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[At the close of Part II, I had just arrived on campus as a brand new freshman and had discovered that Art Dyer was also there. I was hoping to bump into him soon…]

Soon turned out to be the very next day.

I was in the foyer of the gymnasium complex when an upperclassman spotted him and pointed me in his direction.

[Quite fitting, in retrospect, that our second encounter would also be in a gymnasium.]

He was surrounded by a cluster of coeds, so I kept a discreet distance. Once they cleared out, I approached.

Three and a half years can make a big difference in a girl’s level of confidence. I had:

  1. Left the Stick Girl profile behind
  2. Gotten my first job
  3. Gotten a high school diploma
  4. Flown the coop
  5. Headed west, seeking adventures in higher education

And along the way I had also shed my belief about being terminally uncool. With The Encounter refreshed in my memory, I made my move.

“Art Dyer?” He turned his head. This time I extended a dry hand.

“Hi. My name is Linda Burns. Remember me?”

“Should I?”

He seemed to be rifling through dusty memory files, so I thought I’d help out a little and fill in some blanks.

“We met in 1967 at that basketball tournament in Columbia.”

“Oh yeah, I remember that day… It was St. Louis, Kansas City, and Springfield, right?”

“Uh huh. And after the games, Desiree introduced me to you and your three friends.”

“Oh, I remember Desiree…,” he confessed.

Well, of course he remembered Desiree. Everybody remembered Desiree.

He quickly added, “But I don’t think I remember meeting you. But I wish I did.”

Hmmm. Three and a half years ago he had pretty near put me in cardiac arrest, yet now he couldn’t even remember meeting me? This would mean he didn’t remember what he said, either.

I promise I did not set out to gain the upper hand, but the way things were shaping up, I couldn’t resist going with it.

“Well, you should remember…” I continued.

“Why’s that?”

“You asked me to marry you.”

[Tag, you’re it! Now who’s the deer-caught-in-headlights?]

The expression on his face was priceless. I know I shouldn’t have enjoyed his discomfort so much. But then, he only remembered Desiree.

He looked a tad nervous. “And what did you say?”

“I said, Sure, next time I’m in town.”

This time around, the previously “uncool” quip elicited a broad smile. Somehow, it didn’t matter so much that he couldn’t remember The Encounter – we were developing some rapport. And I found the explanation of his outrageous line rather entertaining: he said he figured he’d have to pop the question to lots of Girls before he’d find one that would actually say yes. A variation on the Princess and the Frog theme, I suppose. His self-effacing humor was winsome, revealing his former bravado to be squid ink, used when feeling awkward around Girls.

We exchanged a few more details about ourselves before ending the conversation. As I walked away, I felt like my efforts to locate and connect with someone familiar had panned out splendidly. I made a mental note to find some way to spend more time with this guy.

I had only been back in my dorm for about a half hour, when the phone rang. I was sitting at my desk when a roommate shouted down the hall, “Linda! It’s for you!”

I was stunned. A call for me?! Who could it possibly be? I don’t know anybody yet — it’s only my fourth day on campus.

I sprinted to the phone.

“Linda speaking.” (Yes, I really talked like that back in the day.)

“O Linda, Linda, will you marry me?”

This cracked me up, and I shot back, one more time, “Sure, next time I’m in town!” Then this slightly cocky, but warm and engaging Art Dyer proceeded to invite me to dinner that evening. (Apparently, he’d made the same mental note I had.) I said yes.

yosemite

We dated for the next three years and in June 1972, I said yes again. Big Time. In the presence of a minister, our families and about 200 guests. The former roommate was best man (yes, the one who scolded me). And of course, Desiree was on hand, too, celebrating her handiwork.

Fast forward to 2014. That guy and I now live in Columbia, Missouri – just walking distance from the Armory that still stands at the corner of Ash and 7th, where we first met.

Sometimes I wonder…

  • What if Desiree and I hadn’t hitched a ride to the basketball tournament?
  • What if she’d never made those introductions?
  • What if he’d never grabbed my attention with his outrageous proposal and The Encounter had never happened?

Maybe, maybe not. But I said yes.

The red and black letter jacket is still in the cedar chest. And the dash of swagger, the self-effacing humor – they’re still reeling me in. And that guy who can still rock a drum set, still rocks my heart.

I said YES. 

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[At the conclusion of Part I, my friend, Desiree (not her real name), had introduced me to the first three boys in a foursome and was about to introduce me to the last one.]

