Feb 14, 2020

Valentines Stay

By Ed Goldman

Last September, after Kim was given a very scary health diagnosis, I flew down to Long Beach to help her check off a couple of bucket-list items: (1) an evening in Disneyland to see the soon-to-be-discontinued Electric Parade on Main Street; and (2) dinner thereafter at Blue Bayou, the restaurant in the same structure as what has become one of the park’s iconic attractions, Pirates of the Caribbean ride. It’s rare you get to check off two bucket-list items in the same venue.

About two weeks later, Kim underwent lengthy, major surgery, followed by weeks of recovery in the hospital and at a skilled-nursing facility. The only way I could contact her during all of this was through the graces of her older sister, Elizabeth, whose detailed, caring reports define the term “faithful correspondent.”

Kim’s now ensconced in her cozy condo a few minutes from the ocean. I spent five days visiting her in January—holding hands, roaming around at Barnes & Noble, lunching by the water and watching the final Jeopardy! championship.

And I realized, 50-plus years later, she’s still my Valentine.

I first asked Kim to go steady with me on August 9, 1966. I remember she was barefoot and wearing a summer shift and we walked to a park almost adjacent to her home on Daneland Street in Lakewood, California. I gave her a necklace that must have set me back $20, which in those days, when I was still a teenager working part-time in a department store for maybe $2.25 an hour, was the equivalent of, oh, $20.

We were as in love as kids of that age can be without running off somewhere, lying about our ages and getting married. In fact, one especially romantic night we did mock-marry, at Knott’s Berry Farm. The park, which was still human-scaled back then, had a singular Old West theme: burro rides through “gold mines;” staged shoot-outs in the dusty street; a robbery by masked varmints who climbed onto the train that inched along the perimeter of the facility (had they attempted to jump on the snail-like train from fast-moving horses they’d probably have gone right over the top of it and found themselves on someone’s front lawn in the town of Buena Park); an 1880s-style general store (with an ample supply of contemporary kitsch); and a theatre that staged bogus period melodramas (and once featured a young performer named Steve Martin). 

…And I realized, 50 years later, she’s still my Valentine.

There was also a “hitchin’ booth” where, for a buck or two at the most, you could get an old-timey wedding certificate and ring for your temporary bride. Which we did.

Ed and Kim on graduation night at Disneyland: June 1968.

In Southern California in the 1960s and ‘70s, amusement parks played almost as central a role as the ocean, music of the Beatles and Beach Boys, driving to Westwood or Hollywood to attend the opening of a movie, and dancing in your socks in the school gym while keeping an eye on the seeming army of chaperones determined to not allow young bodies to graze each other as they swayed around the basketball floor.

Kim and I had been to Disneyland pretty often—there weren’t too many wholesome opportunities to have your girlfriend sit between your legs but the Matterhorn ride did the trick—and a number of the area high schools, including ours, held their all-night graduation party there. I can’t tell you how truly magical it was to have an entire major attraction at our disposal. You could go on any ride as often as you liked, provided you didn’t mind waiting in queues that moved slower than Depression Era bread lines—though I’ll admit, much more felicitously.

We broke up after our first semester in college, in early 1969. Actually, Kim did the breaking up; I did the falling apart. A Christian, she realized that not only was I not about to convert to Christianity but also that I’d practically have to convert to Judaism, the religion in which I was brought up. My dumb joke in those days—which I used in a speech not long ago, proving dumb can sometimes stand the test of time—was that if I were to walk into a synagogue I’d likely burst into flames. (A similar-veined joke that would more than qualify for Social Security, is something my mom actually came up with: that I didn’t pursue becoming a rabbi, which had been a very early dream of mine, because I didn’t want to work Saturdays.)

Ed and Kim dancing on the Lakewood High School gym floor.

Throughout the next several decades, Kim and I remained in touch, though not always. There was the matter of her relationship of 24 years and my marriage of nearly 29, both of which concluded in tremendous sadness.

Late last spring I contacted Kim after we’d had a period of non-communication brought on by my hasty decision to become engaged to someone else, possibly because I’d given up on Kim’s and my timing ever working out. The engagement didn’t last and I wondered how Kim was doing. I truly had no idea how she’d react—it’s been my lifelong mantra that he who expects nothing is never disappointed, often attributed to Confucius—but her response was devastating, as much because it typified her feisty courage and faith despite very difficult odds.

“Well, you dodged a bullet,” she emailed ( because we hadn’t ended up together). “I was diagnosed in April with pancreatic cancer.”

When I visited her last month, on the day before I was scheduled to fly back to Sacramento, her oncologist reported that Kim’s tumor markers had fallen to amazingly low levels—that, in essence, she was cancer-clear.

I think of that as her Valentine’s Day present to me. I hope she’ll think of this column as mine to her.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).