Al Shuttleworth waited impatiently for the afternoon paper. When it came, he riffled through the classified section until he found the personals. "Hot Dog!" he shouted. "Joanie! It's in here," he told her, sitting down at the kitchen table.
Joan Shuttleworth wiped her hands on her apron, put on her glasses and peered over his shoulder. He pointed to the bold-faced type in the ad which read: Loving parents seek responsible, affectionate mate for career daughter. Interested parents seeking same for son, please reply.
"I still don't think this is a good idea, Al."
Al was defensive. "Why not? Parents have arranged matches for their children for thousands of years. It's only lately we've been left to stand around twiddling our thumbs."
He shifted to a placating tone, "Look, Joanie, who knows our little girl better than we do? We've raised her, watched her grow. We know her tastes, her strengths, her weaknesses. Don't you think we should know by now who would make her happy?"
Joan look down affectionately at her husband's thinning hairline, and patted the sunburned patch of his scalp. He was impulsive, just like Miranda, and ordinarily she loved that side of him, but this idea of his was well past that thin borderline between parental concern and meddling. She fiddled with his shirt collar.
"She seems happy, busy-why not wait and see if someone comes along?"
"Because Mr. Right is not like a dollar bill you spot on the sidewalk, honey. If we don't make some moves for Miranda, she'll just go along forever and Mr. Right will be snapped up by someone else."
He smiled reassuringly at her. "See, that's the beauty of my idea, Mandy won't know a thing about it. I'll bet a lot of parents are anxious for their sons to meet the right girl, too. We just sift through the replies-we're sure to get plenty-and pick out a guy who seems suitable. We interview the parents, arrange for the two of them to meet without either knowing anyone has arranged it, then we see what develops. I'm not trying to force anyone on her, just to nudge somebody into her path and have her stumble across him, so to speak."
Joan gave a grudging consent. "I just hope we get somebody nice-I'd feel terrible if we picked the wrong guy."
Don't worry, hon, " Al pecked her on the cheek. "Nothing but the best for our little girl."
Several days later they were still sifting through the responses from the ad. The far wall of the dining room was lined with cardboard boxes. Each box had large black-lettered titles. One box read: Nerds & Wimps; another, Gigolos; another, Only If Desperate-and the last, Mr. Right. The Mr. Right box was empty.
"I give up" Al sighed, and leaned back in the chair, stretching his arms and legs.
"Listen to this one," Joan laughed, producing the latest e-mail from the sack. They had been at first delighted to realize their newspaper ad was reproduced online by the paper, but then chagrined when a barrage of electronic notes threatened to clog their message center as well as "real" letters in their mailbox at the house.
"Listen to this one" she said again, 'My Alvin is a mature, sensible man, thrifty and in good health' The apple of this mom's eye is probably retired, extremely dull and has bursitis." She tossed it into the Only If Desperate box.
"I never knew there were so many guitar players around. We must have listened to eighteen renditions each of folk, rock or hip-hop on those CDs in the mail"
"Don't forget the "Beer Barrel Polka" by the accordion player."
"Or the guy reciting "Dangerous Dan McGrew."
"Now he wasn't bad," Al admitted, but so far no Mr. Right for their Mandy. "Have you heard from her at all lately?"
No, but it's the park's busiest time. I left a message on her cell phone, though."
"Now here's an idea," Al decided. "We could connect her answering machine to our Mr. Right's answering machine and let them talk to one another"
Joan scoffed. "With our luck, the phones would get engaged." She rose to answer the doorbell, which had begun to ring insistently.
She opened the front door a crack, and then even wider. Spanning the doorway was a huge poster, a blown-up photograph of a rugged-looking young man at the tiller of a sailboat. His thick black hair was tossed across a handsome face, and he was shielding his dark eyes from the sun's glare with a tanned, muscular arm.
