Gratitude Celebration 23: High School Beaus

 “He said Yes!” I told Doug, feeling fluttery and happy inside.”My dad said, Yes I can go with you to the movie!” I had braced myself for my dad’s firm No when I went down into his basement workshop to ask if I could go on my first date with Doug, the popular fullback on the public high school football team. My assumption, based on my older sister’s experience when she had wanted to date a certain boy, was that Doug’s non-Catholic  Blackness would make him ineligible for me to date. To my surprise, though, he said. “That’s fine. What are you going to do?”  Perhaps five years of parenting since my sister had asked permission to date a non-Catholic boy had relaxed the standard. I had fun with Doug, more fondly called Bubba by most people, just because he was so different from me! He was a good friend of Kathy and Dan, my friends from The Living Arts Center where we were all creative types used to being on the fringe.

We laughed through the film, Bananas, which I’d have to go see again to remember it, and then Doug showed me his favorite nighttime lookout point from a hilltop in Dayton, Ohio. I felt happy and respected, and very special to get to go out with such a popular boy!  Over that summer, Doug took me out a few times, and over to his house. When he came to our house, I wouldn’t get to talk with him much because my little brothers and sisters would use Bubba as a jungle gym, climbing and jumping up on him, like a living playground. I was embarrassed, but he didn’t seem to mind. At least he didn’t say anything!

Doug tried to help me out when he went away to Ohio State University, on a football scholarship, of course! My senior year I had rejoined the Girl Scouts, trying one more time to get involved in a group that might open up opportunities to camp and get outdoors.  One thing I could count on as a Girl Scout was being expected to sell Girl Scout cookies! When Doug came home to visit, he volunteered to sell cookies for me at his dorm! He quickly sold a hundred dollars worth.  He ended up with nothing but crumbs, though, because someone stole the cookie money from his room and he had to use his own money to pay the Girl Scouts for all those cookies.

Doug and I just naturally went separate ways, but I always perked up when I heard his name mentioned as a player for the Los Angeles Rams.

I also went on a few dates with Dan, my friend from Living Arts. At first, I was surprised that he had asked me out because he and Kathy had been pretty close for the first couple of years I knew them both.  They had drifted apart while she went away to France and during that time Dan took me out. The first time, he asked me the day before.  “Mom!” I cried. “Dan asked me out and I don’t have anything to wear!”  Being a student at a Catholic girls’ high school gave me few chances to wear anything but my uniform, so I had a bare closet, in my opinion. But, I could sew!

I have never discerned why I never thought of shopping for readymade clothes. I think I assumed they would cost too much. I had not yet discovered Goodwill, either. So, when I wanted new clothes, my first place to look was in my mother’s big drawer of fabric up in the attic. If I didn’t find anything there, I’d visit the fabric store, pore through pattern books, then pick out a pattern and fabric to make an outfit.  This time, I made a long skirt, the fashion of 1971, from a gold and purple Indian-style piece of cotton.  I could wear a cream-colored shiny blouse I already had.  Alas, I had no coat for this wintry date night, so I pleaded with my mom to help me make something. “How about a cape?” she suggested. “You would have time to make that.”  This was a moment when we both demonstrated our confident creativity! My date was that same night!

We drove to the fabric store, found a pattern for a cape – maroon red, wide-wale corduroy paired with a complementary print cotton, rich with tiny roses between narrow maroon stripes, for lining. We also got Polarguard insulation to make the cape warm. I got to work immediately when we got home, with about four hours to go. At 7:45, we were folding up the hem and taping it with masking tape, which was quicker than sewing, to be ready for Dan to arrive at 8:00. I felt well-dressed and happy as I ate dinner with Dan at Surf-n-Turf. After dinner, we stood outside in Dan’s front yard, gazing at the stars. My warm, regal cape felt like part of the cloud of happiness I was standing on!

When Kathy returned from France at the end of that summer, I think they got back together.  I didn’t see Dan much. He had already graduated from high school and went on to other things. He continued his passion for photography, and is now well known for his aviation photos.

