had set her sights on her dreams about acting. She went from Hollywood royalty, encouraged and mentored by her Uncle George, a prize-winning playwright, to real royalty. She became the Princess Grace of Monaco after marrying Prince Rainier III of Monaco. Ah, well, I pegged her right at the start, didn’t I?
So, I ignored high and mighty Grace and turned my attention to Phyllis. I leveled a look at her and was stunned by her deep brown eyes fixed on me. Something about those eyes held a wild and wonderful power over me.
I stood there with a silly smile on my face and before I could think, blurted out, “I work here at the gas station and I know your Mom is a customer. May I call you sometime, and maybe we can go to the Sedgwick movie theater together?”
Phyllis blinked her eyes, smiled back and said, “Oh that would be fun, why not?”
With that they turned away and moved on. The short chance meeting was over in about five minutes and I watched them disappear around the corner. I just stood there spellbound and savored what I thought I saw, a love light in Phyllis’s eyes. I could hardly finish polishing the car, my knees felt wobbly and my hands shook.