Monday, May 2, 1955
At 7:00 am my mother knocked on my door. “Butch, it’s time to get ready for school. It’s Play Day, remember?” From that point on, everything went wrong.
Today was Play Day at Hemet Elementary School. When May Day fell on a weekend, as it had this year, Play Day was on the following Monday. Outdoor activities replaced regular classes. The cafeteria staff got the day off, and everyone brought a bag lunch.
The door cracked open. My mother’s hand appeared holding a brown paper bag. “Here, Butch. Try these on. I made them for you just for today.”
I have two confessions.
First, “Butch” has been my family’s nickname for me since birth. How I got it will remain as most history is… untold. Just know that I hate that name unless you are family. Applied to me, it’s as appropriate as naming your pit bull “Fluffy.” I can forgive my family. They don’t know any better. The “Butch” of my imagination is a fourteen-year-old tobacco-chewing bully who smokes and gets into fights whom I saw in the old “Our Gang” comedies at Saturday movie matinees.
Second, I was a nerd before nerdiness was a recognized human condition. I came to embrace it in all its fullness because of May Day 1955.
Sitting on my bed I looked in the bag and saw three items: a shirt and shorts of lime-green-and-white checkered seersucker, and a jockstrap. “Uh, OK,” I said, imagining myself on the busy colorless school playground like a flashing green neon sign, surrounded by tobacco-chewing bullies looking to fight. Kicking a nest of hornets would be preferable.
I dressed. The jockstrap was first, part of Play Day dress code for boys in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. It was the first jock strap I had ever had, a little big for my fifth-grade anatomy, but I was almost confident I would grow into it by sixth grade.
The shorts, however, were tight. I was going through a growth spurt. They were wearable, but also a little short.
The shirt was also tight. If I held my breath, my stomach didn’t show between the buttons. But I needed to breathe occasionally.
I went into the kitchen practicing my breathing to get used to the snugness. Between breaths, I said “Thanks, Mom!” to show my appreciation.
She was making breakfast. “You’re welcome, Butch. Say, I’m going into Riverside to go shopping with your Grannie and Terry, but we’ll be back for the May Pole Dance. We don’t want to miss that!” A plate of bacon and eggs appeared in front of me. “Eat up! You’ll need your strength.” At the other end of the table, my brother Terry was smearing oatmeal into artistic patterns on the wooden table surface.
I ate quickly and breathed as little as possible. Then I grabbed my lunchbox and binder and ran to the door. “Bye! Gotta go. I love you!” My red plastic raincoat hung on the coat hook by the door. I snatched it. Disappearing out the door, I struggled to put it on to spare myself an embarrassing walk to school.
I hadn’t walked a block when I met Dave Hartley, a friend in my class.
“Why are you wearing a raincoat? It’s gonna be sunny and warm today.”
“Bec-u-u-z my mom made me this to wear.” I flashed the raincoat open and closed.
“Oh, I see… Oops!”
Next came Diane Philpotts who lived across the alley behind our house and was a year behind me in school.
“Nice raincoat, Michael. It’s gonna be a warm one today. Hope you’re not too hot.”
I wasn’t yet, except for my cheeks. It took a long time to get to school. I kept meeting classmates who had questions about my raincoat. When I got to school, my cheeks were on fire, but only Dave knew the reason.
We were in Mr. Elliott’s fifth-grade homeroom. He would take attendance before releasing us for the day’s activities. The whole class was seated and waiting when we arrived. Every eye turned toward me as I stood on tiptoe to hang my raincoat in my cubby. I heard snickers. Feeling like I was on stage, I turned to see grinning faces, and classmates tittering. Even Dave was grinning. He whispered in my ear, “Those shorts are so tight the stitches are stretched in the seam running up your butt. Be careful.” I sat gingerly at my desk, expecting to hear a rip.
It took longer than usual to get through our shortened homeroom period. “Make sure you have your assignments for today and Tuesday.” He wrote them on the blackboard. “There’s twice the homework to make up for today.” No fun ever goes unpunished, I thought.
