Have you ever been on a blind date?  If so, have you ever been on a blind date with such a mismatched suitor that the whole ordeal is seared in your brain like a brand on a cow’s hide?  I have.

When I was in my early 20s, I went out on a lot of blind dates.  As a young woman who worked full-time, attended college on evenings, and faithfully attended church on Sunday (and choir practice on Wednesday night), I was a busy gal with no time to date.  Also, no one ever asked me out … something about being 6 foot tall and intimidating (which was code for “scary bitch,” I guess).

My family of eight lived out in the country, about ten miles outside of town.  To get to our house, you had to travel down a mile-long, washboard dirt road.  On your journey, there was a good chance you’d get chased by the Tuckers’ mean dog and pass a stray chicken pecking on the roadside.  Our modest, one-story ranch home was surrounded by hundred year-old mossy oak trees and fifty acres of pasture land.  We always had a herd of cattle and a variety of other farm animals, including hogs, turkeys, dogs, and wild cats to keep the mice out of the barn.

My four older siblings had married young and scattered off to distant lands to start their own families (all within a five-mile radius of our homestead).   At the time our story takes place, my little sister Michelle and I were the last hold-outs still living at home with our parents, Mattie Pearl and Earl.  I was 20 and Michelle was 13.

There were a lot of people in my life who were concerned about my reaching the ancient age of 20 with no man in sight and a deviant attraction to books over boys.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like men and didn’t want to date.  I did!  But the available dating pool in my neck of the woods was (how shall I put this gently) … shallow.  My kinfolk had been farming in our county for so many generations that I was probably a distant relative to just about anyone who lived east of the Interstate.   Also, to be honest, despite my pride in my Florida Cracker heritage, I recoiled at the idea of dating a chauvinistic cowboy like my daddy.  At the same time, the archetype of the Quintessential Southern Gentleman had been so drilled into my head due to my raising that I wasn’t interested in dating a jock or a surfer dude either.

When people asked, “What’s your type?,” I’d usually say, “Educated lumberjack.”  Basically, I wanted a manly man who could wield an ax and read the Wall Street Journal.  Someone brilliant, witty, and ruggedly handsome with the charm of Elvis and the morals of Billy Graham.  Someone who could play classical piano, build a log cabin, speak fluent French, herd cattle, dabble in high finance, and sing Gaither hymns with me on Sunday — in other words, someone who did not exist, except in my own mind.

Coming from a very devout Southern Baptist family, I spent a lot of time at my small country church, so it was only a matter of time before my dating life (or lack thereof) became the target of two well-meaning ladies in my mama’s prayer circle – Miss Ruby and Granny Duffy.   Granny Duffy was the matriarch of our church.  A pioneer woman in her 90s, Granny Duffy was greatly respected as one of the church’s founding members.  No one said no to Granny Duffy.  Miss Ruby helped take care of Granny Duffy at her sprawling ranch home during the week because Granny Duffy’s advanced years had taken a little spring out of her step, but had not dimmed the sparkle in her eye.

One day, when Miss Ruby was at Granny Duffy’s house, a young man stopped by to deliver several bales of hay for Granny Duffy’s horses.  He was a dairy farmer from a good family who attended another Baptist church a few miles down the road.  He was 22 and, as Miss Ruby and Granny Duffy made sure to find out, he was single.  That’s when Miss Ruby and Granny Duffy hatched a scheme to set Mattie Pearl’s spinster daughter up on a blind date.

A week later, I was sitting at home minding my own business when the telephone rang.  This was back in the day before caller ID, so I had no clue who was calling but I answered anyway.

Hello?”

May I speak to Marilyn, please?”

This is she.”

Hey, Marilyn.  This is Harley Pickens from Pickens Dairy.”  

Um, who?  How’d you get this number?”

I looked you up in the phone book.”

Wh-wh-why, why would you do that?”

I’m friends with Granny Duffy from your church.”

“You don’t say.” 

“Yeah, and she mentioned that you’re a real nice Christian girl.”

Oh, she did, did she? 

“She sure did and she told me what a good mama you have.”

