It’s hard to believe that I was just 12 on that storied day. It’s even harder to believe that since then, I’ve had 40 birthdays.
I turned 52 this past April and I have to tell you, a whole lot of water, both pristine and murky, has flowed under the proverbial bridge in these four decades, but whatever has happened to me; what might happen to me in the future will never, ever occlude my memories of this very special day.
And cue harp for the flashback sequence.
That day fell on a Monday that year and my oh my oh my oh my, it was a hot one in South Texas. The Indian Summer had arrived early and even though it was late August, the shadows had already started to grow longer, while the days were getting shorter. It was also the first day of school and the atmosphere was, as it always is around this time of year, damned near tactile. I remember you could almost feel the approaching change of season, even in the lingering heat. It was like a textured weightiness within the ether…and underlying coolness within the heat. Hard to explain. But that’s how I remember it. For me, the Autumn promises renewal, even more so than the Spring. It has been and always will be one of my favorite times of the year. And the morning of August 31, 1971 cemented a seasonal love affair with the Fall that I would carry with me for the rest of my life.
But to get to the real significance behind the date, August 31, 1971, you have to know what happened one day earlier.
I must begin by telling you that in the late spring of that year, I’d won a spot on the Jr High cheerleading squad…just as sixth grade was coming to an end. I spent the summer with my “sisters in spirit” learning the yells and cheers and the customs and all the things that go into being a cheerleader, which by the way, runs in my family. My mother was one, as was an aunt and both of my sisters. Not only was achieving this perceived social strata of vital customary importance to the women of the Kendrick Phyla, it was also an important accoutrement to life as an indigenous female of the Great State of Texas.
Down in these parts, cattle is king and oil is a deity, but for a few months every Autumn, football trumps both of them; from Pop Warner all the way up to the NFL. If you and the wife procreate and God bestows on you a male and a female child, you want your boy playing quarterback as early as 6th grade and you want your daughter on the sidelines in a short skirt and matching sweater, encouraging spirit and imploring that the team get another ‘first in ten”. To be a football player in Texas is epic; to be a cheerleader often reaches mythical status. Big, fuel injected hair protects them both.
So, I did my bit for familial solidarity and la cultura de Tejana.
The day before that first day of school was a Sunday. After cheerleading practice and a quick dip in the pool, my sister Karol took me and a few of my fellow cheerleaders for a ride. Kids in small towns rode around a lot. We singularly created the gas crunch in ‘1974. We drove to a nearby berg where her then boyfriend and her best friend lived. She took us to Kathleen’s house. We piled out of the car and went inside.
On our way to the den, we walked by her brother Jeff’s room and we stopped to say hello. Sitting at a desk, cross-legged in a gold canvassed director’s chair, was a vision in shorts. I remember him well. He was blond, well tanned and had blue eyes…deep, robin’s egg blue and they crinkled and virtually disappeared when he smiled, which is exactly what happened when he looked up. I stared at him, probably slack-jawed when my sister’s friend introduced us.
I was nervous and could only stammer a “Hey”. He could only muster a “Hello”, then, he promptly went back to reading his MAD Magazine. He looked up at me through the corner of his eye as I left the room. I knew this because I was looking at him point-blank, with my mouth agape and probably looking quite inbred, I would imagine.
His name was Mark and he was in eighth grade; a boy from a neighboring town and also the most beautiful male child I had ever seen. I was in love and it happened like that…in a snap; in a fraction of a second. At the tender age of 12, I had captured a fleeting glimpse of forever and it had robin’s egg blue eyes.
I was affected physically and felt as though I’d been struck by something heavy and large. I was weak and mentally befuddled for a few minutes. What was this feeling? Was this love??? I think it was. It didn’t matter that my only encounter with him lasted less than two minutes and included a two-word exchange. There was something magical….nay, there was something mystical about this boy and our meeting. Whatever it was, it had me fully in its throes. I was caught; held hostage. I was a goner.
I sat in the backseat of my sister’s car as we drove the six miles to get back to our hometown. I didn’t say a word. I remember thinking about this boy with the immaculate face and spindly, but hairy legs.
I looked down at my own very hairy appendages.
Well, I had no clue as to he this boy was, but I knew we had at least something in common.
That night, I shaved my legs and thought about that 13-year-old cute hunk o’puberty.
The next day–August 31st–I ate breakfast thinking about that boy. It was hard concentrating on the first day of seventh grade, but I managed. Doodling his initials “MM” all over my book covers helped.
That night, I remember having spelling homework and was working on that when my parents and my sister Karol announced they were going out for dinner. I declined the offer to go with them. I wasn’t all that hungry, plus I homework to finish. Little did I know that Fate had played a role in quelling my appetite and encouraging me to be studious (for the first and last time that year).
The clock struck 7:05 PM and when it did, the phone rang upstairs. It was Mr. Cuteness himself. It was Mark.
He called to ask me if I would “go” with him. That’s what we called being boyfriend and girlfriend back then. You “went” with somebody. I was elated and nervous and had never really had a real boyfriend before, so I wasn’t sure how to act. He asked me the big question and I sheepishly said yes, I’d go with him. He then asked what kind of dog I had. I posed the same question and then we hung up. Wow. History started that very minute. I sat there in a post conversational afterglow that I swear, faded the carpet. I knew he had a poodle named Tina; he knew about my Cocker Spaniel named Friskie and I knew I was in love.
Well, as the following days turned into weeks and months; as the Fall finally fell and cooler weather prevailed, I remember listening to the radio and of course, every song I heard was all about Mark and me. Whenever I hear a song from that era, I’m taken back in time. One song in particular can evoke so many emotions. It’s Rod Stewart’s, “Maggie May”. During the fall of my 7th grade year, I listened to it in all its staticky glory on my AM radio. To this day it reminds me of Mark and that time in my life.
I remember meeting him at the movie theatre on Friday and Saturday nights. He’d hold my hand and my body would meld into this clump of Aunt Jemima pancake batter. His entrance into my life and the two years he remained there couldn’t have been more perfect. He helped me make such wonderful, golden memories. He broke up with me on the third day of school my Freshman year and never explained why. He broke my heart, but in some way, I suppose it was destiny.
So here’s to you, Mark. While I’ve freed myself from all those memories that have in some ways, held me hostage for so long, I will admit, I still think of you from time to time. Not as often as I used to and when you enter my head, you leave it fairly quickly, which is at it should be. Our paths haven’t crossed cara a cara and to be honest, I pray they never will. With all due respect, I don’t want to meet the man you’ve become. Why? I have no idea who that person is. I have no connection to the adult Mark. Besides, I hear you got married and had kids. I made a career in broadcasting and am very well invested in my life. I’m glad life has gone on for both of us.
Even though the ride on this memory go-round is getting increasingly more brief and returning infrequently, I will freely admit here before God and man, that there are times when I can easily lapse right back into the safe, memory-laced confines of the last half 1971 through mid 1973 when music from that era compels me to do so. The list of trigger songs reads like a scroll.
So, I offer you my annual heartfelt thank you, Mark. I know you’re oblivious as to what happened on this day all those years ago. To you it probably means September’s bills are due. And I doubt if I ever cross your mind, and really, that’s okay. This is one time I prefer that things be as one-sided as they are.
Well, that may be, but I hope the heifer to which you married is mean, fat and homely as ass!!!!
Oh sorry. Did I mention I also have Tourette’s?????