Wasn’t it fun making Valentines for your mom in elementary school? Teachers would go all out to supply froofy craft supplies so the love notes we lovingly created for our mothers would be super jazzy. And didn’t mom always seem totally pleased with these offerings? I also thought it was fun to decorate my Valentine “mailbox” and then read the messages on all the cards I got from my classmates, both during the party and then again several times after I got home from school.
But once I left elementary school I entered a valentine drought. Not a single junior high boy paid me any attention at all, that I could tell. (Might have been that whole counterproductive long jump challenge thing I was into.) Of course, there was that one older guy in the red and black letter jacket who was just messing with me when he said “Linda, Linda, will you marry me; he didn’t count. (He eventually hit valentine status, several years later.)
No, those junior high years were rather bleak. That is, until the fall of eighth grade. I met a boy from Memphis, Tennessee, at our annual denominational gathering in Texas. Our family was staying at a campground, and he took a notion to stop by our tent and invite me to go bowling with him and some of his friends. I liked to have fainted when my dad said okay. His college student brother gave us all a lift into town, and we bowled the afternoon away.
That was when I first fell in love. With folks from Tennessee, that is — the girls in the group treated me like I was their BFF, which struck me as classy. (I also fell in love with pin ball machines that afternoon, too, but that’s another subject for another post.) I think my best game was about 60, and I was hooked. In fact, the boy invited me to join the group for bowling the next couple of afternoons, and each day my game got a little stronger. As did my interest in the boy.
On the last free afternoon that week, his older brother had made arrangements for him to borrow a motorcycle and I was invited to go riding with him. While that was an appealing offer, it was such a warm day, and the lake beckoned, so I opted to join my family for a day of swimming and canoeing. Later that evening, a couple of the Tennessee girls stopped by my tent, visibly shaken. He’d had an accident while riding and was in the local hospital with a punctured lung.
The news catapulted me into a state I’d never before experienced – relief that I had not been on the motorcycle when it went out of control, yet fear and worry about his condition. All of which were compounded by some altogether new feelings aroused by him having shown interest in me. The school boys back home might not have been paying me much attention, but in less than a week, this Tennessee boy had rendered their disinterest moot.
Our family planned to return home the next day, and I was sad and nervous and wistful about his wellbeing and the prospect of not getting to say goodbye. Then my dad did something that blew me away. He offered to stop by the hospital on our way out of town so that I could see the boy, which meant the entire family would sit in the fully packed car and wait for me to visit a sweet kid from Memphis and tell him how sorry I was about his accident, and what a very nice week I’d had with him and his friends.
I walked down the hospital corridor with a quickened pulse and a lump in my throat. I wasn’t any good around blood and stuff, so I was way out of my comfort zone on several counts. The nurse showed me to his room and I just stood there. He was connected to several tubes, and bandaged up, but not looking too bad, all things considered. He was asleep.
“It would be better not to disturb him,” she said.
But I’m leaving town the minute I step foot outside this building! There’ll be NO second chances here…
But at age fourteen, I wasn’t very good at speaking up in the presence of authority figures. The nurse took my name and assured me she’d tell him I’d visited, and then I turned to walk back down the corridor. My goodbye would simply have to be conveyed via the United States Postal Service.
He got back on his feet in short order, and we corresponded for several months, but the distance took a toll on our young and unseasoned relationship. Nevertheless, the impact was felt: a boy from Tennessee liked me. It was enough, and it was everything.
But I wouldn’t get on the back of a motorcycle for a long, long time.