Somewhere around the summer between my 5th and 6ths grade years at EV Cain Elementary School a girl named Rhonda moved from Grass Valley to Auburn, and there was something about her that fascinated me. I saw her sometimes during the summer, going to the show with other girls, or shopping downtown with her Mother. She was intriguing to me for some reason. I can not think of that reason now, but I wanted to meet her, or to do something, anything, so she would notice me. Once I saw her at the town park up by the Recreation Field, and since I was a fast runner in those days, I thought I might show her how swift I was, and thereby impress her with my speed. I had just seen a Superman movie, and was impressed with the whole idea of speed, and thought she might be too. She was sitting on the lawn with a couple other girls I knew, and I wished that they would go away so I could impress her without them saying something like "that's only Duane," or some other dumb thing girls said back in those days.
I waited for probably a half-hour or more for my opportunity. Her friends did not budge. But I spotted a beagle running lickity-split in her general direction, and I thought, "if she sees me running faster than that dog, she'll really be impressed with me!" So I took out at an angle, until I was about parallel with the dog, and we zoomed side by side within a few feet of the girls and on to where the dog was headed. Before I got out of earshot I heard her ask "who is the dumb kid with the cute dog?" My heart sank, but my feet ran on. The dog seemed to know where he was going, but I did not and within seconds I found myself sliding on my back across a freshly watered section of lawn. As I slid to a stop, the dog turned back ,ave me a curious look, and licked my face as if to say, "Are you OK?" I could not bear looking back to see if Rhonda was watching, but I heard the girls giggling, so I was sure she saw the entire show.
Later that same summer I was walking on the sidewalk in front of the Auburn Post Office where my dad worked, when I spotted her coming out of the Post Office lobby. She looked so pretty in her curly, bouncy hair, pink blouse and pedal pushers, that again I felt the surge of desire coming over me to impress her. I spotted a magnificent Schwinn bicycle parked by the curve; a bike far more expensive than I could ever hope to own, and since I was just a few feet from it at the time, I kind of casually stepped over to it and put one hand on the handle bars, like I was just resting after a long ride through the foothills of the Sierras. To my great surprise, she DID notice me, and in fact walked directly toward me. When she was no more than a foot away from me she asked, "OK, what are you doing with my bike?"
I mumbled something about being sorry I had mistaken her bike for mine, and she mumbled something with the word "stupid" in it, and that was the end of that. She never did notice me after that, and I guess it's just as well. I understand she went on to become a very successful waitress in old town Auburn.
Now that I've been married for more years than I care to mention, I've given up the idea of trying to impress her. Oh, when I'm back in town and drive by the Cozy Spot Cafe where she works, I'm always tempted to go in and somehow let her know that the boy she scorned loud up to be a writer. But about the time I start to pull in, my mind goes back to my first two attempts at impressing her, and I visualize myself telling her about all the books I have written, and in my mind, she responds by sarcastically asking if I write about dogs and stolen bikes, and so I change my mind, and drive on.
Of course, I knew lots of other girls as I was growing up, and I suppose I had a normal amount of curiosity about them that any young guy had. Roy Poindexter, a 5th grader, told a bunch of us 4th grade boys that the way to tell the difference between boys and girls was to tape a small mirror to the toe of one shoe, then walk casually up to a girl and engage her in conversation, and simply place the foot with the mirror on it between the girl's feet. Then while she was talking, we would simply glance down and get a glimpse of whatever was hiding under her skirt.
Roy spoke with the suave confidence of one who had done it many times. In retrospect, I remember his Mom was a manager of women's undergarments at JC Penny's, so he probably honed his craft by practicing on the mannequins after hours. Since his bragging, I have serious reservations as to whether he ever tried it on a real, live girl, who would have to be both blind and stupid to stand still for such an obvious ploy.
But Billy Roberts believed him, and announced that he was going to try it the next day at school. Instead of the scenario turning out the way Roy predicted, the moment Billy walked on the playground Wanda Johannson spotted the mirror, and yelled at him across the basketball court "Hey Billy! What's that on your shoe?"
So that was the end of that experiment.
