Archives For Boys

My Tennessee valentine

February 14, 2014 — Leave a comment

Picture1gpWasn’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.

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I was thirteen and a half in the spring of 1966. Barely into my adolescence and easily mortified by how uncool I could be in social situations. This uncoolness would only intensify in the presence of Boys. Curiously, being mortified didn’t keep me from wanting to be around them.

My girlfriend and I – let’s just call her Desiree – had gotten wind of an in-state basketball tournament that was going to take place in Columbia, Missouri. A team was going from our church, as well as teams from Kansas City and Springfield. We knew we just had to get there, because this was Boys’ basketball. We bummed a ride from Earl and Jenny and a little over two hours after they picked us up, we were in the presence of Boys. Lots of Boys.

Desiree was much more mature than me, being, in the spring of 1966, months beyond her fourteenth birthday. I might add that she was also quite attractive: exotic features, long dark hair, and a figure that belied her age. I had overheard boys describe her, on occasion – you know, va va voom, and all that.

I was ambivalent about having such a gorgeous friend. The flood of attention she got from warm blooded young males could be pretty demoralizing – I could become invisible in an instant This dynamic no doubt contributed to my sense of uncoolness. But then, every once in a while…

One of the guys in the swarm would do the math. Realizing his buddy was racking up points with Desiree like a pinball stuck on a hot button, he would size up his chances of ever making headway with her. This occasionally worked in my favor. The down-on-his-luck fellow would decide to cut bait and turn his attention elsewhere, at which point he might finally notice me, Stick-Girl-Standing-Next-to-Curvy-Desiree. The fact that I was being settled upon rather than chosen didn’t matter – it was just nice not to be invisible. A not-so-cool girl like me could feast on the crumbs that fell from Desiree’s table.

But I digress. The basketball tournament…

I wasn’t generally into watching basketball, preferring to be on the court rather than in the bleachers. But on this day I was content to watch endless fast breaks, free throws, and full court presses because… the games would be interspersed with trips to the concession stand, ladies room, and water fountain. And it was in the crowded corridors that one would possibly – nay, hopefully – bump into uniform-clad Boys from far away cities. My, that popcorn was goooood!

It had already been a fine day when things took an unexpected turn for the better. At the conclusion of the tournament, all the games having been played and the locker rooms clearing out, Desiree and I stepped outside the gymnasium into the balmy late afternoon air. We loitered near the entrance, cleverly positioning ourselves in the path of the basketball players who would soon come streaming out the door in their street clothes carrying duffle bags. Most of them had already exited when a rather animated cluster, in customary fashion, approached us with eyes fixed on Desiree. It just so happened that she had met all four of them at a prior event, and, like the good and generous friend that she was, she proceeded to introduce me.

At that moment I was simultaneously thrilled and freaked out. These were very cool basketball players from Kansas City, wearing letter jackets. [Translation: older, much older – high school juniors, in fact.] I can’t imagine how anyone could ever feel more awkward or more uncool than I felt at that moment. And yet, I was also jittery with anticipation.

I quickly faked a semblance of composure and managed to get through the first three introductions without incident.

“Linda, I’d like you to meet Warren.”

Handshake, hello. Nice to meet you.

“And this is Britton, …and Pat.”

Another handshake, another hello.

Then a third, increasingly moist handshake.

Hey, I’m not doing too bad, all things considered. Holding up okay under the pressure. What luck! Meeting four very cool Boys at once!

Relieved by how things were turning out, I felt more confident, and ready for the final introduction.

Or so I thought…

[CONTINUE TO PART II.]

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* This took place at the Armory Sports and Recreation Center, on the northeast corner of 7th and Ash streets in Columbia, Missouri.

