All of us have lots and lots of regrets in life, lots. Some are very significant and major life altering events. Others are tiny moments we wished we had acted differently and we still think about many years after the occurrence. All of our actions and inaction, however, serve to help form who we are today.
Seventh grade for me growing up in Hamilton, Ohio in the 70’s was one of those times of life where I could actually sense things were not the same as the year before. Seventh grade began for me in Fall of 1970. Elementary schools went to the 6th grade in Ohio. In sixth, we were all top dogs, kings and queens of the playground and the four square courts. At Wilson Jr. High School in Hamilton, no one even played on the playground at recess. Oh no, we were far too old for that – it was a time for socializing. Only babies played at lunchtime.
My best friend from 7th to 9th grade was Terry Staton. Fate is a strange and funny thing. If you are observant and watch for the signs, you will begin to notice the inner connections of others all around you. For me, Terry was one such connection. He had accidentally caused me to get hit, (and almost killed), by a school bus in 2nd grade. In sixth grade he was boyfriend to the little girl who gave me my first kiss in first grade. In 10th grade he had tried, (unsuccessfully), to get a date with a girl who would later become my own girlfriend and future wife before I knew her. At the age of 19 I would become his best man at his marriage and at 21 he would disappear off the face of the planet, never for me to see him again (he is alive – I just don’t know where).
My parents had moved out of one elementary system after 4th grade and into another that had taken me away from my first childhood friends. As fate would have it, after 6th grade, (1970), Terry and I had been placed together again, in the same “section” at Wilson Jr High. Being in the same academic section meant that you would spend most of the next 3 years with the same 30 kids – it was great. For several of the more ‘non academic’ and larger classes, (like gym, chorus and shops), our section (1C) got to mix it up with 1B and 1A.
Terry and I were I guess what you’d call “cutups”, class clowns. We caused a lot of trouble in class in attempts to entertain ourselves and others and we got into a lot of trouble. I was a little more academic than Terry and he was a lot more brave than I…especially where it came to girls. Terry was never afraid to just walk right up to a girl and start talking with her or to ask her to go steady. Me, I was able to make them laugh. I could also help them in class. I always accepted ‘the instructor’ role quite easily. I had had 6th grade relationships, but this was the big league! What the heck do you do in 7th grade? I sure as Hell didn’t have a clue.
I first saw Kathy Brandenburg in my Chorus class. If I remember correctly, she was in the 1B section. She was a cute blonde, (despite the specs), a little shy and I was smitten. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I felt that she ‘had something’ – she made my little heart go pitter patter. I had a crush on her and I felt I was supposed to ‘do something’ about that, but just wasn’t sure what that something was. So that’s where Terry came in – he would knew what to do (right?).
Meanwhile, there was another ‘Teri’ in this equation. Her name was Teri Wilson. Teri was a close friend of Kathy’s and she had picked up all on her own that I had a crush on Kathy. I knew this because when we were in Chorus class she would do things like look at me, point to Kathy and make little ‘smooching’ gestures to me. You know, general cutesy egging on. I’m not aware of anything Teri might have said to Kathy, but to me she used to tease – Rob and Kathy sitting in a tree…I must have heard that a dozen times from Teri.
I didn’t need any prodding to be attracted to Kathy. What I needed was a mentor. None was around though. I didn’t have an older sibling and talking about girls was just not something we did in our house. So all I had was Terry. Terry told me I should ask her to ‘go steady’. That’s what we called it back then. We went steady and if you were going steady, that meant you both “liked” each other. (Think of it as a non-virtual Facebook Like if that helps you younger readers.) Back in the 50’s the girl would wear the boy’s school jacket when going steady. In 1970 we exchanged bracelets. Later in high school, it would be a class ring.
Terry was the one who told me I needed to get a bracelet, a boy’s ID bracelet, something with my name on it. I guess you could consider it a way of marking our territory – hey, it sure beats scent marking! I didn’t have my paper routes yet, so I had to beg for odd jobs around the house to get the money for the bracelet. The bracelet cost maybe $10, a lot of money for me. In 1970, Hamilton, Ohio the super store that had every department was located downtown – Elder Beerman was its name. I lived within walking distance to Elder Beerman so one of my neighborhood friends, (Rich Mathews), walked with me down to the department store where we went to the jewelry department, picked out a bracelet and waited right there while they engraved my name on it.