Dan’s book, 50 Aircraft that Changed the World

My dates with Doug and Dan must have all occurred AFTER the prom in my junior year because I went to that dance with Kathy Davies, my co-chair for the Decorations Committee!  After we taped a couple hundred paper flowers on the walls, set flower pots with bouquets of those dipped film flowers on the tables, and festooned the wicker throne with huge tissue paper flowers, we sat in the balcony of the Dayton Mall and watched our classmates dance with their dates.  I had even made myself a dress specifically for that dance – a lavender linen frock softened with lace taken from an old dress of my grandmother’s. Typical of my habit of not asking for help, I had no ride arranged for the late hour after all the decorations had been removed, so Mr. Zubelick, my history teacher and prom chaperone, took me home.

The following May, however, I got to sew another prom dress. This time, I had a date! Chuck had discovered me behind the scrim on the stage of my senior class play earlier that spring. I was in the backstage, playing piano. He had come from the boys’ school and landed the part of the Juggler in our production of Carnival. The play was poorly done, but falling in young love with Chuck was quite a success! With Chuck, I felt cherished and beautiful, fun and inspiring. He liked my ideas for walking in the local parks where my dad had taken me for long walks.  He was also my first “Leave No Trace” convert. He told me a month or so after we started dating that it was because of me that his red VW Bug was messy with litter. “I used to throw my trash out the window. But because of you I just throw it on the floor!” I couldn’t believe anyone I knew would even consider littering, so I’m happy I could be his reason for keeping America beautiful!

Chuck and I dated through the summer after my senior year. We had tons of fun going walking, sailboating, and kissing in his darkroom. Chuck was already working full time, even as a junior in high school, in his dad’s basement print shop. I learned how to set business cards in the big offset printer and enjoy the smell of ink. Chuck would take extra long developing the mock-ups for the jobs so we could smooch in the darkroom.

It was I who ended that relationship, rather coldly, I admit, by telling him on the eve of my departure for college that “I’m sure I’ll meet other people, I’m going away to college! It seems silly to think of marrying my high school boyfriend. I’ll be learning all sorts of things and having a career and all. So, let’s not expect to keep dating.” I was so sure of myself, and I was a little surprised, in my arrogance, that he didn’t understand all that.

A few days later, I did go off to college and I did meet people.   During my third week there I read a letter tucked in my mailbox. “I’m coming to visit you on Friday.” Love, Chuck. “That’s today!” I cried. “Well, I don’t want to see him! Why is he coming here?!”  Then, I did a mean thing. I ran off into the woods and asked a new friend to tell Chuck I wasn’t there.   Chuck did ask for me at the dorm, and he was told that I wasn’t there. And he left, driving back the 60 miles home without seeing me.  Guess who I went to visit during our first holiday break, though! You’re right, Chuck!  And guess who I asked for a ride back to school a few months later after Thanksgiving weekend. Yep. That was Chuck. For some reason, he was willing to keep being my friend, even though I wasn’t necessarily a very good one!

Well, I got to be a friend to him at the end of his senior year the following May. I had just finished my freshman year and come home to create a summer plan. Somehow I found out that Chuck’s date for the prom had gotten sick at the last minute and he was stuck with a tux and no date. Maybe he even had the flowers too! “Would you go with me?” he asked. “Sure! I’d love to go with you to your prom!” I chirped. In yet another sewing burst, I altered the dress I had worn for prom the year before, relaxing the neckline a bit, and met him for a delightfully free evening of dancing. I had so much fun feeling friendship without fear or expectation and enjoying Chuck’s precociousness.  It felt to me that we had both grown up that year, and we relaxed into the rhythm and warmth of “Color My World.”  After that prom, we didn’t spend time together, because I went off again to work at a summer camp.

The next time Chuck showed his graciousness and friendship was when he printed up my wedding invitations. It seemed pretty bold of me to call him to do that job, but I wanted someone I could trust to do a good job!  That would be Chuck, who had even been doing print jobs for my dad since we stopped dating. Chuck produced an invitation that was even more creative and beautiful than I had imagined. He hired an artist to create a whimsical plant pattern and designed a paper-saving tri-fold card that had a panel that guests could tear off and return as an RSVP. That worked well for my ecological preferences that had developed in my three years as program director at an outdoor education center.

My heart feels full and happy with these memories of the young men who cherished me during my teenage years. I am humbly grateful to Doug and Dan and Chuck for affirming my worthiness and giving me the chance to explore love and partnership, even playing the part of the one who says goodbye.

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