Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Great Lovers I have known--interlude--Nanette Poll

Great Lovers—an Interlude—Nanette Poll

I have rather deliberately avoided intruding my own rather sorry failures in this series except I decided that I would, before I complete the series with the story of my roommate, Rob Talbert, tell the story of an incident in my own dating career that is so completely similar to one that Rob had, that it would be instructive.
One of the things we did while I was a graduate student at BYU is have what we called “family home evening groups”.  These consisted usually of an apartment of girls, two male home teachers, and any surplus boys who were not themselves assigned as home teachers.  One year I was assigned as senior home teacher with Neil Whitaker—at that time a freshman student—as junior to an apartment of girls with five girls in the apartment.  One of those girls was Nanette Poll, a very attractive girl who was herself a graduate student in library science.
One of our duties as home teachers was not only to hold a weekly home evening, but also to go over to the apartment for a nightly “family prayer”.  Being at the time about 30 years of age and still not married, i.e. somewhat desperate, and also thus being constantly thrown into the presence of so attractive a young lady, I became quite enamored of Nanette.  I began to believe by certain things she did and said that the feeling was reciprocated.  There were two things holding me back from asking Nanette out on a date.  The first, and admittedly, more minor problem was her family, specifically her father.
Nanette was the daughter of Richard Poll, an alumnus both, I believe as a student and as a professor.  He was highly thought of because he was one of the few (back then) who had gone on from BYU to success in the “real academic world”.  He was an administrator at the University of Illinois.  That bothered me less than a famous paper he had written which differentiated between what he called “Liahona” and “Iron Rod” Mormons.  He classified himself in the former group.  Roughly, a “Liahona” Mormon was more or less a cultural Mormon, i.e. someone who believed that it was a good idea to not drink or smoke or chase wild women and go to church occasionally, but who didn’t see himself as having much real faith.  An “Iron Rod” was, of course, someone who believed implicitly and ordered his life accordingly.  This would probably have been more of a problem for me—not wanting to get myself tied up with a “Liahona” type and all—except for the fact that Dr. Poll, in his essay, mentioned that he was frequently surprised at the depth of his own children’s faith. I assumed, of course, that he meant Nanette.
The second, and real problem, was my Elder’s Quorum president, Ron Knudson.  Ron was the eldest of five Knudsons in our ward.  They were all pretty much “Iron Rods” (with the exception of the youngest girl, who like almost all youngest children, was rather—or so it seemed to me—spoiled, but that is neither here nor there for this issue).  At any rate, Ron was definitely a “Steel Rod” Mormon and tempered steel at that and he made it an absolute, definite no-no that a home teacher would even in the most casual way date someone in his Home Evening Family.  I talked with my good friend, Rondy Bentley about the problem, thinking that maybe he could put in a good word for me and get Ron to bend a little bit.  Rondy was Ron’s brother-in-law, having married Patty Knudson, much to the chagrin of those of us who thought that Patty was probably the best catch in the ward and had some hopes in that direction ourselves—but I digress.  Anyway, Rondy was all sympathy and having made an excellent catch himself was eager to help in any way he could, a friend do likewise, but did you ever try to bend a steel rod?  Ron said, “absolutely not.” And the “absolutely was capitalized, italicized, underlined with several exclamation points after it.
Well, as the year wore on, I became more and more convinced that any hope I could have of any little bit of happiness in this life and even hereafter was tied to Nanette Poll.  Furthermore, I somehow became convinced that she felt the same way. In hindsight, I’m not sure what evidence I had of Nanette’s feeling for me, but when you are 30 and not married your deductive skills with the respect to girls is not always—maybe not even usually—the sharpest.  Finally, about 3 weeks before the end of the school year, I decided to put it to Ron squarely.  “Look, Ron,” I said firmly, or, at least, as firmly as I could muster.  Whenever I talked with Ron, and especially when I talked with him firmly, I had the feeling that it was rather like jello going up against steel and I rather wished that I had been a little bit more devout in my prayers and scripture reading to sort of give me the steel rod sort of confidence, but I digress.  “Look, Ron,” I said (in case you have forgotten), “it’s almost the end of the year.  Summer break is coming up and Nanette Poll will be going home or somewhere other than here and I may never see her again and all my hopes of marriage and happiness will vanish like the wind.”  Of course, since that was many years ago, I’m not sure that that is exactly what I said, in fact, I’m pretty sure I phrased it much more powerfully than that, being, as I was back then, particularly good at phrasing things powerfully, but at any rate, that is more or less, the rather watered down gist of what I said.
