Although most of my informative years were spent living in a house on Prytania Avenue, five years were spent in a rented house on Goodman Avenue in the Fillmore Elementary school district, (1029 Goodman to be precise). It was in that house that I was to find my first best friend, (Timmy Apwisch), my first life threatening experience, (getting hit by a school bus), and my very first kiss on the lips from someone who was not my mother or a relative with a little too much facial hair.
Perhaps we all recall with great clarity many details of our time spent in elementary schools. I can still see many of the children’s faces as if I were looking at them today. I can vividly still see the layout of the school, both from the inside and out, and the exterior land of my elementary school seemed enormous to me as a child.
The area I can recall with the greatest clarity at Fillmore was the grass area beyond the blacktop. Looking out from the school itself, the land was shaped like a huge baseball diamond with the school sitting in dead center field. Around the perimeter edges were 2-3 baseball backstops. Just to the left side of the grassy recess area was a small knee-high stone fence which bordered the alley (knee-high to an adult that is). It had a small opening where we kids could walk through if you lived close enough and were a “walker”. Just next to this area was a great set of monkey bars. The monkey bars were to play a role in my life too – a separate story to be shared at a later time.
The cutest little thing in first grade at Fillmore Elementary in 1963 was Tammy Dietrich. If the girls knew yet how to become jealous of another ‘woman’, Tammy would have been the girl in my first grade class to be jealous of. She had a slightly dark complexion, full lips and a coy shyness, making her particularly seductive to any poor, unsuspecting and innocent young 5 year old male. We were all helpless to resist her charms, charms which I was to find out included a fairly daring personality for a first grader. Tammy was not a tomboy – she did not come out and fight the boys on the monkey bars as was the practice of a few other girls. Tammy had a more powerful female weapon than attempting to be one of the boys – genuine female charm! I don’t recall Tammy hitting or biting anyone, nor do I recall her ever calling anyone a mean name. She would suck you in with her niceness protractor-beam and all the boys had a crush at some time or another on Tammy.
I wish I could brag that the kiss came on the first day of first grade because it would tend to highlight my own personal animal magnetism, but I seem to recall our wearing coats at the time so it must have been either Winter or Fall. It was a morning like any other and I had just hung up my coat in the cloakroom. It’s funny how an important memory can help you retain so many details because I can even today see so much of the cloakroom. It was a large closet space just in the back of the room. You’d enter the doorway and the room would spill out to the left. There was a long white bench on the floor, situated underneath all of the coat hooks. The hooks were about eye high to a 5-6 year old. If you brought your lunch to school, your lunchbox would slide underneath the bench, along with your snow boots if you had those too.
Snow boots in the 60’s were made of a stretchy rubber and were designed to be worn over the shoes. The seam went up the center and folded outwards. You’d slip your foot in then stand up to get the heel of your shoe to press down, usually with a small sucking sound. Then you would affix the snaps closed. They worked great but typically when it was time to take them off, your foot would slip out completely, leaving your shoe in the boot. Then you’d have to reach in and fish your shoe out of the boot. Sometimes it was lodged in so tight you’d have to limp on one foot and ask the teacher to help you.
But there I was, just inside the doorway. Tammy had just hung up her coat too and I seem to remember that there was one other person in that room, down on the left end. Tammy had placed herself directly in front of me and then the most unusual thing came out of her mouth – “will you tell if I kiss you?” “Telling” is what we kids called tattling in our day. I remember this all so vividly; it’s quite incredible and one of my fondest childhood memories. I remember immediately feeling ‘excited’ I guess, (is how I’d describe it) – excited in that I felt something daring was about to occur. (That is how I would describe it today – perhaps what I felt as a child felt like fear of getting caught). What I said though was “no”; simple as that – I just said ‘no’. And at that point she stepped forward, very quickly, and planted a little peck on my lips! She smiled at me and again asked me if I would tell on her. I’d like to be able to tell you I had some witty first grader retort like “of course I will, all my friends” but all I could come up with was a “no, I promise I won’t tell”.
That was my very first kiss in life and the first for Tammy (so the little charmer tells me 50 years later). From that moment on, I was hooked. She was my little girlfriend and I her boy. Being boyfriend and girlfriend in the early grades meant a lot to us at the time I guess, but in terms of the specifics, all it really meant was that when you went to school, you each called each other boyfriend and girlfriend – that was about it. At Valentine’s Day, (the ultimate important day for any “couple”), you would pick out the most sappy and precious Valentine Card you could find and address it to your sweetie, and at the designated moment allowed by the teacher, we would walk around and place our Valentine cards in the pouches we had made during art lesson. If there was a person we thought was ‘icky’ we typically made sure that we didn’t accidentally address one of the more sappy cards to that person. We’d pick out a frog card or maybe a snake. Other than that there wasn’t much a first, second or third grader did when you had a sweetheart. If you lived next door to each other, you could play together all day, but typically our relationships were long distance (meaning we didn’t have a clue where each other lived….we also weren’t allowed to use the phone yet).
