From the upcoming book about Southwestern and South Central New York

The Little White Box

Submitted by Frances Ratcliffe of Rochester, NY

Born 1932


      We met on a blind date one December day in 1952. A Rochester Institute of Technology fraternity was having their formal “Half Moon Dance,” an annual black tie affair, long gowns for the ladies and a full orchestra for dancing. A member of the fraternity did not have a girlfriend and his fraternity brothers wanted him to attend the ball. John was a handsome young man, a little shy but was there as a helper for everyone who needed it, always with a big smile. He lived in the city and commuted to school by subway, which kept him from associating in after school events, except for playing basketball in the spring.

      There was only one girl in John’s “Publishing and Printing” class, in those days girls stayed in classes such as: food administration, retailing, etc. This was long before women’s lib! Debby lived across the hall from me and my two roommates in our girl’s dormitory. Boys were not allowed above the first floor in those days. One day we had a knock on the door and Debby announced, “I am trying to find a blind date for a very nice young man, who needed a date for the formal, Half Moon Dance.”

      My two roommates and I started laughing, since none of us had gone on a date since being together for several months as roommates. Ruby was from Trinidad, Helen was from Holland, and I was from New York. Ruby and Helen decided they did not want to try but they both encouraged me to accept. I was a shy young lady from a small farming community, Troupsburg, in southwestern New York. Our school had grades 1-12 in one building! My 1950 high school graduating class had 12 students. I lived with my family, 6 kids, on a small farm. I was good at milking cows, shoveling manure, and driving tractors. The closest I had come to going on a date was to sit next to a boy on the school bus, which was taking the cheerleaders and basketball players to a ball game.

      Helen and Ruby encouraged me to go to the dance and I told Debby, “Yes!” Helen had a formal gown I could use and Ruby had shoes to fit as well as a shawl to cover my shoulders of the strapless gown. I had never been to a formal dance before, our country high school only had a square dance, and you did not need a date for that.

      John came to our dorm the next day to personally ask me to go to the ball with him. Our room telephone rang and announced that Frances had a visitor waiting for her. My roommates escorted me to the first floor lobby and then stayed in the back of the room, pretending to be busy with their own conversation. John asked me if I would like to go with him to the dance and I said, “Yes. Thank you for asking me.” He asked me what color my dress was since he wanted to get a corsage to match the color. John said he would pick me up in his car and that two other couples would be going in his car with us. We had a very interesting time at the dance!

      Several days after the date, I was walking to class and I saw John walking toward me. He had a little white box in his hand about the size of a candy box. He gave me a big smile and we talked a little and finally he handed me the white box and said, “I helped my mother make Christmas cookies yesterday and I wanted you to have some! These were my German grandmother’s almond cookie recipe and they were only made a Christmas time.” I opened the box and they were the kind of cookies that you had to roll out very thin and then cut each cookie with a cookie cutter. There were small animals, Christmas trees, wreaths, an umbrella, a small house, etc. I was so impressed! A man who would bring a girl cookies that he had helped his mother make! That really impressed me. I think I fell in love with him at that moment! We were married 3 years later.

      John is very special, a loving husband, father, grandfather, and also a community leader. He spent many years in scouting, became scoutmaster of a boy scout troop and one year he had five eagle scouts being honored form his troop. John eventually was given the honor of becoming a Silver Beaver, the highest award given in scouting.

      Now, 61 years later, we are still making grandmother’s Christmas cookies and we send them to everyone in our family, now numbering 17! Three children, spouses, six grandchildren, and five great grandchildren. This year I heard one grandson say as he opened his box of cookies, “Now I know it is Christmas- great grandmother’s cookies have arrived!”

      As in all marriages, there have been many bumps and problems to work out. Our challenge had been communication! John was born deaf and we have worked at getting good communication all our married life, a huge challenge for deaf and hearing couples. As we remember our first blind date in 1952, we laugh since round dancing, which John could do, and square dancing, which I knew, do not work well on the dance floor. We ended up sitting most of the evening on the sidelines. I listened to the music while John gave me my first lesson in sign language and finger spelling, a continuing lesson which has lasted 61 years. 

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