“Well, I can’t let you date anyone in your family home evening group, and, quite frankly, I think you’re kidding yourself about this whole thing,” he said, and I must say, he said it rather forcefully.  “I’ll tell you what I will do, I will release you.  Then you can date her.”
That was all the incentive I needed.  I just knew that my bachelor days were all but over.  I announced my release at family prayer that evening and introduced my replacement.  I then went home and asked Nanette out for three dates that very weekend.  Friday night was a group date with three couples that several of us had planned for some time.  Saturday night was a dance and Sunday night was a fireside with Ezra Taft Benson.  I pretty much assumed that by the next weekend we would be engaged and working out the final arrangements for our wedding.
I had planned that I would kiss her on the very first date.  While generally opposed to first date kisses and I don’t believe I had ever done it, I felt that this was an exception.  After all, we were, I felt, in all but the actual details, i.e. engagement announcement, buying the rings, setting the date, mailing out invitations—that sort of thing—more or less a married couple already.
Well, the first date kiss didn’t work out.  We did have a good time, but since there were three of us couples and I wasn’t driving, they dropped Nanette off first and since there were two other couples looking at us, I hardly felt that it would be appropriate to begin mad embraces in front of an audience.  But I was sure that I could correct that on the next date.
The next date—as I mentioned, a dance—was a disaster.  It was as though both of us assumed that marriage was inevitable and, therefore, we wanted to make some things perfectly clear right at the outset.  What I had assumed would be a wonderful evening dancing enchantedly in each others arms turned into one long argument about politics and religion.  By the time I took her home, I realized I had made a huge mistake in bringing the subjects up at all and I was busy backtracking as best I could, but the feelings were such that there was certainly no question of kissing.  I was lucky to get out a smile and a “thank you” carefully avoiding the usual “for a wonderful evening”.
By the next night I was wishing that I had asked her out for Sunday evening to something—anything—other than a fireside by Ezra Taft Benson since I knew he would probably speak on politics and that would widen the rift between us.  Fortunately, I thought, Pres. Benson had decided to talk about something else.  I assumed that because he started his talk by saying, “Most of you probably think you know exactly what I am going to talk about.”  I assumed that he wouldn’t begin that way, if, in fact, he planned to give his usual political talk.  I was wrong.
About the only thing Nanette said to me on the way home was, “I can’t believe that you would subject me to that kind of talk, knowing how I feel.”
Well, I decided that in order to salvage what I had initially assumed would be a smooth-running courtship that I needed to do something that would avoid even the appearance of politics. So our next date was to be romantic drive over the Alpine loop.  I had envisioned us looking out over the scenery and waxing enthusiastic about the wonders of nature, the beauty of pristine forests, and the majesty of the Wasatch Mountains.  I assumed that by the end of the trip everything would be back on track for our fall wedding, especially after I took her to a quiet restaurant and have a romantic candlelight dinner.  By the end of the evening, we would have laid aside our silly, unimportant political differences and we would end the evening in each others’ arms with me finally getting my first kiss.
What actually happened was that the moment she got into the car she began telling me that I had turned out to be completely different than the person she had envisioned for these past months.  She felt that I was, in fact, a religious fanatic and a political bigot and that we should no longer date or even see each other except at church where it could not be avoided.  As it turns out, the drive over the Alpine loop takes about two hours so she lent considerable embellishment to what I have above abridged into two sentences, also approaching the subject from several different angles with an occasional cross reference, but the gist was as described above.  So after descending from the Alpine loop, I drove her home.  Needless to say, we did not end the evening in each other’s arms, nor was there a good-night kiss.
Somebody, I believe it was Pope—the poet not the pontiff--, said, Hope springs eternal in the human breast.  When he said that I think that he had 30 year old bachelors who desperately want to get married in mind.  At any rate, I was convinced that Nanette really did not mean what she had said.  After all, we had been flirting with each other for months.  I was sure that after a little reflection, she would change her mind completely.
