Life presented Daniela Kanz with a special surprise one Christmas at the Downey Wonderbowl. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns
By Daniela Kanz
I heard Forrest Gump, played by Tom Hanks in the 1994 movie, say, "Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."
Whenever Christmas rolls around, I always receive a box of chocolates. My daughters have continued the tradition their dad started. “Why do I get a box of chocolates every Christmas?” you ask.
Turn the calendar back to December 23, 1961. This New York transplant to California went with a friend to Wonderbowl in Downey.
We noticed several young fellows about our age, bowling. One of the fellows made me chuckle every time he went to throw the ball. As he began his stance and before he let go of the ball, he did a little movement similar to what is now known as twerking. I suppose he was way beyond his time.
After a few minutes of watching them, we wandered over to where people played pool. Then I noticed a table similar to pool but with more balls.
I remarked, “I wonder what they are playing,” to my friend. It turned out that the person standing next to me was not my friend, but the fellow I had noticed earlier.
He responded, “They are playing snooker.” I had recently seen the movie The Hustler with Paul Newman, so I was intrigued. The young man began to explain the difference between snooker and pool.
Then he said, “Would you like to get a cup of coffee?”
“But I don’t even know you,” I replied.
His response, “My name is Bruno, what’s yours?”
“OK, now – let’s get that cup of coffee.” After my friend Bruno and I entered the dining area and sat at a booth, the other young men swarmed us, one of whom latched on to my friend.
Soon it was time to drive to Long Beach to get my friend home. Bruno insisted on coming along as fog had rolled in and he was concerned about this novice driver navigating the Long Beach Freeway in the fog.
After dropping my friend off, I dropped Bruno off and went to my apartment in Downey figuring I would never see this fellow again, though I did give him my phone number.
The next morning was Christmas Eve day. I woke up to a knock on my door. There stood Bruno.
“How did you find me?”
“I called and you gave me the address,” he said. I must have done that in my sleep. Soon we were sitting at my kitchen table, drinking tea and visiting.
He asked what I had planned for the holiday. I told him I planned on going to midnight candlelight service at the Downey Presbyterian Church and that I had one ticket to see King of Kings in Hollywood.
He told me that his dad had a stroke and was at Rancho Los Amigos in Downey. Would I accompany Bruno on a visit to his dad? I had nothing better to do and truth be told, I liked him. His dad was extremely happy to see his son and I enjoyed the dad’s German accent. It made me feel nostalgic for my parents.
After our visit, Bruno suggested we take a drive and look at the lights around town, since it had become dark. The drive was enchanting, as I never experienced this growing up in New York City.
After the drive, Bruno wanted me to come to his home to meet his mom. It was only fair, since I already met his dad.
After visiting awhile, it was time to open gifts. I enjoyed watching the festivities when all of a sudden Bruno handed me a wrapped box. I was stunned. We just met and spent the entire day together. How did he have something for me?
I opened the box and saw it was See’s Candy. Later I learned that he had originally given it to his mom and asked if she minded if he gave it to me.
He had another worry. What if the present had a note attached that said – MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM NORRIS THERMADOR – his place of employment. He was thankful there was no such note.
Since I had nothing for him, I went in my wallet and offered him the movie ticket. He said he would not go unless I went with him. He called and found out he could obtain another ticket. He also accompanied me to the candle light service.
This man captured my heart and by February 10th we were married.