“And …?”

Anyway, so I was wondering … Would you like to go out on a date with me sometime?

Talk about being put on the spot!  Telemarketers I could handle, but a cold call from a dairy farmer?!  Sure, I could say no to him but, like I said, nobody ever said no to Granny Duffy.  She had encouraged this man to call me, and he had no idea what kind of untamed shrew he was up against.  Even worse, she had told him what a sweet Christian young lady I was so the bar for my behavior was set astronomically high.   If I declined his request for a date, I knew it would soon get back to my mama’s prayer circle, so I had a Hobson’s choice:  risk offending the matriarch of our church and embarrassing my mama in front of her friends, or go on a blind date with Harley Pickens.  Being the good girl that I was (at least in Granny Duffy’s eyes), I agreed to go out with Harley.

Sure, Harley, I’ll go out on a date with you.”

You will?  That’s great!  I’ll pick you up on Saturday at 6:30.  Oh, by the way, what do you look like?”

I’m about six feet tall, with dark brown hair and blue eyes.  What about you?

I’m about five foot ten and bald.  See you on Saturday!”

Wait … what?  Did you say bald?”

Unfortunately, Harley had already hung up the telephone and left me with nothing but a dial tone.   I was very nervous at the prospect of going out with anyone I’d never met, much less a bald dairy farmer named Harley, but I was trapped.  I started doubting myself.  Did he really say bald or am I just so jaded and pessimistic that I just thought he said that?   Because everybody knew everybody out where I lived, I called my oldest sister Melanie, who was nine years my senior, for some intel on Mr. Pickens.

Hey, Melanie.  This is Marilyn.  I just got asked out on a blind date by Harley Pickens from Pickens Dairy.

That’s great!  I went to school with his sisters.”

You did?”

Yes, he’s really cute too.”

He is?  He told me he’s bald.”

Bald?  Lord no.  He’s blond.”

Are you sure he’s blond, not bald?

Yes, I’m sure.  I’ve been knowing him since he was a little boy.”

(laughing)  “Phew!  My overactive imagination almost got the better of me ’cause I could have sworn he said he was bald.”

Nope, he’s blond.  Let me know how your date goes.”

I will.  Thanks.”

When Saturday evening came, I doused my already big hair with a can of Aqua Net, got gussied up in my best preppy attire, and sat in my living room as I waited for Harley.  Much to my displeasure,  Michelle decided to wait with me and teased me relentlessly about my impending date.  “Marilyn going out on a blind date with a dairy farmer?  That’s rich!  Ba ha ha ha ha.  I gotta see this.”  As Michelle continued to torment me, I looked out the screen window facing our front yard and the winding road just beyond.  In the distance, I could see a monster truck hauling ass down our dirt road followed by a huge billowing dust cloud.  Still a half mile away, I could hear the thunderous roar of the truck’s engine and see that the cab of the truck was perched perilously high atop giant mudder tires.

Gripped by fear, I began murmuring.  “No, no, no, this isn’t happening.”  Michelle ran over to the window and, laughing hysterically, started yelling, “Yeehaw!  Look at him go!  Look at him go!” in her best Southern accent.  I  hollered, “Shut up, Michelle!,” as I paced back and forth on the shag carpet.  The mushroom cloud of dust got closer and closer.  I decided there was no way in Hell I was gonna let Harley come in my house and find my bratty little sister rolling on the floor belly laughing, so I hurried outside to beat him to my front door.

As I sailed out of the house at a furious pace, Harley was slowly sauntering toward the house.  “Hey, you must be Marilyn.”

Before me stood Harley Pickens.  He was wearing a long-sleeved, plaid shirt with pearl buttons and Western stitching; dark blue, skin tight Wrangler jeans; and cowboy boots.  A silver belt buckle the size of a hubcap adorned his mid-section, and he was bald as a cue ball.

