The Front Porch: In Chautauqua, love sometimes blooms between Saturdays

John Warren | Guest Columnist

My daughter is at that unenviable age where it seems all her buddies have boyfriends and she doesn’t. I tell her she’s in good company — that her dad went through all four years of high school without a girlfriend. This does not seem to help.

“Dad,” she said to me recently, the eve of our Chautauqua adventure upon us, “do you think I’ll find a boyfriend in Chautauqua?”

It could happen, I tell her. It happens all the time.

I did not tell her about Melanie.

Melanie came to us on a sleepy August afternoon as my brother, Harry, and I lounged on the porch of the Ministers Union. A dusty hatchback pulled up in front of 25 Roberts, and a girl with shoulder-length blonde hair, wearing a backless gingham sun dress, emerged in slow motion (I swear) from the passenger side. She was the best thing we’d seen this side of the Farrah Fawcett poster on the wall of our shared bedroom. My brother and I perked up in our rocking chairs.

The pretty girls always stayed across the street, at the place with air conditioning. But the stars aligned in the summer of 1982, if only because Melanie and her mother stayed at the Ministers Union.   

There were no other young people then at the Ministers Union, as “Young” and “Ministers Union” were never a happy marriage. She was 18. My brother was 15, and I was 13. So the best we should have hoped for was that she would endure us. But she did more than that. She sought out our company for lake trips; she joined us for card games in the communal kitchen; she laughed at our dumb junior-high-school-boy jokes. 

Melanie was better than the rest of us, but was great at pretending she didn’t know it. I was smitten. We were smitten. And that was the problem. My brother and I, who got along famously before and since, had a brief Cain and Abel/Ewing brothers dynamic because of Melanie, and — in particular — on account of a matinee one afternoon.

The matinee at Chautauqua Cinema was “Still of the Night,” with Roy Scheider and Meryl Streep. It was — and this is important — a thriller. That’s important because my brother and I were aware of the arm-clutching phenomenon that takes place when girls watch scary movies. No, we had never experienced it, but we had heard of it.  

As we approached our seats from the aisle, Melanie was in the lead. The stakes became immediately clear. He who would file in behind her would be in elbow-touching proximity for the duration of the movie. The other one would get to sit next to his brother. 

We quick-stepped and elbowed our way down the aisle. As Harry attempted to move to the inside position, I executed a last-minute pick-and-roll that would make Bill Russell proud. I prevailed. My dejected brother retreated to the balcony. 

Turns out that arm-clutching thing is true. Melanie clung to my arm for most of the movie, qualifying it as the best 93 minutes of my life to that point. 

At the close of a fast week, we parted ways. Melanie kissed me goodbye, on the cheek, and I did not wash my face for days, and after that, only half-heartedly. We exchanged letters (people did that). But I never saw her again. 

So, yes, love does bloom in Chautauqua. Even if it is sometimes one-sided. And although it often runs its course in the space between a set of Saturdays. 

Do you have a story about a Chautauqua romance? Or about the Chautauqua Cinema? Share it with me, and I may share it in a future column. E-mail me at