It was a few hours before sundown on a late summer Sunday not long after my 13th birthday. My mother, stepfather, brother and I were going to visit a woman and her two young adult children who still lived at home. This family had lost the man of the house some months before. Making a visit “to check on them” was a customary gesture of country kindness in those days. As we were driving up the dirt road to their house I was wishing our visit would be very short and we’d be headed home very soon.
A line in a Garth Brooks song goes “some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers”. This was certainly true that afternoon with me not getting my wish for a short visit. Upon arrival we saw others had also stopped by to visit. This family of four we met for the first time lived about 50 miles away and included two children. One was a boy around 9 or 10 years old near my younger brother’s age. And the other was a girl, but not just any girl.
Her name was Linda and she looked a little older than her 12 years. Blossoming from a girl to a woman was just beginning to show itself on her. Once I saw her something came over me I had never experienced before. I was drawn to her like a nighttime moth to a light. I had to be near her. What was instinctively happening was beyond my comprehension, but I didn’t care. Whatever it was I liked it… a lot!
Our younger brothers entertained each other while Linda and I walked around the shady yard talking for a while. Then we sat down on a couple of tree stumps at the edge of the yard for about an hour making small talk, laughing and enjoying each other. I can’t remember a single thing we talked about, but my memory of her is still vivid today. She was fair-skinned, tall and skinny with straight brown hair cropped a few inches above her shoulders. She was pretty, intelligent, funny and sweet. Being with her seemed almost dream-like as the minutes quickly evaporated.
After about two hours Linda’s parents yelled for their kids signaling it was time to go home. For families visiting down south saying goodbye is a fairly lengthy process. Nothing happens quickly. Linda and I began to walk slowly toward the house that was about 50 yards away. With my mind wrapped up completely in the moment I did not notice she had begun to veer toward a big tree between us and everyone else.
Linda stopped right behind the big tree and asked me if I would write her. “Of course” I told her and asked if she would write me. She gently grasped the upper part of my left arm with her right hand and said she’d write. As she spoke she leaned in close to me in what seemed like slow motion and gave me a quick little kiss right me on the lips. Later I learned that was her first real kiss just as it was mine. With her face still not far from mine I leaned toward her and we kissed again. For a split second we lingered in that magic moment and pulled away slowly looking right into each other’s eyes.
The moment was broken by Linda’s parents calling for her again. We hustled up to the house feeling a little like we had something to hide, when in fact we didn’t. She ran to their car, got a pencil and wrote her address and phone number on a scrap of paper. As her family’s car drove slowly away down the dirt road she looked out the back window at me as I looked back at her until she was out of sight.
Linda and I exchanged a letter or two a week for several months. Once school started that year I was able to call her from a phone booth nearby a few times. Without physical contact we drifted apart as the months that passed. Our letters would stop for a while and then we’d start up again. Over time she had other boyfriends and I had other girlfriends, but we kept drifting back to writing each other in between. Three years from when we first met I got my driver’s license and began to go see her when I could sneak away to make the trip in my little VW. We got really good at kissing, but never moved past hugging, smooching and holding hands. Our innocence was never spoiled. The final curtain was when I had to move 200 miles away shortly before my 17th birthday. I never saw her again and often have wondered what might have been.
There has been no sweeter moment in my life than that Sunday in August long ago when I met Linda. My chest tightens a little and fills up with feeling even today as I think of the experience.
I do wonder how things turned for her. I hope she is happy, content and living a good life. Somewhere I still have a small school picture when she was 14 or 15. I hope to run across it one day so I can look into those pretty brown eyes again.
My gratitude is clear, deep and strong for the awakening Linda and I shared. It is one of my most cherished growing up memories. The magical innocence of first love comes only once. I will never forget.
You know you’re in love when you don’t want to fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams. Dr. Seuss