What I do remember quite well, but never really understood until later in life was that Tammy made me feel “excited” like no other little girl in class. Not Stephanie Schwartz with her cute freckles or not Kathy Dudley with her quick wit and ability to hold her own out on the monkey bars. Tammy was the first girl I can recall who made me think of her after the school day was over. I think what attracted me to Tammy is the same thing that attracts a lot of men, (and women I suppose), to some certain women – a sense of adventure! Anyone who knows Tammy today, knows her to be a super-sweet, soft spoken little angel of a lady. She really is a sweetheart. In first through part of the third grade, the Tammy I knew was a risk taker. I was the one who was the scardy-cat. Tammy snuck 4-5 kisses in class over the years from first grade to the beginning of third grade, including the time we all hid from our first grade teacher who had left the room to go to the office for a brief time. Tammy had pulled me under the teacher’s desk to hide! She stole not one kiss there, but two! (Hey, who was I to deny the poor child?) I can remember another girl getting on the floor and starting to make her way under the desk to hide with us and Tammy quickly telling her that there wasn’t enough room. Wow, what a daring little girl – no wonder I was smitten.
This story, although mainly about my very first kiss, is also in some ways I guess part of a larger experiment in self-analysis. Writing these ‘mini documentaries’ is causing me pause and forcing me to think about ‘why’ I am who I am. I am quick to let you look under my hood – my view is that my life, my just being present, is an accidental gift and I don’t want to waste much time chatting about football on TV. This I think is why I seem to have much better conversations with girls than guys. Typically, guys are more guarded with their feelings and it takes longer for us to get beyond last week’s baseball results. Girls like to go deeper in their conversations. If you are a guy or gal who is not afraid to share your vulnerability, we will likely hit it off – we are all weak and vulnerable so why beat around the bush.
In hindsight I can see now that we men, (most of us I assume), are attracted to the risk-taking side of the female persuasion. Naturally I was clueless then, (and I can hear my wife mumbling – you’re still a bit clueless bub), but at least today I can appreciate the risk-taking that my wife and I used to take when we were dating (more stories I probably will have to keep to myself until the movie version comes out or else learn to sleep with my eyes open). We men like to act like we are the brave risk takers. Today I know that is a myth – the woman is the risk taker. She is the one that will pull you aside and steal the kiss. We men are the ones who will brag about it later, sharing that it was our bravado and our sense of adventure…nothing could be further from the truth. Women keep us honest….but women also get us into trouble (you readers out there know I speak the truth on his point).
My point I think is that I really liked, even at 5 yrs of age, the sense of excitement that Tammy made me feel. She just didn’t seem like the other girls….and this was a very good thing. This characteristic of adventure, as young and innocent as it was, made an impact on me. Just as everything else that happened to and around me, I realize today that I enjoyed that quality in a woman and it is one of the defining characteristics of the little girl I was later to be wed to.
Through social media I was able to reconnect with Tammy after 45 years of disconnect. It was so nice to see her and to hug her at our high school reunion. She is a very important thread in my life memories. One day while commenting on pictures and various childhood memories I was able to piece together a very unusual set of connections which I intend to share in a separate story, but here are a few of them.
Tammy was my first kiss and elementary girlfriend. The boy who accidentally pushed me into a school bus’s path was named Terry Staton. Terry was Tammy’s sixth grade boyfriend. My first official ‘steady’ in 7th grade was a little girl named Kathy Brandenburg, (read this one to get the Kathy story). Tammy was Kathy’s maid of honor (I think – I am positive she was in the bridal party). I was the best man when Terry got married. It all sounds like a scene played out in a town of less than a hundred kids, but I like to think of things like this as a means to reinforce for me that “we” are all connected to each other. The world can seem small if we look for the signs and many of us are connected to each other – we make impacts on each other and have importance to each other.
All through junior high, all through high school and all through my adulthood I have recalled on occasion being a 5-7 year old and remembering a very special little girl. Up until reconnecting via Facebook, I doubt that Tammy knew that I had such fond memories of her as a child or that I thought of her. I did my best to convey in this story my memories of her. More importantly though was the impact that she had on me.
Tammy – I watch your status updates in Facebook and know that you continue to be the same brave little girl that took a big risk in the cloakroom at the tender age of 5. I am glad you picked me as your first kiss – thanks for creating a number of very special childhood memories. Every little memory continues to be with me, always there and ready to be pulled up in a moment’s notice. I have read that victims of Alzheimer’s disease tend to have much better recollection of their childhood memories versus what happened just last week – If this is the case, I’ll be ok.