Pretty much everything I know about genetics, DNA, or genome studies you could write on a postage stamp. So I figured I should read up on the subject so I could fake my way through this post. I wish I could report that I am now able to talk intelligently about it, but unfortunately, pretty much everything in the Wikipedia article on chromosomes flew straight over my head. What I think I got out of it:

Apparently, everyone has these sex-determining chromosomes that basically come in just two types. You have the Y chromosome, which triggers testicle development if present, and the X chromosome which, apparently, does nothing at all. From what I gather, the default setting is to become female unless you happen to get a Y chromosome to combine with an X. The article went on to say that certain traits are inherited via the Y chromosome.

Well, duh!

It became clear to me at an early age that there were special traits that an XY person just automatically had. Inherited them, indeed. I didn’t have to win a Nobel Prize to understand this fact of life, no siree. I suppose I was privy to this bit of insight and, consequently, was ahead of the curve because I grew up among all those boys (see On boys, baseball and bags, August 21, 2013.)

What inherited trait, you ask? An uncanny capacity to make authentic motor sounds at a remarkably early age. I promise you this is a universal trait and no male has yet proved my conclusion wrong.

Whenever playing together with cars and trucks, the boys could always, always simulate these amazing real-life sounds. If they had a truck in hand, out of their throats and mouths came all the sounds an 18-wheeler would make grinding its way through all ten gears. They could pick up a toy motorcycle and convince me it was alive. Tractors, buses, cars – ditto. Race car tires screeched as they burned rubber and squealed when they took corners too fast. The boys were always, always able to produce stunning sounds that corresponded perfectly to the real McCoy.

This phenomenon wasn’t limited to wheeled vehicles. They could convincingly replicate the thrust of a jet engine, the putter of a motorboat, or the wup-wup-wup-wup of a helicopter rotor. It was incredible.

And thoroughly intimidating. To play in the presence of such virtuosity completely undid my confidence. I must have tried once upon a time to imitate the masters and fallen far, far short. I was so sure my puny attempts would draw scorn from the Titans of Sound that I refrained from ever trying to do it myself. I was resigned to the reality that, whenever I played with them, all my vehicles would be electric they always hummed.

I was okay with this disparity because I understood there were other realms in which girls ruled (Double Dutch jump rope merely being the first to come to mind). Eventually, though, we would grow out of playing with cars and trucks and such, and I wouldn’t give much more thought to the unequal distribution of “motor skills” until….

I brought the first wheeled toy into our home for my first child, a son. It came with the Fisher Price barnyard set. I got down on hands and knees to arrange the cows and pigs and chickens in and around the barn, and my hands fell on the tractor. And at that very moment I had an epiphany: “This two-year-old will never know that my tractor sounds are dorky – they’ll be the only tractor sounds he’ll hear while we play and he’ll think they’re fine.”

So I pulled out the stops and had a blast pushing that little tractor all over the living room carpet. But I didn’t stop there. As the boy grew, the toy collection grew. Eventually there would be two boys and lots of Tonka cars and trucks, Lego spaceships and Matchbox cars. So I got the chance to practice a full range of motorized sounds; I expanded my repertoire considerably. And not once did the boys deem my efforts inept or incompetent. I had dared to enter the Realm of Male Expertise and managed to hold my own. Life was good and I was satisfied.

But I promise you I’d never try it at the auto repair shop when the guys ask if I can tell them what noise the car is making…

x and y chromosome

Xand Y chromosomes

From all that I’ve shared about growing up among a bunch of boys it might seem like I didn’t have any interest in playing with girls. Au contraire; I loved having girl playmates. It’s just that I had this problem…

Back in the day, children generally weren’t shuttled around in minivans to soccer games, tae kwon do classes and scout meetings. (Well, actually none of us were shuttled in minivans since Detroit hadn’t designed any yet. But that’s not my point…) Most of the moms I knew were stay-at-home moms who considered having their children play with other children in the neighborhood to be both enriching and entertaining. On nice days, they scooted us out the door right after breakfast and didn’t expect us to come home until lunchtime, then out the door again until dinner. Because they wanted to keep us near enough to hear the dinner bell, we weren’t allowed to leave our block.