From the bottom of the poster a pair of black polished shoes protruded, and a pair of hands were clenched around the edges of the huge photograph. A head popped from behind the poster, a middle-aged version of the young man on the poster. "Good-looking, isn't he, Mrs. Shuttleworth? That's our boy, Matt"
A female head popped around the other side of the poster, a heart-shaped face centered around an anxious smile. "And he's talented, too," the face said.
Joan kept one eye on the pair in the doorway as she turned slightly towards the kitchen and called,
"Al-I think you'd better come here."
Some hasty introductions were exchanged as Al and Joan Shuttleworth said "howdy" to Burt and Violet Hubbell. The Hubbells were invited to come in and sit down, and they seated themselves on the living room couch, two bookends on either side of their son-in-absentia, whose likeness was propped between them on the middle cushion.
Burt Hubbell got to the heart of the matter without preamble.
"The minute I saw that ad I said to Violet, now there's a couple who know what they want and go out and get it-didn't I, Vi?" Violet smiled sweetly.
He continued. "Now, I feel that personal contact is important, so there was no sense in us becoming one of hundreds of other letters. We're a few days late because we had to find just the right photograph to be enlarged at the photo shop-catchy, isn't it?"
Al and Joan nodded in agreement that it was, indeed, catchy.
"But how did you know our names, or where we lived?" Al asked.
"Oh, that was the simple part. I just waited around the newspaper office until a man-you, Al-- walked out with a large bag of mail. I figured only your ad would bring such a response. Then, I just followed you home and read your name on the mailbox."
Burt smiled an elementary-my-dear-Watson smile, then moved quickly on to the finest presentation of his saleman's career.
Their son Matthew, he told the Shuttleworths, was twenty-nine, black hair, brown eyes, six foot two, one hundred eighty pounds. He loved sailing and the outdoors, and was a free-lance commercial artist. He designed the illustrations for Boy's World Magazine, and had exhibited his seascapes at several art galleries in and around Cleveland.
He was thoughtful, patient, and had a good sense of humor-but was extremely busy. Too busy, his father pointed out, to settle down.
Joan volunteered the profile for their Miranda. She was twenty-seven, five foot eight, honey-blonde hair with green eyes, a size eight. She was presently Activities and Events Director for Funland Parks, a huge conglomerate of amusement rides, family outdoor sports and musical events situated in the next county adjacent to Cuyahoga county.
This fast-paced position sent her on frequent promotional tours. She collected antiques, was a good cook when she had the time, loved children, and also had a marvelous sense of humor.
The Hubbells and Shuttleworths compared childhood illnesses, report cards, awards. They shared pictures and family trees.
"Matt is independent, and sometimes hard to pin down."
"Mandy is very diplomatic, she can convince anyone of anything."
"Matt is a stickler for neatness"
"That's good, Mandy will learn to be less cluttery."
"He hates to work with numbers."
"Oh, Mandy can balance a checkbook in five minutes."
"He can teach her how to fish."
"She can take him to antique shows."
The afternoon turned to early dusk, and it was only natural that the negotiations continue over grilled steaks and salads on the patio.
Burt made a pronouncement from the comfortable lounge cushions. "I think we're in agreement, then-we arrange for them to meet and see what develops. If the first time doesn't take, we arrange for a second, and keep throwing them at each other until they realize they were meant for each other."
"And not a word to either that we're playing Cupid," Joan reminded.
Al returned from the kitchen with a chilled bottle of French champagne and four crystal glasses.
"I was saving this for a special occasion, and by golly, I think this is it!" With a flourish he popped the cork and ceremoniously poured.
He raised his glass. "When I was in the Navy, we had a code name for every secret maneuver, and since we're playing Cupid for our kids, I propose we call our own little maneuver...Operation Arrow!"
Violet, Joan and Burt rose to stand with Al, and they all held up their glasses and clinked them together, happy smiles on their faces.
"To Operation Arrow!" they chorused.
Next, Part 2: MANEUVERS
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