For us, Cupid was a car thief
Fate must love longshots. Otherwise you wouldn't be reading about Olinda Johnson on a Major-Smolinski website.
Olinda was born Sept. 28 1947 in Rio de Janeiro, where her father, Oel, had been sent by Coca-Cola to oversee the building of the company's first Brazil bottling plant. She says her parents got the idea for her first name from the Olinda Hotel in Rio. Olinda also went very well with her father's unusual first name.
Oel Johnson's assignment in Brazil was completed in 1949; thereafter he worked out of Coca-Cola's New York City office. He moved his family to Irvington, New York, where Olinda grew up. After graduation from Irvington High School, she entered Skidmore College in Saratoga where she was an art major. After graduation Olinda lived for awhile in New York City before marrying Jack Moynehan, a U.S. Naval officer and a graduate of Annapolis.
AT THIS POINT there was no way Olinda could wind up with another Jack, one who had grown up in Solvay, New York, attended Kent State University, and eventually settled in Rhode Island where he had his own family.
But fate is weird, which is putting it mildly. Civilian Jack Moynehan, whose Navy duty had introduced him to Rhode Island via Newport, took a job at the Providence Journal where he went on to become copy desk chief in the features department where his immediate boss was the guy who'd become his wife's next husband. Jack and I got along very well at work, but never saw each other socially.
My divorce in 1974 forced me to find my own apartment. Why I even mentioned this to Jack, I don't recall, but he volunteered to help me make the move. He and I loaded up a U-Haul with some old furniture from my house and he rode with me to the apartment complex in West Warwick. When we arrived, coincidence prompted Jack to inform me he had gone through a divorce a few months earlier. "And I think my ex-wife lives in one of these apartments," he said.
A few weeks later Jack dropped by to see how I was doing. It was a weekend; my children, Jeff, then 7, and Laura, 5 were with me. I had set up my old electric train in a big circle through the kitchen, into the living room and back to the kitchen via the hallway. We were running the train for Jack when there was a knock on my door. It was Olinda; she had spotted his car and wanted to talk to her ex-husband. She started down the hallway, momentarily oblivious to the the tracks. It took some fancy footwork at the last second to avoid a train wreck.
THUS OLINDA and I were introduced. That might well have been the extent of our relationship were it not for an unusually desperate car thief. Just another one of those strange twists of fate.
At the time I was driving a 1965 Oldsmobile I had purchased for $600. What model Olds? I never noticed. The odometer said 93,000 miles when I bought it, but that could have been 193,000 or even 293,000. The upholstery, such as it was, was worn, and the interior had a mildewy odor because the rear window wasn't exactly watertight. In short, I was driving precisely the kind of car you'd expect of a man in my position, which was playing the Jason Robards Jr. role in "Divorce, American Style," a movie that in several ways mirrored my life.
I don't think I was ever so surprised as I was the night I left work and discovered some idiot had stolen my car from a downtown Providence parking lot. The Rhode Island State Police, bless 'em, would recover the car a week later, but for a few days I took a bus to work. I can't remember just how I got to the bus stop, which was at least three miles from the apartment complex, but there I was, waiting for a bus one morning in late autumn when a lovely young woman approached from a nearby convenience store and asked if I was Jack Major. Seems we had met one day while she played hopscotch over a toy railroad.
AND SO BEGAN a love affair that has been going on for 38 years . . . though what brought us together nearly came back and killed me before Olinda and I had our first real date. When the state police called to tell me they had found my car, they said I could pick it up in Lincoln, a town about 20 miles from my apartment. I called Michael Janusonis, the Providence Journal movie critic, who generously offered to drive me to my car. We stopped first to pick up my children, figuring that since I was about to get my car back we could make the most of the rest of the weekend. Little did we know.
When we reached the location where the car had been abandoned nothing seemed amiss. My car looked none the worse for the experience, admittedly a tough call to make for something that even on a good day could have won an ugly car contest.
Anyway, I thanked Michael and sent him on his way, which made me a bigger idiot than the person who stole my car. The kids got into the Olds and we set off for my apartment, making most of the trip on Interstate 95, which kept me from discovering the problem until I reached my exit and tried without success to use the brakes. I roared down the ramp onto a two-lane state highway with precious cargo in a vehicle I couldn't stop. In an instant I had gone from "Divorce, American Style" to an episode of "The Rockford Files."
LUCKILY TRAFFIC was surprisingly light and moved along for a couple of miles at a pace that exceeded the speed limit. And at the time this stretch of road had no traffic lights. My destination became a service station within walking distance of the apartment. How I was going to bring the car to a stop at the service station, I wasn't sure, but good luck stayed with me as I found an empty parking space with a concrete barrier that ended our little adventure abruptly, but safely and with no further damage to the car. After explaining the situation to a man at the service station, I walked with the kids to the apartment where I made arrangements to deliver them back to their mother's house.
My car was repaired the next day. The mechanic said the brake lining had been cut, obviously by the jerk who stole the vehicle.
I was impressed that Olinda didn't flinch the first time she rode in that Olds. Well, no wonder. Turned out her car was even worse than mine, which I guess was fate's Plan B. Her tiny Toyota, one of the early models to show up in the United States, was fussy about starting. I'd often look out my apartment window and see Olinda leaning over an open hood, fiddling with what she said was "the butterfly valve."
So if having my car stolen didn't get us together, fate knew I'd eventually offer to help the lovely young woman who was always having car trouble in the apartment parking lot.
In any event, I've been thanking fate ever since ... though I'd still like to get my hands on the sadistic little twerp who stole my car.