Our duplex was in the middle of a rather short block, the residents of which went like this (from one end of the block to the other):

  • On the corner, an old lady who didn’t socialize with kids (we were all scared of her, although I now suspect, looking back, that she may have gotten a big kick out of her scary persona, because if we rode our bikes past her fenced yard while she was watering the lawn, she would spray us with the hose).
  • Next to her, a house with four teenage girls with no interest in a little girl like me.
  • Beside them, a couple in their 50’s whose children were grown.
  • Then our duplex, housing my brothers, plus four boys in the other half.
  • Continuing down the block, a widow in her 50’s who was very kind to us kids (she’d invite us to enter her fenced yard every once in a while to pick a bouquet of flowers for our moms).
  • Beside her, a single man whose daughter visited on some weekends and during school breaks (she was my brother’s age, and a tomboy; I loved it when she was around).
  • On the opposite corner, one last house. For the life of me, I cannot recall who lived there. Which merely signifies that there weren’t any kids.

Now, if you were keeping track, you noticed there were exactly zero girls for me to hang out with on a daily basis. Any girlfriend time had to be fitted into the adults’ plans. Fortunately, this wasn’t too difficult, since my dad’s boss had a little girl my age and they arranged for us to get together from time to time. (She is the only other girl in the picture of my birthday party posted along with On boys, baseball and bags.) I always preferred visiting her house to her coming to mine because at my house the boys would inevitably lure her into playing their games, which she relished, not having boys around at all. Sigh.

In contrast, visiting her house was simply dreamy because she, as an only child, had a bedroom chock full of dolls, little kitchen appliances and furniture, dishes and the like. From the moment I arrived until the very last minute, we played with an intensity and focus usually reserved for air traffic controllers or neurosurgeons. After all, I had to make sure the girly “fix” would last me a good while. I also had numerous girlfriends at school, and quite a few girl cousins, on both sides, but again, play times were at the discretion of the big people.

I would eventually get my heart’s desire: a daily-basis-type-girlfriend. Much to my delight, the little sister who was in elementary school when I left home, and in junior high when I got married, became an adult! Being six years my junior, my relationship with her while still living at home had centered mostly on looking after her. But once she “caught up with me,” she became the best girlfriend I would ever have.

We’ve done our share of girly stuff together: making jewelry, planning big parties, designing room makeovers, etc. These things have been highly enjoyable. But it’s really about the sharing of not only genetics, but myriad life experiences; it’s her being enough like me to “get” me, yet different enough from me to balance me; it’s her validating me in all the ways that matter most; and it’s her embracing me with that huge heart of hers in my downs as well as my ups. These are what I truly treasure.

Ain’t no friend like a sista friend.

Little Sister

Leader of the pack

August 26, 2013 — 2 Comments

I mentioned previously that I grew up among boys. I paid a lot of attention to their behaviors and attitudes so I could fit in (“You can never have too many snowballs stockpiled,” “Shake it off,” etc.). I also wanted to become proficient in the skills pertaining to the activities they enjoyed most so they would always include me (baiting a fishhook with a fat night crawler, getting the yo-yo string twisted and knotted just right, hitting a baseball into the outfield, etc.). I tried real hard to keep up and not slow them down because I never wanted to be left out. (I really didn’t like playing by myself.)

The one I studied most was my older brother. No surprise there, I suppose. I don’t think this was simply because we returned to the same house at the end of the day, but largely because the neighbor boys also considered him the leader of the pack. His opinions always mattered most. If he said I could join in, no one ever objected. (At least that’s my recollection.) He was strong, he was tough, he was clever and he was cool. Very cool. Three incidents would cinch his demigod standing with me. Two happened when we were pretty little, one a few years later.

The first happened when we were on our way home from the local swimming pool. Our routine was to stop by the concession stand to buy some candy for the return trip. A nickel would buy a package of five caramels — our absolute favorite. On this particular summer afternoon, after the attendant handed me my candies I had a hard time opening the cellophane. Meanwhile my brother and the neighbor boys had started walking toward home and were far enough away from me that they didn’t see several bigger, menacing-looking boys surround me and demand my candy. Frightened, I complied. When I finally caught up with my group and told them what had happened, my brother didn’t scold me for lagging behind or for letting the bullies muscle me out of my treat, he just handed me the rest of his candy. That action communicated volumes to my five-year-old heart and persuaded me he was as compassionate as he was tough.