Writing in my notebook, I looked at my current heartthrob in the front seat two rows over. Caroline Mattock, pretty and smart, wore her auburn hair in a pageboy style with short bangs. She made me breathless but was ignorant of how passionately in love I was. I desperately wanted to tell her but didn’t know how without being obvious. Suddenly I had an inspiration… an anonymous poem. We’d been studying haiku. I ripped a sheet from my notebook. Under the spell of Erato, muse of lyric poetry, I quickly penned:
I love you so much
Every time I hear your voice
Bells ring in my ears
I checked the number of syllables per line. Satisfied, I folded it unsigned and stuck it in my shirt pocket. I would find a way to deliver my love poem anonymously during lunch. She’d never know who wrote it, but I would have declared my undying passion for her, which was the point.
I watched Caroline quickly write her assignments, finish and put her notebook away. She got up and asked Mr. Elliot for a bathroom hall pass. Forget lunch! This was my chance! When she left, I went to the blackboard next to her desk, pretending to check the assignments more closely. Unobserved, I reached into my pocket, dropped the poem on her desk, and returned to my own.
I waited for what seemed an eon but probably more like two minutes. Caroline returned, sat down and noticed the folded note. She didn’t open it immediately but looked around to be sure no one was watching. When she looked in my direction, I slyly turned to the flag on the wall and then back to her when I sensed the danger had passed. Satisfied she was unobserved, she opened the note and read.
I waited, carelessly staring, full of anticipation. It wasn’t a long wait. Her eyes opened wide and she leaned in to look again. She pulled back horrified and turned to scan the room. The first person her eyes fell upon was me, looking like the love-sick puppy I was, no longer anonymous. Had I been a puppy, I would have piddled as my tail wagged through it. My eyes looked helplessly into her limpid pools of blue. She glared, and I wilted. She held the paper in her hand for me to see and crumpled it into a tight little wad… which she pocketed.
I wrongly thought she kept my poem because of its deep meaning. But time to think had run out. Our class moved toward the doors to the playground.
This was usually second period, but Play Day was different. The whole school was gathering by grade to choose teams for the day’s competitions. Always painful for me, today choosing up teams was to be torture. Mr. Roberts and Mrs. Struthers, the fifth-grade PE teachers, chose the most athletic kids as captains. I was the least athletic kid in school, and always the last chosen for any team. Today we were choosing mixed teams of both boys and girls and my humiliation would be complete.
To a chorus of “Over here!” and “Pick me!” Mr. Roberts and Mrs. Struthers chose Tony Smith and Sally Stringham as captains. They, to the same chorus, picked enough boys and girls to make two teams of equal ability. But there were always the last two or three “losers” that someone had to choose. It came down to Maggie Hampton and me. Maggie was small and wore horn-rimmed glasses that made her appear “bookish”. Her thick lenses magnified her eyes until she looked as if she might be more at home in an aquarium. Tony and Sally argued over which one of us each of them would end up with. They yelled and gesticulated at one another until Mr. Roberts stepped in. “Look,” he shouted, “We’re going to make this easy. Sally, you take Maggie…” Cheers rose from Sally’s teammates, and an antiphonal chorus of groans came from Tony’s cronies.
Tony’s team, my team, included Caroline. I was thinking bittersweet thoughts about what playing alongside her would be like, when Tony glared and came at me with fists clenched so tightly his knuckles turned white. I figured he wouldn’t dare hit me with Mr. Roberts and Mrs. Struthers standing nearby. “You’d better watch yourself, Mike!” He snarled, his breath smelling like wet alfalfa. Then he cleared his throat and spat a big green loogie at my feet, just missing my new Ked high-tops. I stared at it and wondered if I would survive until third period, Caroline notwithstanding.
“Today we’re going to learn a new game,” Mr. Roberts explained. “It’s called soccer.”
When the word “soccer” left Mr. Roberts’s mouth, Tony grinned, made a fist, and jabbed Sally Struthers in the upper arm. “Sock-her! Get it?” Tony chortled and snorted.
“Ow!” Sally, jabbed him in his ribcage.
