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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]

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.