This is a story that is probably true in a real way, but definitely true in a truth way. The way most stories told by outrageous wise-women are true. Stories that don’t seem possible anymore. Because in today's world this would not be a tale of early morning phone calls, fancy cars, and glamorous outfits—it would be a tweet. But the Outrageous Woman who told me this story last Sunday, over the phone and between tangents about the merits of public radio, doesn’t know what Twitter is. And she doesn’t care. Which I can't imagine. It's democratized communication, Mommymom! Then again, I know how to open my voicemails and she doesn’t. In any case, this is a story about how my grandmother met Gloria Steinem, got her out of some trouble, and managed not to tell me any of this until I begged it from her.
Eleanor, my grandmother, a PHD in Family Counseling, couldn’t believe the sight before her. There, on their bed, an intruder. Her husband Jay, my grandfather, held the interloper in his hands, flipping through its pages with a licked finger. The most recent edition of Playboy, hot off the press. Eleanor held her towel tight to her body, suddenly feeling betrayed by the soap in the shower.
“What in the hell?”
Jay licked another finger, flipped the page, and finished reading the remaining few lines in a Ray Bradbury essay. Eleanor waited, impatience in her teeth. Her husband was smut. Her hair was wet.
“It’s just a magazine, Eleanor.”
“It’s Playboy, Jay.”
“Well, where’s my magazine? Where’s my Playboy?”
January 1972, a month later, Eleanor wrapped a towel around her body, wrung out her hair, and opened the door to her bedroom. Jay sat on the bed, licking fingers and flipping pages. Just as feelings of soap inadequacy grew within her again, Eleanor saw something sitting on her pillow and made a sound like curious defeat. Jay, without moving his eyes from the page, handed the something, a magazine, to Eleanor. One for her. Ms. Magazine, the first issue. Eleanor and Gloria, the first encounter.
Years later, Eleanor sat at a board meeting for the local university’s Women’s Center. They were soon to celebrate their tenth anniversary and needed a distinguished guest for the event. Eleanor suggested Gloria Steinem. The board President found this impossible. Eleanor said she’d give her a call.
They got in touch. It turned out Gloria was at the opening ten years before. She was happy to come, to speak, to hang far-out. They set the date. They said goodbye. Two phones hit receivers like heartbeats.
Eleanor drove to the airport in her baby blue corvette. She liked the car because it went vroom when she wanted. It felt strong. Feminine. The hubcaps glinted against her shine. Eleanor rolled the windows down and caught the wind.
Gloria Steinem was waiting at the curb when Eleanor pulled up. She had a bag and legs that reminded Eleanor of Jay’s magazine. Before Eleanor could think to introduce herself, Gloria had her fingers, un-licked, tracing the fender of the baby blue Corvette.
“What kind of car is this? It’s very pretty.”
“It’s a—it’s a corvette. By Chevrolet.”
“I think so.”
“But strong. It suits you.”
“I think so too.”
They drove to the University, windows down. Gloria asked about Eleanor’s counseling practice and her family services work. They talked about the women’s movement. The wage gap. They, I have to assume, wore great sunglasses. They caught the wind.
They saw each other again in passing at the event. Gloria spoke to those attending about her work, her books, her activism, her magazine. She spoke about how proud it made her to meet women committing outrageous acts in the name of equality. She ate some cake.
The next day, Eleanor stirred coffee in the pre-morning haze of her kitchen. Her eyes drooped with the heaviness of 6AM. The phone rang. It rang again. Not a dream, Eleanor answered. It was Gloria Steinem. Her ride to the airport never showed, she was going to miss her flight, was there any way Eleanor could drive her—they’d become so familiar. Eleanor had to be at work in an hour. She had appointments. One with a single mother. Another with a widow. But she could help Gloria too.
Jay drove, by request, the baby blue Corvette. Gloria sat in the passenger seat, her window down, catching the wind. They sipped coffee and talked about the weather in New York. Jay tried not to notice her legs. Instead, he spoke of Eleanor. How he got her the first copy of Ms. Gloria smiled and ran her fingers along the dash. Men had a long way to go.
Later, over coffee and talk of the day, Jay mentioned Gloria had complimented the Corvette. Eleanor nodded.
“It’s a pretty car.”
“She’s a pretty woman.” Eleanor's eyes fluttered to Jay's.
“I see.” Jay’s eyes fluttered to Eleanor’s legs.
“Has to be.”
“But I just don’t see how a woman like her—pretty, strong, smart—doesn’t know a Corvette from a Camaro.”
Jay smiled. Eleanor poured more coffee. She watched as it swirled and swooshed. She took a sip, felt it roll through her, and thought: a Corvette!