I turned to greet the fourth Boy.

“And this is Moose,” said Desiree, with aplomb.

I should mention, at this point, one of the powerful bonding rituals she and I shared: if she met a new boy or group of boys when I wasn’t with her, she always gave me the low down afterward. Which meant I’d already been briefed on the notable facts about each of these guys. I wonder if it would ever have crossed their minds that they were objects of our scrutiny. (The NSA could probably take a few tips from adolescent girls…)

Thanks to Desiree, I had been fully prepped for Introduction Number Four:

  • Name: Art Dyer
  • Nickname: “Moose”
  • Age: high school junior
  • Family: two brothers – one older, one younger
  • Locale: Kansas City area
  • Why he’s definitely cool: drummer in a rock ‘n roll band

You’d think advance intel would have calmed my nerves, but I still had butterflies.

“And this is my friend, Linda,” she continued.

Neither of us was at all prepared for what happened next. As he shook my extended hand, Boy Number Four said…

“Oh, Linda, Linda… will you marry me?”

[I am not making this up. He said EXACTLY that.]

I don’t know which raced faster, my pulse or my thoughts. Oh my, how easy it would be to completely blow the next move and expose an epic level of uncoolness!

I instinctively glanced toward my trusty friend, hoping she was ready to toss me a lifeline. If ever I needed her worldly wisdom, it was now. But could a mere facial expression adequately communicate to her my life-and-death question:

“How do I even respond to that?!!”

She did recognize the wild desperation on my face. Leaning toward my ear, she whispered, “He’s just kidding — say yes.”

What?!! Has she lost her mind?

Somehow consenting to a marriage proposal — even one posed in jest — from someone much older — whom I was meeting for the very first time — did not seem like a good idea. I mean, I was only thirteen and a half! But I was drawing a blank and knew the brief but awkward silence must not be allowed to continue. So I turned to the overly confident Boy in the red and black letter jacket and defaulted to Desiree’s recommendation.

“Sure! Next time I’m in town,” I quipped, with a sly little grin. The Boys all chuckled. And so did Desiree. Suddenly, my face flushed. Convinced that I had just uttered the most ridiculously uncool reply ever spoken to a Boy by any Girl in the Annals of All Time, I teetered on the brink of a meltdown. And in that moment, to be in Desiree’s shadow, rather than the spotlight, didn’t seem like such a bad thing, after all.

With all eyes on me and my crimson face, adrenaline triggered my fight or flight response. I chose flight. Quickly muttering something about being glad to meet them all, I split. Desiree lingered a little longer, then joined me in the parking lot, along with Earl and Jenny. Even though it made an indelible impression, memory of The Encounter gradually faded, as surely as the blush that had reddened my face.

Fast forward about a year and a half, to September 1967.

Desiree and I were sitting on her patio on a warm Saturday afternoon. She read a letter aloud to me from her older sister, a student at our denomination’s liberal arts college in southern California. When she read that these same four guys had been accepted to the college as freshmen, we began chortling. It was a well-known fact in the Girl circles we ran in that the Boys from the Kansas City church were on the wild side. (And the main reason I found the introductions so titillating.) The notion that these Boys could last more than a semester in the conservative Bible college environment was was a real knee-slapper. But after the laughter subsided, I didn’t think about the Boy in the red and black letter jacket again for a couple of years.

TWA

College-bound; walking across tarmac to board jet for LA.

Then, in late August 1969, I arrived on the very same southern California campus. Being a brand new student with virtually no contacts, I was desperate for a familiar face. I suddenly remembered the Letter Reading Episode on Desiree’s patio and the introductions made at a basketball tournament in Columbia, Missouri, years ago. I began asking around if Art Dyer was still there and soon learned that he was.

On Day Number Three of my freshman year, I had the good fortune of sitting next to his former roommate at an assembly. I told him I’d met this guy a few years ago and wanted to say hi and did he know a guy by the name of Art Dyer. I learned that, not only was Art Dyer still in college, but he was thriving. The roommate must have been a little offended by the slight smirk on my face as I asked. But, based on previous intel, the odds weren’t in favor of him still being around. I quickly found out that the roommate  held him in rather high esteem, and I got my ears pinned back as he set the record straight about his buddy’s scholarship, leadership and character. I was distracted throughout the remainder of the assembly, intrigued by this complete reversal in reputation. Now I wanted to meet up with this guy again.

And hopefully, it would be soon.

[CONTINUE TO PART III, Conclusion]