“Cut it out, you two!” Mr. Roberts shouted. “Get serious, or you’ll both end up in the vice principal’s office for the rest of the day. “And as an added incentive, I’ll make Michael and Maggie team captains instead. In fact, maybe I’ll make both of you to play the game before I send you to the vice principal. Think about that!” Tony and Sally stared at the ground. The rest, oddly quiet and not knowing whether to cheer, boo, laugh or cry at his threat, were staring at Maggie and me. I didn’t know what to think. To my great relief, Mr. Roberts finally said, “OK, here’s how to play soccer…”
The match began. I focused my attention on the seam in the back of my shorts and that helped me play a better game. It was as taut as a bowstring back there. I couldn’t run at top speed but taking short quick steps and pointing my feet forward helped maneuver the ball easily. Better than all the other players, including Tony and Sally. I was enjoying myself. Soccer was my game!
Then it happened. Michael Hunter, a good friend, had the ball and saw how much fun I was having. He scooped it at me with the inside of his foot. I gave it a solid boot, not too hard, with the toe of my right foot. It scooted straight down the field toward the goal as I skittered along behind it. I heard shouts, cheers, and boos! Reaching the ball, I gave it a last hard kick. I heard a rip. The ball soared into the air straight at the goal. The goalie, Tony, leaped up to deflect it but couldn’t reach it. Score!
Wait! Tony? The goalie was Tony? With a shock, I realized what I had done. I had ripped the back of my new shorts from crotch to waist kicking a goal into my team’s net?! Classmates came at me like the Mongol hordes I read about in Social Studies. Half were laughing and cheering. The other half, overcome with bloodlust, had murder in their eyes. Tony reached me first. “I’m going to kill you,” he said in my ear. I believed him. My confusion made a two-point score for Sally’s team. The score stood at Sally 2, Tony 0.
Mr. Roberts and Mrs. Struthers sprinted up to prevent my murder from taking place right there on the playground. Mr. Roberts looked at my backside and scribbled a hall pass for the nurse’s office. “Here, go get some safety pins in that.” He handed me his clipboard.
“Thanks,” I said in relief.
I ran to the nurse with the clipboard covering my backside as the Mongol horde laughed hysterically. In my haste, cool air found parts of me that had never seen daylight. Like a photo gone wrong, I suffered from double exposure.
I opened the nurse’s office door I and almost turned around and left. Suzanne Hyber, another heartthrob on my short list, stood at the counter. Nurse Cranston was applying a band-aid to her finger. I could see recent tear streaks staining her face. Suzanne, a fourth grader hadn’t witnessed my earlier debacles. She noticed the clipboard hiding my backside. “Well, what happened to you, Michael?” She sniffled.
“No, no! You first!” I was genuinely concerned about her finger, but not prepared to suffer another embarrassment that would likely end my shortlist. Her answer would give me time to fashion a good response.
“I slammed my finger in the door leaving our homeroom. I thought I’d broken it, but Nurse Cranston thinks it’s OK except for the cut. She put a splint on it just in case, and the doctor will check it if it swells up. Nurse called Mom to tell her, but you know Mom. She wasn’t upset, just surprised.”
Suzanne’s mom was the director of the junior choir at our church. Suzanne and I were both altos. Mrs. Hyber was always cool under pressure. She had to be, with twenty older elementary and middle school kids under her direction. In fact, she created her own chaos, arming us with recorders, kazoos, tambourines and various rhythm instruments.
“Huh?” I was thinking about Suzanne and kazoos.
“It’s your turn to tell me what happened to you,”
“Oh, nothing much. No injury. I just ripped my shorts kicking a tie-breaking goal in soccer. That’s all.”
“That’s so neat! I mean, not the ripping your shorts part, but the tie-breaking goal part.”
“Yeah. It was so easy I hardly knew I had done it.”
Suzanne looked puzzled and was about to say something when Nurse Cranston interjected, “It sounds like you two have had quite a day.” She put a last knot in the splint binding. “Off you go, Suzanne. Your lunch period is almost over.”
Suzanne headed for the door. “Will I see you at choir rehearsal this afternoon?” she asked me on her way out.
My heart swelled. Choir rehearsal was this afternoon! I’d forgotten. “I’ll be there if I have to wear a blanket!”
“OK, Michael. Let’s see what I can do for your little problem. Go behind that screen, take your shorts off and hand them to me. Here’s a towel to put around you,” She handed me a white towel from the gym.
