©2015 By Bob Litton
During a recent reverie I wished I could recall the moment when I realized the difference between boys and girls. Life has taught me, though, that such enlightenment is similar to another momentous event: exiting the birth canal. We repress the knowledge. At least I did.
It had to be before kindergarten, because that was where I fell in love for the first time, with a girl who just happened to be the daughter of the woman who operated the kindergarten. My sweetheart stands on my left in the group photo below. Her home, in which we children gathered for our first taste of group dynamics, was just across the street and down a couple of houses from the elementary school we would be attending soon. Others in the photo were, I believe, younger and would follow us into grade school. I don’t recall that young lady’s name and indeed remember only one curious thing about her: In spite of the fact that she lived so near the elementary school, she was habitually late to the first class; while I, who lived just over half a mile away and walked to school, never was late. I wonder now how that situation affected my future assessment of women’s dependability. Our “affair” did not extend beyond the first grade.
This was my kindergarten class of 1945. My girlfriend and I are in the center of the back row, she to my left. A doll, eh?
But I am getting ahead of myself. First there was Annette D. who, along with me, is featured in the two other photos in this blog post. Annette and her mother resided in the duplex apartment connected to the one where Mama and I—and occasionally one or the other of my two brothers—lived. When I was not playing with my friend Ronnie S. across the street or with a couple of other boys several houses down the block, Annette and I would play together. The “play”, as well as I can recall, usually involved listening to fairy tales on the radio program called “Let’s Pretend” and then reenacting the stories ourselves. One episode, which is the only one burned into my memory, was connected to “Sleeping Beauty”. That story, of course, ended with an awakening kiss, which Annette insisted on. My first romantic kiss! I swear to you: She insisted on it! I think the only fact of life I learned from that episode was that girls tend to sleep for a very, very long time; and the only way you can wake them up is to kiss them.
Another of Annette’s aspects I recall is her funny dance routines, when she would don one of her mother’s hats, a necklace, and maybe even her shoes (I cannot imagine now how that was possible, but the memory persists) and dance on their front porch. I don’t recall how I reacted to such performances, but I certainly hope my comments were at least kind if not applauding. Her “get-up”, I’m sure, was no more outlandish than my curling the brim of one of Pappy’s fedoras to transform it into a cowboy hat or attaching my cap pistol’s holster to one of Mama’s wide belts to create a “gun-belt”. One evening, while Annette and I lay on a blanket out in the front yard, watching the stars, and our moms sat in folding chairs nearby, I heard the women discussing the possibility of our eventual marriage. No way! I thought.
Annette D. and I in a clinch circa 1944. I am certain the embrace was coached by our mothers, since my hand is comradely placed on Annette’s shoulder and her hand is hugging my arm in a firm grasp. Oh, how possessive girls can be! By the way, you can tell that Dennis the Menace was patterned on me by the overalls and striped T-shirt I am wearing and the cottony hair.
Annette and I a few years later. You can see that our mothers were still hopeful. Oh, what a growth spurt I have made. And Mama got me all duded up. I feel certain she designed and made the two-tone coat with its weird collar and pockets, and the pleated pants. Nobody else would have done that. Annette looks like she can’t believe what she’s looking at.
I never met Annette’s dad, for he was killed at the beginning of World War II. I do remember accompanying her to a party for children of absent servicemen (I suppose as her guest, since my own father never served). Annette’s mother remarried; her second husband was an FBI agent. They moved into a house clear across town. The step-father, I found to be a pleasant person, but the only conversation I can recall sharing with him occurred when Mama and I went over to their home for a visit while I was en route to Okinawa and my first air force duty station. All I can recall of that conversation was his hypothesizing about what positive influence my being assigned to the USAF’s Security Service might have should I later seek employment with the government as a civilian. Before we sat down at the supper table, I glanced into one of Annette’s high school textbooks, which she had just plopped down on the coffee table, and recognized it as the same English Literature text I had studied my senior year; I deduced from that that Annette was one year younger than I. I had not seen her in more than a decade.
But back to grade school.
I must admit my affections ran madly rampant during those elementary school years. In the second and later grades I became accustomed to gauging girls by levels of prettiness. Perhaps that was when I first realized that a girl could be something other than simply another brand of playmate. Their variety and comeliness were as dizzying as that merry-go-round out on the playground. I learned to be unfaithful. But, at the same time, I was shy and hush-hush about my amorous feelings.
Another of my silent girlfriends of that time, Lola V., was outstanding as far as dress was concerned. I particularly enjoyed the days when she wore one of her brown, green and red plaid skirts and frilly-sleeved, white blouses. I recall attending a party at Lola’s house on Hall Street, where we had to ascend several concrete steps to reach her door. It must have been a Valentine’s Day party, because one of the treats parceled out to Lola’s guests were those small heart-shaped mint candies with various, brief comments printed on them such as “I love you”. I recall sitting on one of the steps, holding a mint between my fingers, and wondering what it meant. That was the first time I ever saw such a candy, but I have encountered them quite often over the past sixty-eight years since then, and they always remind me of that day. I regret that I do not have a photo of Lola, nor of any of the girls I will mention from here on.
