About Me

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Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Do You Want to Know a Secret?

Likely my dating confusion may be at least partly laid at the feet of Greg Clarkson who ruined me that beautiful spring for (many, if not all) other men. In the summer of 1963, we'd moved again from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. I grew to my full adult height and from about 90 pounds to maybe 105 between the end of the last school year and my birthday at the end of the summer. My teeth were not snaggly new growth any longer, though it seems there were still a couple of molars to come, and the wisdom teeth that never did make it through the gums but were finally surgically removed when I was over 40. I could fix hair nicely, my own in a dark Gidget flip, and I washed and set my mother's to earn money. I worked cheaper than a professional in a beauty parlor (now called a salon). At the coming Christmas, I would receive makeup in my stocking - Angel Face pressed powder and the palest pink lipstick ever seen. Upon my body, curves existed where none had before and these made me feel just slightly awkward at the country club pool. (My parents eschewed the golf side of that club so I could make full use of the pool. It was a bargain to them to pay half-price and they knew I'd swim more than they would golf.) I turned 11 late that August.

The truck transporting our household belongings to Salt Lake was involved in a terrific accident along the way. Everything we owned was destroyed and my parents received a sizable insurance settlement. We gathered donated items from relatives to use in an apartment while we gathered ourselves. By early autumn, they had bought a house on the (then) far west stretches. Construction having just begun, there was still time to add a few custom touches and then we waited. We'd often drive out to the site after my dad came home from work. He'd hoist me up onto the second floor into what would be my bedroom and I could see all over the valley, lights beginning to twinkle here and there. I dreamed. This was to be the nicest home they ever owned, decorated nicely, with everything in it brand new. There was little development yet near Taylorsville. Everything needed to sustain life was also under construction to accommodate the booming growth in housing and residents. Oh, yes, there were gas stations and some mom-and-pop stores. But for major shopping, the library, and other necessities, we'd have to drive a bit. Dad would actually have a commute into the city.

Though some families were already moving into their completed new homes, the schools weren't springing up quickly enough to accommodate all the kids. The Valley West developer, whether a thoughtful Mormon father himself or under pressure from the new homeowners, devised a shortcut for the kids to take to the elementary school thereby avoiding Redwood Road. This heavily trafficked thoroughfare was used by everyone coming into and going out of the area and also by semi-truck drivers passing through. There were no sidewalks, the crumbly blacktop meeting the gravelly, weed-choked dirtpack irregularly. During the early autumn months, the shortcut flowed with a veritable river of kids going through the covered pathway and across a now-deserted sugar beet field. The school was an ancient, forbidding hulk of dark brick and no architectural relief, 3-stories and maybe 100 years old. Until the new schools were ready, the youngest children began their day at 6:00 a.m. and upperclassmen at 1:00 p.m., with school getting out at 6:00 in time for dinner, an imperfect temporary situation. When the snow flew, the shortcut became difficult and I remember trudging along Redwood Road in the afternoon, arms filled with books, heavy coat, gloves and boots. Soon enough I came to understand the honking, hooting truck drivers were not sounding "Hey, kids, get up farther on the verge to walk" messages, but "Hey, baby" salutations. Parents carpooled the kids home in the dark and snow, and soon enough John C. Fremont Elementary School was ready for us.

Normal school hours and a new facility, not yet even filled to capacity, made for a wonderful spring.  Softball began and counted as our PE portion of the day, with my 6th grade class pitted against the other. Remember the year: girls were not required to play softball if they didn't care to, but they had to go to study hall if they didn't play. Once a month for a few days, a girl could plead a physical excuse if she cared to. And then - the Promise Land - on softball days girls could begin to wear some form of trousers, but only on the diamond, not during the rest of the school day. That was OK enough for me. My father always, but always, treated me like his kid, not only like his daughter. I knew how to play softball. I was now bigger than most of the other kids and stronger, including the boys. I was fearless and skilled, sliding into base having never bothered me. I was pretty fast and I could catch a hurtling cannonball without dropping it. "Don't drop that ball, Les. Morgans play hard!" "OK, Dad!" But, oh!, the piece de resistance. My father owned a most wonderful wooden bat, 36" long and 33 oz. - a most manly bat and likely too much bat for me at the time. On softball days, I attracted some noise carrying in my bat and my bag, which I think was a bowling bag, with my pants and sneakers in it, for we also did not wear sneakers during the rest of the school day. These days were the highlight of my week and I learned much that spring. I learned never, ever to throw my bat again after making a young fellow drop to his knees in tears. I'd never much thrown my bat before that, but I got a little show-offy there on home plate, adding a little elan to my swing. I learned that some of the glee expressed by others on softball days had to do with me running the bases like the wind and getting in under a high pop fly. It wasn't so different from the swimming pool or the honking, hooting truck drivers.

"Hey, Greg Clarkson really likes you." A boy from the other 6th grade delivered this message and I flinched, I am sure. "Oh?" "Yeah, he thinks you play really well and you're cute." Uh-oh. "Oh." I walked away, completely unprepared for such an announcement and not knowing how to cope with it. Oh sure, I knew who he was. He was in the other class and may have been the only player more talented than I. Quite tall and very thin, he was strong and fast and tough. He stared me down at the plate and on the field. I always knew I had to play against Greg Clarkson and not so much against anyone else. The other pee wees kind of ran around and Clarkson was the only real competitor. I imagine he felt the same, in softball terms, about me. We always pretended not to be looking at the other, but now I noticed his hair was longish and curly, dark. Oh, not long hair as an original affectation like the Beatles who were taking over all of our pubescent or prepubescent minds. More like his mother had allowed him to skip one haircut because the Beatles had taken over his mind. Soon we began to exchange notes. I was comfortable with that, easily finding my voice in written word. He had miniature messengers at his command and the notes fairly flew back and forth. Then it was telephone calls. I began to use a phone upstairs so my parents, both with eyes bugged out at the notion of a boy calling me, would not be able to hear every (innocent) word of my side of the conversation.