Behind the screen was a cot. I sat down, removed the shorts and gave them to her through the screen. Girding my loins with the towel, I opened the curtain and watched the amazing Nurse Cranston at work. She looked at the damage and rummaged through drawers looking for supplies: a pair of scissors, a box of brass safety pins, and some large gauze pads, the kind I imagined being used to stop spurting blood at an automobile accident. This was serious business.
She worked, explaining what she was doing. “I could have just used safety pins to close the gap,” she said, sizing and cutting the pad. “But the shorts would be even tighter. I’m going try inserting this panel to make them a little bigger.” She showed me the piece of gauze she had cut.
She held the pad with five or six safety pins on each side of the rip, tugging it this way and that to see if it would hold up under normal wear and tear. Then Nurse Cranston handed the shorts back to me. “Here, put these back on, and no more soccer games for you today.”
“Thank you so much, Nurse Cranston. I promise… no more soccer for me today.” Or ever, I thought. I put the shorts back on. They were so much roomier. The pad felt disturbingly like a diaper. Oh well, it’s not a diaper, I thought. It’s a godsend.
“Off to lunch now, Michael. Good luck!” I dashed to Mr. Elliot’s room and grabbed my lunchbox from my cubby. Going out the door, I nearly ran into Maggie Hampton who was going in. “There you are!” she said. “We’ve been looking for you.”
“Who is ‘we’?” I asked.
“The team… Sally’s team. We want to show our thanks.”
“Thank me for what?”
“We WON! And you were the reason!” Maggie screeched. “Nobody else scored for the rest of the game. You were the only one who made any points! If it hadn’t been for you, the game would have been a tie. You were fantastic,” she said, looking up at me. Her glasses looked like flight goggles. Her upper lip had little beads of sweat. She was delightful!
I smiled. “You’re welcome.” What an amazing turnaround this is, I thought.
I started for the lunch court, but Maggie grabbed my hand. “Follow me!” She pulled me in the direction I was already heading. She had my hand firmly gripped in hers. I was her captive. When we got to the food court, she put a thumb and forefinger in her mouth and let loose an ear-piercing whistle. “He’s here!” she shouted.
On cue, Sally’s team got up from their table and formed a line. My team, sitting at a table nearby, look dumbfounded. Sally announced, “Thanks to Michael, who made the only goal of the day, our team won the soccer match!” All applauded, except for my team who sat glumly. Some cast angry looks at Tony for not blocking my kick. Tony sat deflated, looking into his lap. Maggie pushed me along the line to shake everyone’s hand. Caroline stood at the very end. When I got to her, she passed me a crumpled paper as she shook my hand. She smiled and leaned forward. I thought she was going to give me a kiss. Instead, she whispered in my ear, “You’re such a geek!”
Then I realized this elaborate way of “congratulating” me was more about shaming me for my nerdiness and shaming Tony for being bested by a nerd. Something inside me snapped. The bells stopped ringing. I was free to be me… nerd and all!
Caroline pulled back, but I leaned in, gave her a broad grin and said, “Yep! I guess it’s too bad you’re not.” Caroline looked puzzled. Apparently, she had no sense of the ironic. I took her off my list. Only Suzanne remained.
I turned away from her and the others and found a seat at a nearby bench where I could be alone to think and avoid useless conversation. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like I needed to fit in. I had friends like Dave Hartley, Michael Hunter and Jeff Townsend, who was absent from school today. And Suzanne. I had friends who cared about and liked me as I was, including my nerdiness. I didn’t need or want to be the most popular or most athletic person at Hemet Elementary School.
I unwadded the paper in my hand and looked at it, knowing it was my poem. I pressed it smooth on the metal lid of my lunchbox, folded it, and put it in my shirt pocket. Inside the lunchbox, prepared by loving hands, was a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread, a bag of carrot and celery sticks, three fig newtons and a small thermos of milk. I felt warm and satisfied.
I could see Caroline and Sally at a nearby table. They were merrily chatting away like a pair of finches. Caroline gave me an exaggerated smile, to remind me of her insult. Her smile changed to an open-mouthed surprise, then a wide grin. She began tugging on Sally’s shirt sleeve to get her attention. She whispered in Sally’s ear and pointed index finger to my lap. Both pairs of eyes gawked, and their mouths gaped open.