Sure enough, the next Sunday a church, she was very cordial—going so far as to actually ask me how I was feeling.  This gave me encouragement and I decided to ask her out.  It turns out there was the perfect “non-comittal” date available that week.  Our ward had won the Stake Roadshow competition and for the last Mutual of the school year they were staging a repeat performance.  Since it was during a weekday, I felt that it would be the perfect “patch-up” date, since it also would be relatively short and we would be among friends.  So I asked her out to that.
“I thought I told you,” she began emphatically and my heart stopped (people always say that, but, of course, it didn’t really stop, but I did fear the worst), but then she suddenly stopped.  “Sure,” she said after a rather long pause, “Why not? I’d love to go.”  So, I decided, she had indeed changed her mind.  Right in the middle to turning me down, I reasoned, she recognized that she had made a terrible mistake.
With a feeling of high anticipation for a great evening, I picked Nanette up on Wednesday.  Since the theater in which the play was to be performed was only about 4 or 5 blocks away, we had agreed we would walk.
Nanette greeted me with a smile and invited me in.  Although it was late in May, the weather was a little chilly so she had me help her on with a light jacket.  “This should be an interesting evening,” she commented as we stepped out the door.  Indeed it was.
As soon as we got to the sidewalk she began walking very rapidly.  I picked up my own pace to catch up with her, assuming that she was in a hurry to get to the meeting.  But as soon as I caught up to her she slowed down so I passed her up.  I immediately slowed my pace, but as soon as we were side-by-side again she again picked up the pace and speeded in front of me.  I again picked up my pace and soon caught up to her.  “Ah come on, Nanette,” I pleaded, “this is silly.  At least we can walk together and talk.”  She said nary a word but again slowed down to a crawl.  As soon as we were side-by-side again, she again picked up the pace.  At that point I simply gave up and walked behind her the rest of the way to the meeting.
We arrived at the meeting just as it was beginning.  Nanette took a seat and I sat next to her, almost afraid that she might make a verbal protest, but she didn’t.  During the play, which only lasted about 20 minutes, she did, however, carefully place both of her hands on the side of her body away from me, making it abundantly clear that there was to be no physical contact whatsoever.
After the play refreshments were served and everyone mingled, reminiscing about experiences over the past school year.  To me, this was the most remarkable and yet, most embarrassing part of the date.  If you have ever seen a movie in which there is an angel or a ghost which some of the people in a room can see, but others cannot, you can get a feeling for the remarkable part of the experience.  Nanette acted like I was, to her at least, completely invisible.  When talking with friends she would look past me or to the side as though there was nothing there in the space I was occupying.  Furthermore, whenever I was referred to, which I frequently was early in the conversation, Nanette would act like she had not heard and continue the conversation as if I had not even been mentioned.  Of course, this soon became horribly embarrassing since it became clear to everyone there that she didn’t want to have anything to do with me, even though we were, sort of anyway, together.  I could tell that several people wanted to get me alone so they could ask me what happened, but I stuck persistently to Nanette’s side.  Across the room Ron Knudsen smiled at me and mouthed the words, “I knew this would happen.  I warned you.”
After about half hour or 45 minutes of this I said to Nanette, “I’ve had enough of this.  Let’s go.”  This time she heard me and we walked out together.
The walk home was exactly like the walk there, with me trying to walk by her side and with Nanette immediately either speeding up or slowing down.  Finally, I simply followed her home following at several paces behind her.  When she got to her porch I bounded up so I could open the door for her.  “You need not bother to come in,” she said forcefully.  “I can take my coat off by myself.”  She then closed the door leaving me standing there for a few seconds.  Finally, I turned to go, but as I did so the door opened.  “By the way, Merrill,” Nanette said in almost a mockingly sweet tone of voice, “have we learned something tonight?”
“I hope so,” I responded lamely as I left her porch, not really sure what I was supposed to have learned other than the fact that when a girl tells you she doesn’t want to date you anymore, she probably means it.  That, I am sorry to say, was not the first time I had learned that lesson and am even sorrier to have to say, it was not the last, but it was certainly the most forceful presentation of the lesson.

Several years later I was sitting reading in the Salt Lake City library when I heard someone call my name.  It was Nanette.  She was working at the library.  We exchanged histories briefly.  She had married and was happy, which by that time I could also say, although she had been married much longer than I.  (At the time of the incident reported above I was still 5 or even 6 years from marriage.)  Best of all, she was happy to see me and no longer seemed to care that I had asked her out after she had so explicitly told me not to.