He'd spent years pursuing the girl of his dreams to no avail, but when Mother Nature lent a hand, he finally got the answer he'd hoped for.
- Posted on Sep 17, 2018
I woke to the sound of wind whipping outside my window, rain pelting the roof. I switched on the TV.
“A severe storm warning has been issued for the Tulsa Metropolitan Area,” the newscaster said. “We’re predicting hail, heavy rains and high winds. Please be advised, folks, it could turn into a tornado. So hunker down—we’re in for a rough one.”
I sat on the edge of the couch, my mind focused on one thing. One person. Hilda. “I can’t believe the tornadoes you get out here!” she’d told me a few months ago, shortly after we met as students at Claremore Junior College’s school of music. “Frightens the living daylights out of me!” Hilda was a California girl, through and through. She was terrified of Oklahoma weather. And right now, she was all alone. She’d just moved some 35 miles away to Tulsa last week, after our graduation. I’d stayed in a house with a few buddies in Claremore.
I pulled on my cowboy boots and grabbed the keys to my car.
“Hey!” my roommate said. “Where are you going in this weather?”
“I gotta find Hilda,” I said.
“Hilda?” he said. “Terry, do you even know where she lives?”
I didn’t. I remembered her saying north Tulsa. Where exactly, though, I had no idea. All I knew was she was scared and I had to get to her. The way I was raised, if someone you love is in need, you help ’em. Well, I was in love with Hilda Machado. So you better believe I would fight to get to her—that’s what a cowboy does.
I walked out of the house, the screen door banging behind me.
Spring semester, 1979. The very first time I saw Hilda during my first year at Claremore Junior College’s school of music. I’d moved to Claremore from a small town a few hundred miles away, in hopes of becoming a country singer. The moment I saw Hilda, walking across campus, I knew she’d be in my life forever. She was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen.
Hilda, though, barely noticed me, even when we were assigned to the same country band at school. I sang lead; she sang backup. But she was all business. We spoke maybe two words to each other. I couldn’t blame her, really. I was a simple, meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. Hilda was a force to be reckoned with. The confident daughter of a Portuguese-American rancher, with a penchant for all things Western. People were drawn to her.
By the time she landed at Claremore, she already had a successful career as a champion fancy roper. She’d traveled the world performing at trick and fancy roping shows, then enrolled in Claremore on a whim to learn more about singing country music. Every guy at school wanted to date her. She wasn’t interested.
We wouldn’t have met—truly met—had it not been for a song. One evening, during one of our shows, I performed a solo: “Nobody Wants to Be a Cowboy Anymore.” A song I’d written at 14 years old, about how cowboys are a dying breed. Mid-performance, I caught Hilda staring right at me, smiling slightly. This is it, I thought. I finally had an in. I just had to wait for the right moment.
It happened a week later. Hilda showed up to practice all flustered.
“Everything okay?” I said.
“I have a gig at the big lodge in Sallisaw,” she said. “But my ride canceled! I don’t know how I’m going to make it.”
I handed her my car keys. She seemed startled. I insisted.
“They sure don’t make guys like you anymore, Terry,” she said.
Things changed after that. We talked more during practice. I mustered up the courage to ask her out. I knocked on her dorm room door one evening. I must’ve looked real awkward, standing there by myself in my cowboy boots.
“Want to see a movie?” I asked. She hesitated. I switched up my tactics. “It’s not a date!” I blurted out. “Let’s go as friends.”
We did. A week later, I asked her out to dinner. This time, when I dropped her off at her dorm, she leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. We went on like that for a month. Meals, movies, practices, homework. I thought a lot about our relationship, if you could call it that. Did she see us as more than friends? Then, a month into things with Hilda, I did the unthinkable. We were sitting on the college green. The words popped right out of me: “Will you marry me one day, Hilda?”
She looked at me as if I were out of my darn mind. “Terry,” she said simply, “thank you…but no.”
I tried to take it in stride. Maybe we weren’t meant to be. Yet. I kept spending time with her. A month later, I asked again. She turned me down. Again. Still our friendship continued. She taught me Spanish. I gave her voice lessons. We’d sing Western duets together. Sometimes we’d just sit and talk for hours.
After two failed proposals, most people would give up. But I’m not most people. And being with Hilda was so easy. We had the same cowboy sensibilities—we’d do anything for the people we loved. I knew Hilda cared for me, but I sensed she was afraid. It was like the Roy Rogers and Hank Williams songs I grew up listening to. I was a lonesome cowboy.
Hilda and I continued like that until college graduation. Then Hilda got a job performing in Tulsa. A few days before leaving, she handed me a card with quotes from Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You.
“You’ve been a wonderful friend,” she said, hugging me goodbye.
She didn’t promise to call or write. I didn’t know her address. Heck, I didn’t even have her new phone number. But I knew it wasn’t over. Something would bring us back together.
Then, a week later, came the storm.
My car crawled along the road, rain slapping the windshield. Water pooled in some spots on the highway and ran over in others. I had to drive slowly to avoid being pushed by the crazy gusts of winds. I should’ve been scared silly. All I could think of, though, was Hilda. I had no idea how I’d find her. No place to start. No plan for what I’d do once I got to Tulsa. But I couldn’t turn around. Something told me that once I got there, I’d know what to do.
It took me over an hour to reach Tulsa. I got there by 5 p.m. and stopped for gas. Some 400,000 people lived in Tulsa. There were thousands of houses. Single-story, ranch-style homes with brown plaster walls. Each one about the same as the next. Hilda could be anywhere. I drove for five hours straight without stopping at a single home. I may be a country boy, but I’m not dumb—I knew I couldn’t just knock on some stranger’s door and ask if they knew of a “Hilda who sang and did lasso tricks.” Especially at night, especially in the city, especially during a storm. Still, I felt pushed forward with a sense of certainty that I’d never felt before. I would find her.
At 10 o’clock, I turned onto an ordinary suburban street. Suddenly I lost control of my right foot. My gaze was on the road ahead, but my foot moved, completely on its own, and slammed the brakes. Then, as if two invisible, gentle hands were on either side of my face, I felt my head turn to the left. Out my window, I saw an unspectacular-looking home. Like every other house on the block—one-story tall with a solid wood door framed by two small windows. She’s in that house. The thought entered my mind as if placed there.
I parked and ran through the sheets of rain to the front door. That’s when the nerves hit, like that first time I’d asked Hilda out. What if I had the wrong house? What if whoever lived there wasn’t too happy to find some stranger on their doorstep? I knocked.
The porch light flickered on. The door cracked open. And there was Hilda, wrapped in a blanket, eyes wide. I stood there, soaking wet, just as shocked as she was. Thunder clapped. Hilda grabbed me by the collar and pulled me inside.
“Terry Brown, what on earth are you doing here?” she said.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “I just knew I had to find you.”
Her words came out in a rush. “My friend left for the weekend,” she said. “I’ve been sitting here, scared out of my mind. And then…you knock on my door!”
She stared at me in wonder.
Something changed that day. We didn’t start dating right away, but something had brought us together that night. Though it took her a while to admit it, Hilda felt it too. We stayed in touch, talked every day on the phone, even when she moved back to California at the end of the summer. I waited patiently. Until one day I got a phone call that was different from the others.
“Hi, Terry, it’s me,” she said, oddly formal. “How are you?”
“Fine,” I said. “How are you?”
“I’m okay,” she said, then paused. “Terry, is there a question you want to ask me?”
There was. There’d always been.
“Hilda,” I said. “Will you marry me?”
This time, she said yes.
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