Was a glob of peanut butter and grape jelly on my shorts? I looked down and was horrified. The white edge of my scrotum, squeezed bloodless between my leg and the tight hem of my shorts, lay exposed like a shelled oyster in the sun. I wanted to jump up and lock myself in the nearest restroom stall for the rest of the day, but a smoky whisp of my transformed self remained, and I chose then to do the unexpected. Looking at Caroline and Sally, I set my open lunchbox in my lap, put the remains of my sandwich into it, closed it, set it on the bench, and stood. I adjusted my nether parts into the loose jock strap so that Caroline and Sally could see exactly what I was doing and walked with great decorum out of the food court. I glanced back at them. Their mouths still gaped, but their eyebrows gave away their confusion. Smiling to myself, I walked straight back to Nurse Cranston’s office.
Nurse Cranston shuffled papers at her desk. Without looking up, she said, “Back again so soon? What’s happened now? You having a bad day or something?”
I plopped myself into a chair on the other side of the counter. “Or something,” I said.
“OK, spill it.”
I poured out my case of indecent exposure in the lunch court.
“Hmm!” She paused. “Your options are limited, I’m afraid. I don’t have any underwear to give you, or even a diaper. I could make something like a diaper using gauze pads… “
“No!” I interrupted, overwhelmed by the image of me wearing a diaper. Despite my new confidence, diaper-wearing crossed over some line. “That’ll never do!” I shouted.
“I could send you home.”
“No, that won’t work. My mom won’t be home until later. She’s in Riverside shopping with my grandmother and little brother”
Another pause. “Well, I have an idea if I have what we need. It’s a little unusual but could work.” She opened a metal storage cabinet and began rummaging through its contents. “Ah, yes. Here we are.”
She turned to look at me. “First of all, I have to ask… you are Scottish, right?”
“Scotch-Irish,” I said, wondering what she was getting at. My dad was always talking about our Scotch-Irish heritage.
“Good. Then you’ll know what a kilt is?”
I nodded, curiosity piqued.
She continued, “I’m Scottish, too. My father was born in Edinburgh. He always wore a kilt for special occasions, even after coming to the states. I can make you a kind of kilt to keep you covered.” She pulled a blue, green and red plaid lap robe and an official Boy Scout canvas belt from the cabinet. She held them out for me to look at. “What do you think?”
I had three choices. One, accept her offer and put up with the reactions of friends and foes alike who had no idea what a kilt even was. Two, turn down her offer and continue to the next activity, the Maypole Dance, hoping that nothing too embarrassing would happen for the rest of the day. The way things had gone so far, I didn’t hold out much hope for that. Three, admit defeat and just go home, except that wasn’t an option, because Mom wasn’t home. So, I was forced to choose between one or two, or sit in Nurse Cranston’s office until school was out – about two hours – grimly watching the Maypole Dance through her window. Then I remembered Mom, Grannie and my little brother Terry would be there to watch my performance. They would wonder where I was. My bossy married sister, Sue, had pressured me into learning the steps, and the whole fifth grade had been invited or recruited to dance by the music teacher, Mrs. Olson. If I didn’t show up, my sister would never let me hear the end of it. Life was becoming complicated!
“Well?” Mrs. Cranston prompted.
“OK, I’ll try it.”
Nurse Cranston folded the lap robe and wrapped it around my waist, adjusting its length to my knees. She cinched the canvas Boy Scout belt around my waist and secured it snugly with the brass buckle which used friction against belt to hold it fast.
“Don’t move!” Nurse Cranston ordered. “One more thing.” More rummaging in drawers. “Ah! Here we go.” She pulled from a drawer the largest safety pin I had ever seen. “No kilt is complete without a kilt pin to hold everything together. This is perfect,” she said, pinning the wool lap robe together on my right side.
I stood at the full-length mirror on the wall to have a quick look. The total effect was… well… interesting. The dark plaid lap robe was a sober contrast to the lime-green checked seersucker above and my white legs and black high-top Keds below, but I had made my choice. No backing out now.
“Thanks, Nurse Cranston,” I called on my way out the door.
As I started down the hall, I noticed how uncomfortable my padded shorts were under the warm lap robe on such a warm day. I was about to accept that discomfort as the result of wearing foreign clothing when I remembered what Dad had said once about the “official” way Scottish men wore their kilts… without anything underneath. Nah… I’m not going to do that, I thought.
