First impressions can send a career vanishing into the fog, or catapult a glance into a lifelong romance.

We all have experienced the power and mystery of the dreaded first impression.

Opening a drawer full of snapshots started my day and this essay.


Judge Cyril M. Joly, a legendary Eisenhower Republican and man of the law, stood in front of the Greyhound bus station in Waterville.

He and his wife, Lorette, were there, waiting to greet their daughter, who would disembark with her new boyfriend — an actor, of all things.

When the lovers stepped out, Cyril Joly, known statewide as Judge Joly, drew in the longest and deepest gulp of air in his life and reached out a trembling hand for a bannister that wasn’t there.

His wife, Lorette, was there and steadied him. The daughter, known then as simply Katherine, looked perfectly swell, no surprise there.

The boyfriend, on the other hand, had not, because of a play, had a haircut in over a month. Worse, he was wearing a blue nylon polo shirt, white bell-bottom paint pants, and a neck scarf. Oh yes, because of a cut toe, he was shoeless. What was he thinking?

Oh yes, he was carrying in a cage that was covered with a sheer red scarf a screeching cockatiel, a recent gift.

The judge surely thought, “Who is this with my daughter, where did she meet him, and why was she even in a back street bar in Tangier?”

Over the years, Cyril and yours truly both settled down and came to a plateau of civility that closely resembled respect.

But that first impression took a long time to fade.

ST. LOUIS, 1961

Kay and I arrived by taxi from Union Station, fresh from a touring play.

We arrived by cab at my sister’s home on a warm late summer afternoon to be greeted by my middle-class family.

From the cab window, Kay got her first glimpse of them, all standing around in their Sunday best on the front porch, as though they were waiting for a pizza to be delivered.

This group of Devines of South St. Louis, a covey of reasonably respectable working-class liberal Democrats, consisted of three of my four brothers, all World War II veterans, one wannabe cop, one wannabe fireman, three married sisters and two aunts and uncles, who were all waiting to see what their beloved “far away” corner boy and itinerant actor had dragged home from God knows where.

Here they were, two actors from a touring play called “The Marriage Go-Round,” in which Kay, who went to Mass each Sunday while we were on the road, had been a big hit in a scene that required her to walk on stage with nothing on but a tiny bath towel, copious amounts of lavender mascara and blonde curly hair.

This was the girl, who when I met her in New York, had lovely auburn hair and the manner of a novitiate, now looked like a middle-school Stormy Daniels.

I, who had played a young Italian count, still had the pound of greasy hair curling down my neck. We both waved.

The family didn’t move for a long six or seven seconds and then, in tandem, applauded. I could feel my beloved’s little hand go wet.

With a fixed smile, she whispered in a crisp and hissy urgent tone, “Tell them right away that this is not me.”

“I will.”

“Tell them now.”

“You want me to shout it up from here?”

“Just tell them right off.”

“I will.”

“Right off.”

“I promise.”

After hugs and kisses, we all sat down for coffee and cookies in the living room.

After six kicks to my knee, I told them what they were seeing and unveiled her credentials: a Catholic college education with the nuns in Washington, D.C.; a father who was a judge; and that the characters they were seeing were adornments of another world. At that moment, the beer and sandwiches appeared, and many snapshots were taken.

Each of the people on that porch went to their graves loving her.

This day, her hair is strangely blondish again, mine is white, and I wear shoes on all occasions.

Oh yes, I still have a cockatiel.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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