By falling in love with my high school sweetheart, I pretty much took myself out of the running for other Valentines fresh out of the gate.
But I did play the field just enough to know when my prince had arrived. Oh I’d felt the old heart strings flutter a few times before Tom came along. They might not have beaten down the doors to Rite Aid clamoring to buy me cards and chocolates, but my previous Valentines gave me some poignant memories of young love, of love ne’er spoken and love that could wait forever by the phone on Saturday night. .
First there was Ferdinand, a little guy with a big name and a heart to match. We shared our dreams and secrets and our Hostess cupcakes. We’d swing together, giggling like a couple of kids, and then he’d ask if he could kiss me. I’d agree, shyly at first, but then more insistently. The place was the McClelland School playground. We were in first grade and in love…until Ferdinand got a baseball.
During pre-adolescence, I bartered for romance, hoping to counteract boys’ biological repulsion for girls with material possessions. When the cutest boy in the class said he wished he could have a neat pencil like mine—clear on the end and filled with polished pebbles from the Boston Museum of Science—I told him he could, on one condition. He’d have to tell me he liked me. A deal, he said. So, I took off the eraser and poured the stones into his palm. He shoved them in his pocket, stuck out his tongue and ran. Even with an empty pencil and a hollow promise, I never gave up trying, and neither did most of the other girls in my class. (I’d tell you his name, but he’s a respected citizen in my old hometown and probably wouldn’t want it known that he spent all his third, fourth and fifth grade recesses being chased around the jungle gym by his pack of admirers.)
My first “steady” was Steve: Blond hair, blue eyes, 5-foot-6, 190 pounds. When I was 13, “steady” only meant you’d let the guy give you his I.D. bracelet till it turned your wrist green and let him kiss you maybe once or twice if the opportunity arose (but you didn’t really care if it did or not). The relationship was, more or less, one of convenience—any warm body would do as long as you didn’t get left standing by the bleachers solo at the junior high dances.
My first real unchaperoned date was with Mark #1. It was a spontaneous thing. We both discovered we had orthodontist appointments on the same day a couple of hours apart so, what the heck, maybe we could catch lunch at the House of Pancakes while we were in the big city. My parents were hesitant…a bus ride, a boy…they weren’t too sure, but said yes. They had nothing to worry about, though. How amorous could two 14-year-olds get walking through downtown Springfield, Mass. with their braces tightened to 100 pounds PSI?
After Mark #1 came the “church camp” years. I think the United Congregationalists in my then-hometown in Massachusetts got together and decided if they wanted to keep kids away from drugs and wild rock concerts, they’d better offer up an exciting social alternative. They devised church camps where, for a nominal fee, you could spend a week at a retreat center in New Hampshire, discovering yourself and pondering God, nature and who might try to hold your hand at campfire that night. Parents loved it because it was run by ministers. We teens loved it because how else could we have gotten our parents’ blessing to watch the stars on Vesper Hill with a very special church friend we’d just met?
Trouble was, though, I always fell for the guys who lived on the other side of the state and it didn’t take too many Greyhound trips before the thrill would be gone. Like Dave, whom I was attracted to because he had hair long enough to put in a ponytail and his parents liked Jethro Tull music. Being with Dave was exciting for awhile, but not worth a month’s allowance round-trip.
Rich was by far my hottest church romance. He even lived in the same city and attended the same Sunday night fellowship. I never knew they were called biceps back then, but Rich had ’em and I was so head over heels I’d stay after school to watch him writhe around on the mats during wrestling meets. Rich kissed me twice—in January, 1972, and again in June. (I aimed for quality not quantity.)
I went to the junior prom with another Mark—two proms, I should say—mine and his at a different high school near Boston. I’d met Mark #2 a couple summers earlier (you guessed it) at church camp. He was great—my first real match-up with tall, dark and handsome. Plus, he had a terrific personality and a wonderful sense of humor to top off the whole package. We started out as the best of friends that any two 16-year-olds of opposite sexes could be—content to walk and talk together for hours. Come prom time, though, our thoughts turned to romance. I’d dreamed about such a night with such a guy! When he asked me to go, I rendered my mother tone deaf in one ear with my exuberant shriek. But, as it turned out, that was to be my greatest emotional surge over Mark #2. I should have learned with the first Mark the folly of attempting to shift from friendship to true love. The minute he showed up with my corsage, he stopped talking to me and started sweating and laughing nervously. We danced like robots. It was a shame, really. Put a tux on him and that outgoing, witty, hunk of a guy turned into Mr. Plastic Prom Date.
In hindsight, though, Mark #2 performed perfectly that night. He convinced all the popular girls I had a cute, mysterious boyfriend from far away. He drove me and our double-date friends to the prom in my mom’s Chevelle—pretty cool back in the days when limo riding was reserved for funerals. But even if I, or my girlfriend, Cathy, or her date had our licenses, I don’t think any of us could have concentrated on driving anyway. Cathy, you see, wasn’t having much fun either, having met her true love after asking Tom to the prom. And I…well I was already smitten with Tom before Cathy asked him and after I’d said yes to Mark #2. So I spent most of the ride peering in the rear view mirror hoping Cathy wouldn’t have a change of heart and muckle onto my Tom in the back seat.
Fast forward a couple days that seemed like weeks. Tom called saying Cathy had broken up with him and he wasn’t sure what he was going to do. I had a really good suggestion, but kept it quiet while we got to know each other better. We talked for an hour and a half—mostly about his camp on Great East and my summers on Moosehead and Rangeley. His heart’s desire, he told me, would be to somehow, someday find a way to have his own place on a big, wild lake in Maine.
What’s not to love?