But impulsively I ducked into the Boys Restroom, veered into a toilet stall, reached under my makeshift kilt, and removed the offending undergarments. The result was immediate and astounding. It felt cool down there and so… freeing? Yes! Freeing. Freedom. I stuffed the shorts and jock strap in my lunchbox, checked to make sure the kilt was still snug, and left the restroom just as the bell rang at the start of the last period, the Maypole Dance.
I was transformed again! Everyone looked at me, pointing, smiling, chortling, but I didn’t care a whit.
“What’s he wearing?”
“It’s my costume for the Maypole Dance!”
“Why does he have a skirt on?”
“You obviously have no idea what a kilt is. Too bad for you!”
“If you had one, you’d be wearing it too.”
I walked briskly and confidently onto the playground to gather with the other fifth grade dancers. I looked at the gathering audience seated in folding chairs.
In the front row about thirty feet away sat my family, all but my Dad who was still at work. Mom had a questioning look on her face. “What are you wearing?” she mouthed silently so that I could read her lips.
“It’s a kilt,” I mouthed back.
She shrugged, and I let it pass.
Mrs. Olson came up and asked, “Are you sure you want to dance wearing that?”
“Sure! All Scottish people do.”
“Well, OK,” she said doubtfully.
Michael Hunter whispered in my ear, “Are you wearing anything under that?”
“Come on. Are you wearing underpants?”
“Yeah, I am.”
“OK, I just had to ask.” He smiled
At a signal from Mrs. Olson, we paired up with our partners. I was paired with Molly. She was now wearing a plaid bib dress over a white blouse with puffy short sleeves. She looked almost fetching. As we walked to our starting position, she scanned me up and down through her Coke bottle glasses and smiled broadly. “A kilt! Nice touch, Michael, and very appropriate!”
“You look great too, Molly! Also, very appropriate.”
Neither of us knew what “appropriate” was in this context. I had asked Mrs. Olson when we started practicing when and where the Maypole Dance first popped up
“Popped up? Well… erm… yes. It… uh… was something the ancient druids use to do when the… uh… sap rose in the trees.” Then she changed the subject.
We picked up our ribbons. Molly took my hand. The music on a scratchy phonograph record played on an accordion by some ancient Druid, no doubt, started up in the sound system, and off we went
A Maypole for couples has an even number of dancers, half boys and half girls. In our case, we had eight couples and sixteen two-inch-wide ribbons of different colors, one for each dancer.
Dancers circle the pole, bobbing in and out, over and under the ribbons and around their partners and other dancers, weaving the ribbons into an even pattern as they wrap the pole. At the end of the dance the pole is changed into a colorful spring-like… pole. If one of us made a wrong move, it messed up the pattern. If several people made wrong moves, the pattern might end up as a confusing random tangle of ribbons.
I had never been able come even close to dancing it correctly. My feet and my brain didn’t communicate with each other the way other people’s did. If Mrs. Olson had had an alternative, she would have put me out to pasture like some old swaybacked plow horse. But she never had that opportunity. She needed me to fill a spot.
After a long introductory chord by the Druid accordionist, we stepped off. Four steps in toward the pole. Raise the arms. Four steps backward. Lower the arms. Then the harder steps began, but I was now a different person, no longer unsure of myself or worried that I wasn’t doing it right. I just danced. I even put my left hand on my hip when it had nothing else to do. I felt very Scottish. The Old Druid in the sound system had conjured up the spirit of one of my Scottish ancestors. “Hey, Torquil, come help this progeny of yer’n. Introduce his brain to his feet. The wee lad needs yer help.” And help he did! I didn’t miss a step.
The dance ended when we had our original partners back. The pole looked beautiful. Molly and I were both beaming. Each couple took a bow. When our turn came, the crowd applauded especially loudly.
I knew for certain then how well Molly and I had done.
Mom, tears in her eyes, gave me a big hug. Grannie, smelling of witch hazel, gave me a big grandmotherly kiss. My brother kicked my shin. Then I saw my sister Sue coming from the back of the crowd. She came to me smiling with her arms open. As we hugged, I whispered in her ear, “Thanks, Sue. I wouldn’t have done this without you.” She chuckled, having caught my irony.