I kept the bracelet for several weeks before ever ‘offering it up’. My instructions, (or mission), were that I was to ask Kathy to go steady. We never once talked about what to do after she said yes, (assuming she’d say yes). In hindsight, this was probably a pretty important missing detail. I was pretty scared and nervous about this. It was 7th grade, the big leagues and I was hoping to become one of ‘The Couples’. But the next problem that stood before me was; when and how to ask.
In the winter time in the 70’s in junior high, the school system tried to teach us kids how to interact with the opposite sex. They did this by teaching us how to dance during gym class. Normally, they would have the big giant divider doors out, dividing the gym into two parts – one side for the girls and the other for the boys. But during dance instruction, the sexes were encouraged to mingle and so the 20 foot high chastity wall was opened up…..for square dancing! Now if square dancing doesn’t get the blood pumping, what will?
Honor your partner, honor your corners and do-si-do’s. Today I look back on square dancing with fondness; it really was pretty fun. The male and female gym teachers were responsible for teaching and demonstrating all the calls and then we kids executed them, naturally with exaggerated motions. They placed a record player up on stage and turned up the volume. They must have had the same records for 20 years because all the calls, (dances), were very scratchy. After several classes, we all pretty much had all the calls memorized. The teachers paired us off in many sets of 8 – 4 girls and 4 boys. The record began and we all played out the dances. We touched, we ‘allemanded’….and we laughed…yes, we laughed.
Square dancing was the foreplay for what was to come the last two weeks before the Christmas break. It was an exciting time for hopeful couples and a scary time for all others. Of course I’m talking about the slow dancing. The instruction for slow dancing was simple. For the most part, we were taught the good old box step.
We were not ‘required’ to do the box step; it was merely taught to us as a safety net in case we didn’t really want to get too close to each other. We also had the choice to just hold each other and make slow counter clockwise rotations.
The lights were dimmed, popular current slow songs were played and it was intimate…at least to us 7th graders it was intimate. They let us get a little close to each other as long as we kept our hands in view and off of our partner’s derrière. For some songs we were paired off and others we were given an opportunity to choose our own partners. For the most part we all served our time, hoping and praying we would get paired off with someone pretty. After all, it might be the only opportunity for the nerd to touch the popular hot chick. And of course there was always the one girl or boy that everyone dreaded to dance with, either because the person was considered “gross” or maybe it was a matter of height or some other unusual physical feature.
Most of us were in the Five Foot and Under Club in 7th grade. Every rule though has its exceptions. Our big exception was Big Al! Big Al had a growth disorder and was perhaps 7 feet tall by the end of seventh grade. Every girl dreaded being paired off with Big Al and having to dance cheek to cheek (literally if he were to turn around to the girl).
I had chosen my special moment to ‘pop the question’ to Kathy during a slow dance when we were given an opportunity to choose our partners. Such a time was announced to us. We boys were lined up several yards away from the girls and then we were told to choose a partner. For those who did not choose, a partner would be chosen for us. I needed no further coaching – this was going to be my big moment. As soon as Mr. B said ‘go’, I rushed over to Kathy and asked if she would dance with me. She smiled and said yes (whoa – she actually smiled at me…did she like me too?)
The memory I have in my mind is Kathy wearing a white or vanilla colored top or dress. I’m sure I was dressed in bell bottoms that were a little too short for me. I do know that I was very nervous. The lights were dimmed, the music began and we both pulled each other close and began our slow dance. This part I remember very clearly! We were only 12 years old, on the verge of becoming teenagers and I remember our pulling each other very close to each other as if we had done this before. It was such an odd sensation and made me feel ‘grown up’. (Get your minds out of the gutter readers, I’m being serious here). I remember thinking that I didn’t want the dance to ever end.
