I am a happily married, reasonable, fairly balanced woman, but it has not always been so. Many years before I walked down the aisle with my smart, funny, adorable, accomplished husband Paul, I was a hormonally-volatile, peroxide-blond teenager who was visiting her aunt one summer. The aunt in question was having some construction work done in her yard, and she hired a young man from the Hudson Valley to do it.
He was, to put it mildly, a cardiac-arrester, a heart-stopper, a take-your-breath-away specimen of male pulchritude. He had an Elvis-like shock of ebony hair that fell half an inch above one of his jade-green eyes. His cheeks were adorned with perfectly-puckered dimples. His lips were thick, plump, moist like a New England clam. When he shoveled dirt, my eyeballs were riveted to his biceps, triceps, and even his pink, slightly puffy elbow. I, who am never at a loss for words, found it almost impossible to croak out anything other than, "Hi" when I first met him. Finally, when I could influence my speech muscles to move, I asked him if he was a local boy.
Negative! Three syllables. He didn't say "no" or "uh uh." It meant he was erudite. That my parents wouldn't reject him. That he could pass my mother's vocabulary tests and my father's scholastic scrutiny.
"Where are you from?" I said, my voice quivering with excitement.
"Tarrytown," he replied.
"Do you go to school there?" I asked, fantasizing that he was the valedictorian, the president of the debating society, the top name on the honor roll.
"I work in the garden at Sunnyside," he replied.
For me, sunny side was a description of an egg, cooked on one side. I looked at him quizzically.
"It was the home of Washington Irving," he explained.
I was right. He was highly literate. He had read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
"What's your name?" I asked and then, as soon as I had formulated the words, I took them back.
He squinted at me in the sharp sunlight.
"Would you mind... I mean... is it okay...?" I stammered.
I couldn't get the words out. He nodded, encouraging me.
"Is it all right if I call you Ichabod? It's not as though you look like Ichabod, I mean, perish the thought, but, you know, the connection. You at Sunnyside. I'm a big reader. I love Washington Irving. It's just... perfect."
He grinned broadly. My aunt appeared at her back door. He saw her, and thrust his spade into the ground with gusto. He worked non-stop for the next hour or so, pausing briefly to wipe a few delicate droplets of perspiration from his slightly-arched brow.
Every day, I sat in my aunt's garden, watching Ichabod work. I wore a shamelessly skimpy bikini one day and a recklessly revealing one the next. I pretended to read, but I turned the pages listlessly, my mind completely preoccupied with Ichabod.
It was a Friday, about five o'clock, and Ichabod was gathering up his tools to put them away for the weekend. But he didn't, as was his custom, take them over to the shed. Rather, he carried them with him and placed them in the trunk of his one-step-up-from-a-jalopy car. The auto was endearing to me, because it meant he was not materialistic. He was earthy, just like the ground he worked on.
"Bye, miss," he called to me over his shoulder as he opened the car door and started to slide into the driver's seat.
Throwing what was left of any caution to the wind, I ran up to the car.
"Ichabod," I said, "you aren't leaving for good, are you?"
"Yes, miss. I finished my work, and I'm heading back to Tarrytown."
"Maybe I'll come there to visit Sunnyside," I said, breathing heavily. "I've always wanted to know where Irving lived."
"Sure," he agreed.
In my mind, we were already married. He was my self-taught, brilliant prince and I was his literate princess. When he walked down the aisle, my bridesmaids fainted. His best man was the Headless Horseman.
"By the way," he said, as he backed out of the driveway, "I've been meaning to ask you—who is Ichabod Crane?"
"You know, Ichabod, from the Legend of Sleepy Hollow."
"What's that?" he inquired.
Oh no. He wasn't literate or brilliant. He was just a Hudson Valley hunk whom I created a fiction around. He had probably never heard of Rip Van Winkle. How could I ever marry a man who didn't know Rip? My mind and hormones had run away with me. He was just a nice guy who did outdoor work. He drove away, out of my life and my fantasies forever.
I never got to Sunnyside, but it's still on my agenda of great historic and literary places to visit. I know I'll see spectacular gardens and a dazzling view of the Hudson River, but I wonder, I just wonder, if I'll run into Ichabod, and if he'll remember me... or I'll remember him.