The second incident happened one night while riding in the back seat of our parents’ 1958 Rambler sedan. We were on a two-lane highway returning from a visit at our grandpa’s and I was nodding off to sleep seated next to the right door. Suddenly, while rounding a curve, the door I was sitting next to flew open. (Seat belts were not yet standard issue on cars.) This startled and woke me, but before I could even figure out what had happened, my brother, seated in the middle of the back seat, lunged across my lap, grabbed the door handle and pulled it shut. Dad shouted nervously, “What was that?!!” to which my brother calmly replied, “Don’t worry, Dad. The door flew open but I got it.” Both our parents praised him for reacting quickly, but now I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt he was as brave as he was clever.

The third incident wouldn’t take place until I was almost a teenager. My brother had turned sixteen earlier that summer and had been working full-time for several weeks as a dock worker. I guess he was saving money for a car, or college, or both. One morning I exited the bathroom and opened my bedroom door only to see a pretty bright blue girl’s bicycle parked beside my bed. Taped to the bike seat was a note:“Now you won’t have to ride hand-me-down boy’s bikes any more.” I was blown away. Not only had he spent a big chunk of his very first paycheck to buy it, but his purchase affirmed the girly part of me. I was convinced he was as generous and savvy as he was strong.

Those three snapshots served to seal his status in my heart and no amount of standard-annoying-sibling-type-behavior on his part would ever dissuade me. Of course, he will demur if I say it within earshot, but he has always been very cool. To this day.

scan0002   On his 40th Wedding Anniversary

My early childhood years were spent in a duplex we shared with the Ware family. They were a typical 50’s family: he a factory worker, she a stay-at-home mother of four boys. Given that I had a brother three years older than me, a brother three years younger (a six-year gap separated me and my little sister), I spent a lot of time with boys.

Granted, no one forced me to spend all this time with them – it’s just that, being more of a pack animal than a loner, I wanted to play with. And that meant with boys. They taught me baseball, but possibly with the ulterior motive of having someone to assigned catcher duty since they preferred pitching and fielding. (Baseball spoiled me for girls’ softball in P.E. – never liked it.) They managed to somehow persuade me to climb onto the garage roof and jump off along with them, taught me to value and collect certain varieties of marbles, and to dodge many a snowball. I knew I wasn’t exactly “in” the club, but I still felt a measure of respect when invited to join the activity du jour.

My husband’s suggestion that I add the Any Given Sunday movie line to my inaugural post so as to attract male readers got me thinking. It’s true: I wish for an audience comprised of both genders. Perhaps this desire stems, in part, from my tireless efforts to win the respect and approval of all those boys in the back yard. Yet I suspect that most of us covet the respect of both genders to one extent or another. I mean, when my husband told me not long ago how surprised he was after we got married by what a good driver I was, well… I’m here to tell ya’ that one was 24-carat.

In that same spirit I share the following: I recently traveled abroad as the sole female in a foursome. I hadn’t spent that much time with just guys in a long, long time. My take away: I think it’s the only way to fly! We had three layovers between here and there and every time we needed to head for a terminal gate, grab a snack, or make a pit stop, it was as if three full-size Lego people bent down, locked their grip on their duffles and backpacks and moved with purpose toward a fixed destination. No extraneous movements, no fuss, no drama – just elegant simplicity and efficiency. I really appreciated and enjoyed the streamlined component of the trip.

Since this particular attribute isn’t generally my strong suit, having people in my life who are especially good at drawing a straight line between where they are and where they want to be brings much value to my world. Thanks, guys! [And to you women who also have this attribute in spades: you go, gals!]ImageMy sixth birthday and the gang’s all there, plus one little girl I played with occasionally. (Baby sister is being held by older brother.)