The song was a perfect selection – “You and I must make a pact, we must bring salvation back. Where there is love, I’ll be there”. Yes, it was the Jackson 5, Michael Jackson. The song was beautiful, (still is), and so was the moment. All of this I remember still, 43 years later. The wonderful aspect of great memories is that there is no dimension of time associated with them – they seem like they occurred yesterday.
I knew the song very well and knew I had to ask my question soon or the moment would be gone….so I did – “Kathy, would you go steady with me?” She replied a simple “yes”, I removed my bracelet and I placed it on her wrist (that was what Terry had told me the proper procedure was). And so, I had done it, I had popped the question and now I had my very first “steady”.
The problem was, now what? This is where the regret begins because I didn’t have a clue. I can admit today that I froze. The Christmas break was easy I guess. We all went on our way at Christmas time, but two weeks later we were all back at school. I hadn’t tried to get her phone number. I hadn’t written any cute little love letters. I hadn’t done anything. Kathy had been patient and she remained patient….for another two weeks. For two weeks I avoided her in the hallways and avoided eye contact in our chorus class. I was ignorant and I was scared.
I was not ready to go steady. I didn’t have a clue as to what to do next. I had taken a childhood crush on a little girl and I had turned it into a regrettable situation. The next thing to happen was inevitable. I was standing in the lunch line. I had picked up my tray, placed it on the stainless steel tubing that served as our sliding tray rack and was standing at the first food station. I had seen Kathy several people in line behind me and she had chosen that moment to put an end to my charade. She had removed my bracelet, handed it to a girl friend and asked her to take it up to me.
I don’t even remember who the girl was. What I remember all too well was the mixture of feelings I had when the friend said to me “Kathy wanted me to give this to you, she’s breaking up”. I can still recall my feelings to this day. I felt a strong mixture of failure, regret and relief. I remember feeling relieved because I wouldn’t have to feel so stupid any more, stupid about not knowing how to even talk to a girl I liked. The feeling of failure lasted quite long, years in fact. Over time I guess I forgave myself, but the feeling of childhood regret, (believe it or not), lives with me yet today.
I know today, as an adult, that mistakes we all make while we are young is all part of the process of growing up. I have never been one though to discount love, even puppy love. I still have fond feelings for everyone I ever cared for while growing up. Perhaps it’s more accurate to state that I continue to feel melancholy over how I handled this situation and perhaps it’s more accurate to state that I have very fond feelings for my more pleasant memories, (like our dance). After all, I didn’t give us a chance to get to know each other very well, did I?
I regretted how I handled my first attempt to have a steady girlfriend. I realize that Kathy may not have given it much thought over the years like I did…or maybe she did, I don’t know. I also regret that I never apologized. I have mentioned in my Facebook posts before that I believe a lot of us are connected and that there are tiny threads of love which serve to bind some of us together. We have to look for those threads and be open to the notion that perhaps, just perhaps there is more to us than what we all see with our eyes. My first kiss came from a girl named Tammy in the first grade. Kathy was my first steady. Tammy served in Kathy’s bridal party. Feels like a connection to me!
Kathy and I did not hang out in the same social circles in high school and we never really talked to each other, 43 years and ticking. I reached out to Kathy more than a year ago and asked her to be my Facebook friend. I was anxious and hopeful to find she was living a good life today. I am happy to report that she accepted and I can see from her photos that life and family are treating her very well today. Every picture of hers has her surrounded by family, friends, beach and sun…and she’s always smiling. All of these features, (including the shyness I remember), remind me very much of my wife. This warms my heart.
I have tried very hard in this story to share every minute detail I could recall of the brief 4-5 weeks of ‘our affair’. 🙂 Despite my inability to help create a few fond memories, like a first kiss perhaps, I am going public here, sharing with Kathy through my writing what I was feeling at the time. I remember the way she would laugh and smile, sitting up in the front of the right side of the Chorus class, next to Teri. I was 3 rows behind and to the left and I shyly watched her (like a 7th grade stalker). I still love “I’ll be There” and whenever I hear it played on the radio, I am taken back to 1970 in a slow dance with a cute little girl. I remember every little detail and I sincerely believe that the song and the dance serve as a tiny connection for us.
Thanks Kathy – keep smiling!