And with a few notable exceptions, up until about the 7th grade girls were those "other things" that we boys had no interest in and no use for, unless it was to check the spelling of some word or to double check on our homework assignment . We knew girls were different, but we did not give much thought to how they differed, except that they thread a baseball funny and used two hands to shoot a basketball (even a lay up!), And they ran "like girls".
Exception Linda Polameri.
She thread a ball the right way, ran like a boy, and nobody would bet against her in a fair fight. The reason I know that is because she once got very angry with me in class after I beat her in a class election, and challenged me to a fight afterwards. (Election of class officers was held twice a year, as I recall, and students pretty much voted by sex; the girls voted for whatever girl was running, and the boys voted for whatever boy was running. other boy wanted to run.) By last period, the entire class had heard about the fight, taken sides, and some were even making bets. I guess what bothered me the most was that even the boys who were rooting for me in the fight were betting against me. Even my best friend, Jack Stephens, who was as small as I was, only plumper, had bet his entire Friday's lunch money against me.
Fortunately for me, Mr. Ryan got wind of the fight, too, and appeared after school behind the Quonset hut; the very spot previously favored for the fight. When the other kids saw him, they retreated awkwardly, and made their way towards the playground and on home. Linda seemed disappointed that the scheduled fight had been canceled, but left with the others, not wanting to get in trouble with Mr. Ryan, a fair but tough teacher who had been a career officer in the Marines before he became a teacher. When everyone was gone, I crawled out from under the Quonset hut where I had been hiding, and skipped home, celebrating my reprieve.
Luckily, Linda did not hold a grudge, and the next day at school she asked me if I wanted to shake and make up.
So we did.
And that was the inauspicious start of my first romance. Any girl who would shake and make up, to say nothing of running and throwing right was worth my attention. It started out slowly, by a quick meeting of our eyes during history class, then sending notes back and forth during social studies, and climaxing in my request to change seats with John Towers so I could sit next to her. That was fine with John, who was tired of passing our notes back and forth by now. That was the first time in my entire life that I had ever knowingly and willingly taken a seat next to a girl, and surprisingly, it felt kind of good, in an embarrassing sort of way.
She liked me for approximately the same reasons, I suspect. I ran fast, thread a baseball like I knew what I was doing, and was pretty fair at the one-handed set shot. Then too, I was a boy, and it was a novelty for a boy to pay that much attention to a girl at 11 years of age.
That spring was wonderful. Seeing Linda every day at school; overhearing other girls whisper about us "going together" in the cloakroom; and seeing a newfound admiration in the eyes of some of my male friends. I used to lie wake at night and dream of Linda and I both making the Yankees; she at shortstop and me in centerfield, winking at each other between plays. I always out hit her in my daydreams, probably to make up for the fact that she always out hit me in real 7th grade baseball games. It just did not seem right for her to be THAT good. And we were tied for stolen bases, too, in my daydreams, right up to the last game of the season, when I stub 5 bases in one inning, breaking Ty Cobb's record (of course that was long before Maury Wills, Ricky Henderson, etc.) and putting me 1 ahead of Linda, who only pole 4 bases that same inning.
Our 7th grade formal dance was in late May, and Linda looked forward to it excitedly, talking a great deal about it, and hinting that she would dance only with me. I was very flattered on the one hand, and worried about the other since I did not know how to dance.
I need not have worried, however.
A kid named Chip Bonanno from New Jersey moved to Auburn three days before the dance. He was handsome, looked much older than the rest of us boys, had big biceps which he showed off in cut-off T-shirts, and spoke with not only a voice which had already changed to bass, but also with the smooth sophistication of a city boy who knew all about cars, girls, and the ways of the world. Linda and every other girl in the 7th grade fell in love with him instantly, and since Linda was the only girl in the 7th grade with a boyfriend, she was the one he chose.
She danced every dance with Chip at the formal, and as far as I knew, did not distinguish me from the furniture. I was crushed, of course, and spent most of my time looking as sad as possible, in hopes that she would notice me and feel sorry for me and leave Chip and come back to me.
It did not work. She never looked.