The only girl I really played with after school, though, was Alef B. This girl’s home was within—or adjacent to—a cemetery about a third of a mile southwest of our apartment. I really cannot recall her home’s exact placement: my memory tells me that the house, with a flower shop attached, was only a short distance inside the main gate, but my memory, as I have since discovered, plays tricks on me. Anyway, her father was a florist. Alef and I walked home from school together at least once; I remember this clearly because we made a game of zig-zagging around some trees that had recently been planted in the verge beside Cole Park, Alef going in one direction, I in the other. Also, when I contracted measles and our apartment was quarantined for a week or more, Alef brought me some get-well letters from our classmates; it was the second grade and we were just learning to print on lined paper. The brief notes all said the same thing (probably copied off the blackboard where our teacher had written the original); but they pleased me anyway.
One really fun—and odd—adventure for Alef and me happened one day when I visited her at home. We listened to a couple of our favorite radio dramas and then decided to make some fudge. Unfortunately, there was no granulated sugar in any of the cabinets; however, Alef did find some brown sugar, so we tried it. Man, that candy was wild-tasting…and gooey! She dipped out some on wax paper for me to take home. I ate some of it along the way, but it was too strong for me.
By the fourth grade, a girl named Betty T. caught my eye. Still, I was reticent, and before I could exit my shyness shell in Betty’s company, Mama had bought a small house out near White Rock Lake. As luck would have it, though, I did get to see Betty again the following year. It was at SMU’s McFarlin Auditorium, where I had gone to attend the annual “children’s day” as put on by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, with conductor Walter Hendl. A poem I had written won a school district-wide lyrics contest, and a class in Oak Cliff had garnered the music part of the competition. As Mama and I were descending the auditorium’s steps after the performance, I heard someone shout out, “Look, there’s Bobby!” Looking over to the right, I saw with delighted surprise Betty T. and one other girl whom I recognized then but cannot picture now. We exchanged greetings and the usual updates briefly and then parted. But I could not—actually did not want to—get Betty out of my mind. I called her a short time later and invited her to meet me at the Plaza theater—which was much closer to her home than to mine—the next Saturday for the children’s matinee. Her mother brought her to the show in their car and then left. It was a pleasant date…at any rate about as pleasant as any time sitting in a dark theater watching a serial episode, cartoons and a shoot-‘em-up can be pleasant. Not long after that I received a chrome-plated bracelet with my name printed on it at a shoe store where my mother had purchased some shoes for me. I sent it to Betty as a love token or perhaps as a “Let’s go steady!” signal, but she sent it back with a note saying her mother did not want her to accept gifts from boys. For whatever reason—most likely because of the miles that separated us—I did not call Betty again.
By the sixth grade, at my new school, competitiveness became the unexpressed law of the campus. Close friends became more important and close girlfriends even more important. Still, shyness hampered me. Perhaps our dancing lessons were partly responsible for that. I cannot recall if the square-dancing and the ballroom dancing were part of physical education classes or a separate part of the curriculum. Could it have been a “socialization” class, steering us toward the mating game?
Anyway, that was when I learned that some girls had warm, damp hands while other girls’ palms were cooler, drier. I much preferred to dance with the dry-hands maidens, one of whom was Evelyn M. She preferred me as a partner, too, although I cannot claim that my hand humidity was her reason. Evelyn’s looks were only average, and she was skinny, but she had one of the most out-going and caring personalities I have ever met. In addition to our frequent partnering during dance lessons, we went out trick-or-treating one Halloween night; and we also went as a date to some school party at White Rock Lake.
That party was the occasion for one of the most embarrassing moments in my life. I had a slight cold and had brought a white handkerchief with me. When we first arrived, Evelyn perceived that the bench she wanted to sit on was dusty, and she asked me if she could use my handkerchief to dust it off a bit; I let her have it. Later, when she came back to request the use of my handkerchief again, I was too reticent to let her know I had wiped my nose with it and I gave it to her. She came back shortly afterwards and, smiling, returned it to me while saying, “It’s been used.” O Mortification, how eternal you are!
Another of my favorite dance partners, for square-dancing, was Shirley C. This girl was pretty but was also a bit plump. However, that was okay, since I was not in love with her but appreciated her only as good company when the caller sang out, “A right and left around the ring/ While the roosters crow and the birdies sing” or “Everybody swing and whirl/Swing ’round and ’round with your pretty little girl”. Yeah, Shirley and I were good at that! Decades later, I saw Shirley at our 15th year high school class reunion. She was in fine physical shape and a true beauty. In fact, I noticed that day that there were a bunch of beautiful women in the class of ’58. It was a rare crop!
The only remaining memory from those elementary school years worth noting was the night I “fell in love at first (and only) sight” at a community room in Casa Linda Plaza. The place had only two rooms, I believe, not counting the restrooms; there were chairs placed around the walls, and the lighting was dim. On Saturday nights the place was transformed into a sort of junior nightclub. Somebody played 45 RPM records. We young folks sipped soda pop, chatted, and danced under the watchful eyes of a couple of adults. I went there only about three times, if my memory serves me well.
One of those nights I met a young lady whom I had never seen before. I do not know what school she attended; I did not even ask. But she was a beauty beyond compare, and I was fortunate enough to dance with her at least once, probably more. We left at the same time, each assuring the other we would be at the “club” the next Saturday night. As we approached the curb out in the parking area I saw a new, maroon, four-door car pull up, and the girl got into the back seat. The shopping center’s yellow lights gleamed on the car as it pulled away forever, and I thought of Cinderella’s pumpkin.