The girls who were my friends were fascinated and began to suit up for softball so they could watch us on the field. The boys who were his friends seemed to watch him exclusively. Were they taking lessons from his example or had they been warned that I was his and they should not even look? We'd each dawdle on the grounds for a short time after school and finally a chaste, quick peck of a kiss was exchanged, some 20 child observers marking the occasion in silent awe. One afternoon he head gestured me to join him around the corner of the building. I looked toward my friends and weighed whether I would do this. I did. Around the bend, he wasted no time pushing a small parcel toward me, a jewelry box, to be precise. Taking it from him and feeling not on solid ground, I noticed he had dirt under his fingernails at the end of the day. Inside was a modest neck chain and a clear pendant with a mustard seed inside, perfectly appropriate for an 11-year-old girl heading for 12. Since that time I have heard a couple of different mustard seed legends, but when Greg asked me if I knew what it meant and I said I did not, he told me it represented "I love you." I did not respond to that in any verbal way, but I felt my eyes widen. Then he proposed what he knew to be my favorite tune as "our song", the meaning of which also had to be explained to me. We exchanged a kiss no more heated than the ones delivered in view of mesmerized 6th graders, he put the chain around my neck and we emerged onto the playground. I surmise Greg had older brothers or sisters because he was smooth - smooth! - and I knew nothing about any of the steps. But I liked the dance.

We became local celebrities, Greg Clarkson and Leslie Morgan. Even the teachers seemed aware of the chaste connection and smiled at us. The mustard seed pendant was much handled by young girls. I don't know what Greg had to deal with in his crowd of admiring boys. We held hands while walking in the hallway, though we would never have kissed openly and nothing, nothing changed on the softball field except that I tucked my necklace down the front of my shirt. The end of the school year approached following an idyllic spring and it was announced we'd have a 6th grade party day to include a movie in the cafeteria, "free dress" (slacks and sneakers ~ yay!), and if we brought our own records, we could play them and dance. A number of the moms provided better-than-school-cafeteria snacks and it was a red-letter day. Funny that I do not recall what movie was shown. But I remember that we sat close and held hands throughout as other kids exchanged looks and grins. No other young people so coupled up. What, we were enough for everyone, even if it was vicarious? When the music started, it was revealed that Greg arranged for our song to be played first. We danced, surrounded by silent classmates. He danced quite well, actually. Soon I saw some girls dancing together. When some fast tunes came on, some of the braver boys jumped on board. It was better than a prom.

He told me his family was moving to Alaska in the summer. I was good at geography and I knew his bike wasn't going to carry him to my house or the pool any longer. He reminded me we were nearly 12 - well, he actually was already. It wouldn't be so long until we could design our own lives and not be held hostage by our parents. My mother told me to invite him for dinner. She grilled steaks and did not act weird in front of Greg. My dad talked decently with him about baseball. He held my hand in front of them and kissed me goodbye at the door. They saw this. And then he was gone. He was an excellent letter-writer and he was allowed to call me once a month for 10 minutes. My parents allowed reciprocal phone calls. I did not cry or pine miserably, though I missed his company. Eventually it faded away, perhaps when we moved back to California in a couple of years. Or perhaps when the next youngblood said "My friend thinks you're cute." Or maybe Greg was attracted to a lovely young female in a parka. Anyway, it ended predictably, without rancor. I owned the mustard seed necklace for a very long time - decades. I do not know where it is now.

In my ears right now:  Oh, come on, what do you think?


  1. Oh say, I wonder whatever became of Debbie Hemmer, my next door neighbor and close friend. Also the fastest Kid in 6th Grade at Redwood Elementary School. I recently came across a picture of her and I playing twister on the liveing room carpet. The first one to welcome me to my teenage years And an avid fan Of Mickey Dolenz. I lost track of her when my family moved out to California in the fall of 1968.

  2. @ Tag ~ Oh, you've really got the spirit of the post! That fall of 1968 was something, Mike. Really.

  3. Since you two were 11 and 12, your charming little reminiscence sounds like it was a dry run for adolescence.

  4. @ Kirk ~Yes, you've got it exactly. And it was a NICE dry run. Things wouldn't get a whole lot better. And that's my point. There's a reason Greg Clarkson is placed here in the middle of the geriatric dating reminiscences. There was so much good about him and the little embryonic steady relationship. I wish he had a less common name. I already Googled it. It would be very, very difficult or expensive.

  5. David Licht. I wonder what happened to him?

  6. @ CramCake ~ I think he'd be easier to locate (by name) than Greg. Alas.

  7. Probably easier to find than "Tyler Wilson". Believe me, I've tried.

  8. @ CramCake ~ Understood! Hell, I even wear a name that likely would preclude me from being easily located by someone who wanted to do that. The world is too filled with human beings. The internet has made us too arrogant thinking we can find needles in the humanity haystack.

  9. Beautiful imagery and association of the mustard seed.

    Don't look for Greg - let that one be - unsprouted; a perfect seed preserved.

  10. @ Rachel ~ Well, that's some beautiful imagery you've just put up in your comment. Thank you! No, I have no plans to look for Greg. I'm not sure what I'd do with him if, indeed, I did find him. He's in a better place in my long, sweet distant memory.