Harley chivalrously escorted me back to the truck and opened the passenger side door.  After wincing when I noticed Harley’s name embossed on the back of his belt, I surveyed the vast distance between the ground and the bench seat in the truck’s cab and wondered how the heck I was going to get up there without a system of pulleys and a hydraulic lift.  I grabbed onto the door frame and slung my right leg up as high as a Rockette but, even after several tries, I could not stick the landing.  Thankful that I had opted against wearing a dress, I was mortified that, even at six feet tall, I couldn’t seem to hoist myself into Harley’s blasted truck.  As I tried again to pull myself up, Harley offered to give my derriere a push, so I mustered all of the strength I had and hurled myself face-first into that truck to avoid such an indignity.

Harley turned to walk toward the driver’s side of the truck.  While he had his back turned to the house, I glanced up and saw Michelle glued to the front window like a Garfield suction cup toy, her head back, mouth wide open, and face distorted in maniacal laughter.  I shot her my most menacing look, mouthed a few curse words I hoped she could decipher, and flailed my arms at her like a deranged traffic guard in the hopes of shooing her away from the window before Harley saw her.  Harley backed out of the front yard and we headed toward town for our date.

The ride to town was surreal.  I tried to be pleasant and make small talk, but every time Harley shifted that old-fashioned, four-on-the floor manual gear shift and let out the clutch, the truck would stall and lurch, causing my head to snap forward and then slam back onto a protruding arm of the gun rack full of rifles in the truck’s rear window.  I hoped I would not lose consciousness from a gaping head wound by the time we made it to dinner.

Driving with his window down, which blew my naturally wavy, well-coiffed ‘do into an Afro, Harley asked me what I liked to do in my spare time.

Oh, I love to travel. ”

Where ya been?”

I’ve been to London, Paris, and Rome.”

Yeah, I like to travel too.  Every summer me and my buddies go up to a fishing camp in Alabama to catch some bass.”

Oh, brother.

I told Harley how I was majoring in political science and working as a legal secretary while I put myself through college, and of my interest in law and the French language.  In turn, he told me of his interest in hunting and Holsteins.

When we finally arrived at the restaurant, I couldn’t wait to get inside.  The waiter came to our table and I immediately ordered a chicken Caesar salad and a Diet Coke in the hopes of rushing things along.  Harley sat across from me telling me about his life, and I just sat there wondering why I had ever answered that telephone.  Perhaps sensing my discomfort, Harley asked me why I’d accepted his offer to go out on a date.  I told him how much I respected Granny Duffy and that I knew it took major cojones for him to cold call me out of a phone book when he had never seen me before and knew nothing about me.  I went on to confess that I didn’t think we had much in common, and Harley shook his head in agreement.

I don’t know why Granny Duffy wanted to put us together.  I’m a dairy farmer, and I think you’re gonna be the first female President of the United States.”

Aw, shucks, Harley.  He had a point.  Seriously, no offense to Granny Duffy, but in what universe would I be compatible with Harley Pickens?  Sure, I lived on a farm and had to stomp around in rubber boots sloppin’ hogs, but I always addressed our swine in French and kept that aspect of my life well-hidden.  I bet I was the only country girl who listened to a cassette tape of Puccini on her boombox and read the United States Tax Code for fun.  Heck, I didn’t even own a pair of moccasins and never advertised my name on my accessories, so why was I on this date?!

Less than an hour after arriving at the restaurant, we had finished our meal and I asked Harley to drive me home.  The ride back to my house was mercifully quiet, except for the howling engine, and  I managed to protect what was left of my skull from further gun rack-induced injury.  When the monster truck slowly rolled to a stop in my front yard, I pushed down the long silver door handle and leaped out of the sky-high cab, saying “Thank you, Harley” and waving goodbye as I sprinted for the door.  Michelle met me at the door with a big grin, and we spent the rest of the evening laughing and sharing all the details of my blind date.  Later, I called Melanie to give her a piece of my mind for leading me to believe that Harley had a full head of blond hair, and she explained, a little too late, that she had not actually laid eyes on Harley since he was six years old.

The following year, I heard a rumor that Harley was going around town telling people we used to be an “item” but it didn’t work out because I was one of those girls who was more interested in going to college and having a career than settling down.  You can say that again, Harley.  You can say that again.

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