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