After cookies and punch and a little conversation, I reminded Mom that I had choir rehearsal. The church was just a block away. I told her I would walk home. As I headed to the street in front of the school, Suzanne came running up beside me. “Can I walk with you to the church?”
“Sure. I’d like that,” I said as we reached the sidewalk.
“I saw you dancing. You were great!” She looked at me with her sparkling blue eyes.
“Thanks.” I suddenly felt self-conscious and awkward.
“I didn’t know you owned a kilt. When did you get that?”
“It’s just some old thing Nurse Cranston pulled out of her closet. You know, to cover up the rip in my shorts.” The last thing I wanted to do was to dwell on the topic of my “new kilt.” With my luck I’d accidentally end up saying something about how “official” it was.
“Well, I think it’s pretty neat! I overheard those two chatterboxes, Caroline and Sally, say you tore your shorts while scoring the not just tie-breaking but winning goal in soccer. Wow! It doesn’t matter where it came from. It was perfect for the dance.”
Sally bumped my upper arm gently with her fist but left it there for just a moment too long. My mind went immediately into overdrive. She likes me?! I thought.
We were now at the bottom of the steps leading to the big red double doors at the church entrance. “Hurry, my mom’s here already. We don’t want to be late.” Before I knew what was happening, she grabbed my hand and pulled me up the steps and into the narthex. She didn’t let my hand go until she pushed open the doors to the sanctuary.
I couldn’t have been more aware of the hand she had held if I had thrust it into a pot of boiling water. I’m in love! my mind shouted, awash in a sea of hormones.
Everyone had taken their places in the choir section at the rear of the chancel. Mrs Hyber stood at her podium waiting for late arrivals. She looked relieved when we came through the door.
As altos, Suzanne and I always sat in the same section of the choir at the back. We both spied two empty chairs next to each other. My heart leapt. But, as though we had just met coming into the church, I feigned indifference to avoid giving away what was really happening. We took those seats.
We were short of having enough copies of the piece we were working on, so we had to share. We came upon the same idea, a strategy for furtively touching while lifting our voices in praise to the Lord. We held our shared sheet music at the bottom close to the crease and below the top of the music stand so that no one would notice how our fingers accidentally intertwined. When we sat, our legs seemed to touch often, becoming bolder as the time swept by. Toward the end of the rehearsal, our legs were pressing each other so hard my leg was beginning to sweat beneath the wool of the “kilt”. Oh, such sweet agony!
But our rehearsal came to an end. As we reset the chairs in the proper configuration for the Senior Choir and gathered up our sheet music, Suzanne nudged me. “Will you walk home with me? I already told Mom that I’d be walking.”
“Sure! That’d be great! But I have to make quick a ‘pit stop’ first. I’ll meet you outside.”
I went to the restroom, relieved myself, and checked to be sure everything was still snug and secure. It was. Love does such strange things to one’s perceptions. My quick trip to the restroom must have taken longer than I thought. When I got outside, I looked around. Everyone had gone, and I didn’t see Suzanne anywhere. I was on the verge of complete dejection. She had tired of waiting for me. She had purposely toyed with my sensitive feelings toward her. She and Caroline and Sally were at the drugstore fountain sharing an ice cream soda while talking about what a chump I was. Then I heard her voice.
“Michael! I’m over here!’ Suzanne called out to me in a stage whisper from somewhere. I turned and saw her standing behind a large spruce tree in the churchyard. She beckoned me with her index finger. I went her, curious to find out what she wanted to show me. A pinecone? An unusual bug? Instead, she stood with her back to the tree trunk. She beckoned me again with her index finger. When I got close enough, without another word she leaned into me, looked into my eyes, tilted her head slightly, and gave me a kiss. Not a little-peck-on-the-cheek kind of kiss, but a full-on-the-mouth kind of kiss. The kind of kiss I had never experienced and had only seen in the movies. The kind of kiss that only last year I would have made me barf. No more. This was a kiss to remember! The best day of my life! I gasped, took a deep breath and leaned in for more.
Then I had a true “Cinderella moment.” I heard a small “pop”, felt a loss of tension at my waist, and my kilt suddenly became just a lap robe again.