It’s funny the things you remember. My first car date with a boy came in high school in 1974 when I was 15 and in the 10th grade. He had just turned 16 and was in the 11th grade. I was embarrassingly shy. He was a soccer jock. We had Spanish class together and that’s where we met. He was handsome and tall, had blonde hair, and green eyes. I still remember how I would swoon when I would walk past him and his friends as they stood leaning against the wall outside Spanish class before the bell rang, summoning us all in to class. I swooned again when he asked me out at a Friday night high school football game. I was a majorette in the marching band and I had just marched off the field when he found me and asked me. It was late October and there was a chill in the air and the leaves were splashed with red, orange and yellow.
On one of our first dates, the boy took me to his house to meet his parents (whom I adored), then out to eat. Soon after that, we had another date where we went to his church to attend a Thanksgiving service (with his parents). I still remember the long green floral midi dress I wore (handmade by my mother) and the high-heeled boots I had on. I remember how handsome he looked in the cream-colored suit he wore that night, which was the first night he met my father. I remember how nervous he was as he greeted and shook my father’s hand– my normally very amiable father not real enthusiastic about his youngest daughter beginning to date just yet, and how I had worried that this paternal opinion was much too evident in my father’s icy stare that night. And boy do I remember how my father had, prior to the boy getting there, pulled me aside and pressed a dime firmly in the palm of my hand, making it clear to me that I was to use the dime to call him at a pay phone if for any reason whatsoever I needed him. He would do this “dime-giving ritual” to each of my sisters and me before all our dates for as long as I could remember. My sisters and I laugh at this dime thing now in our later married years when we get together and reminisce, but we always knew it to be an act of his love for us, his need to protect and take care of us. And how in the world could you not love a father for that? I remember when I came in from that date that evening, how my mother had quietly laughed yet almost winced as she told me what I had already known– that my father was not keen on me dating this boy (I was still his baby). My sister still laughs when she relates the story of how when the handshake and greetings were over and the boy and I left to head to church, that the door had no sooner shut behind us when my father looked at my sister and said, “Well, what in the hell was HE trying to prove?!” I didn’t understand this because the boy had looked so nice in his three piece cream-colored suit and tie, had been totally polite to my father and had greeted him with a handshake and told him how nice it was to meet him. I furrowed my brow, didn’t understand my father’s words at all and then my mother sat me down and explained to me that NO boy would ever be good enough for his little girl and that’s how daddys just are. But I fell hard and fell head over heels for this boy who my father didn’t much care for.
And I don’t ever recall the boy not having a pack of Juicy Fruit gum in his pocket or a piece of Juicy Fruit gum in his mouth in all the years I knew him in high school. It’s funny the things you remember.
Our first kiss happened one cold November night when we had just returned from a date and he was walking me to the door. We stood under a tall round Chinese Elm tree in my parent’s front yard– bright full moon bathing us and branches in pure bluish white light, us both nervous and timid and shivering in the cold. But oh how his kiss had warmed me. It’s funny the things you remember. I remember him bending down and me reaching up for that kiss– his 6 ft.3 inch stature to my 5 ft.2 inches. I remember my hands on his masculine shoulders. I remember vividly the taste of his Juicy Fruit gum and how the kiss lingered long. I remember hoping my father wasn’t looking out the window and that he wouldn’t come out and snatch us apart and punch the boy. I remember how my stomach did flips and somersaults that night kissing him under that Chinese Elm tree and for weeks after, every time I would relive it in my mind. A first love and a first kiss can be so sweet, so special, so gentle.
We would share a few more front porch kisses (but never again under the Chinese Elm). The boy dumped me sometime after Christmas and I was crushed. He had wanted my innocence and things I just wasn’t ready to give him. I slapped his face one night right there in the car as we sat in the driveway after returning home from a date, told him I was only 15 and he could call me old-fashioned if he wanted to, but that I was saving myself for marriage. And with that, he moved on, had nothing more to do with me, and then stomped on my heart hard when he began dating a very popular cheerleader just a short time later. My dad’s intuition about him had been right but it was a long, long time before I could admit it. For years, I couldn’t see how he just wasn’t right for me and I cried into my pillow at night and pined for him. And I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I went to the five and dime store down the road just to buy a pack of Juicy Fruit gum so I could relive the memories of him and that innocent first kiss. And when I would, the stomach still did those momentous somersaults. On his high school graduation night, he would tell my sister how he respected me, how he had left me to move on to other girls who had given him the things that I would not, but he. respected. me.
Years later, I cried when my parents had that Chinese Elm tree cut down. I don’t remember why they cut it down but I do remember the tears that fell when they did.
I was standing in the grocery store check-out line the other day when I found myself staring at some Juicy Fruit gum. And it brought back a flood of memories and I could almost feel the tiniest flip of the stomach. I smiled. It’s funny the things you remember.