One Valentine’s Day we grew weary of the same old “Be Mine Forever” cards, the same old chocolate and the same old girls. Our town was fairly small. Me and Ricky, Yogi, Don and Buddy had been swapping cards with Jane, LaRenda, Graylene, Pam and Ruth Ann since the first grade. Miss Carolyn demanded it. Miss Dorothy, the next year, quoted her verbatim. And then Miss Belle and Miss Dinwiddie...well, you can see our problem.
“This is silly,” Buddy said, seemingly angry about the whole thing. “We’re juniors. There has got to be more to life than handing Charlotte Melton a 12-cent card that says ‘My Favorite Valentine’ on it.”
I didn’t say nothing. I kinda liked Charlotte. I thought she was about the best choice we had. She and I would ride horses together. I took her on the church hayride back in the eighth grade. She’d bring me Dr Peppers when I hauled hay for her dad. She’d even call me (which girls were forbidden to do) if she got a juicy tidbit on Joe Sasser or Violet Abernathy.
“We’ve got to distribute ourselves around.” It was hard to understand Yogi at times. We waited while he sorted it out. “You know, we’ve got to find some other girls.”
We pondered that in silence. It sounded good on paper. But we didn’t know any other girls. Nobody moved to our little town. And if someone came to visit they were old as Methuselah. Or looked like death eating a cracker!
“Well,” Ricky said, stating the obvious, “We ain’t going to find them here.”
I don’t remember who suggested Paris. It was a fairly large town about 20 miles right straight down Highway 79 from us. We just never had ventured out that far on our own. We didn’t know one girl over there.
We were discussing that very thing as we cruised toward Paris. “Ricky, what will Arvie do if he finds out we’re not at Billy’s studying for the English test?”
Silence. We all knew what Mr. Hale would do. And then our respective fathers would do the same thing to each of us! It seemed like vigilante justice to us. But there were no appeals, injunctions, last-second reprieves or writs of habeas corpus in 1964. We all understood the risks involved as Ricky eased the Chevrolet into the A & W Root beer drive-in.
“Are we just going to walk up to the first girl we see and hand her a card?”
“Maybe we could get out and stroll up to the window so they could all get a look see at us.”
More silence. We kinda looked around at each other. Getting out might not be all that hot of an idea. The girl who rollerskated up to the car to take our order wasn’t bad looking. None of us could think of anything funny or witty to say so we ordered a round of root beers and waited for her to leave before formulating a plan. “How do we know if they are going steady or
How do we find out how big their boyfriends are?”
We need five girls.” Don said it like maybe one of us couldn’t count.
“Don’t we also need five Valentine cards? Or five boxes of chocolates?”
How could anything be so complicated? And we did have an English exam second period in the morning.
We finished our drinks and put the glasses back on the metal tray placed on the window. “Kes, didn’t you play ball in Paris last summer?”
“Yeah, but I didn’t meet any girls.”
“How could you spend a whole summer over here and not meet one girl?” It was a statement of condemnation.
“I don’t know. I just came to play ball.” The dead silence prolonged my agony and seemed to confirm my guilt. I was fixing to defend myself when Rick decided we weren’t having any luck here. He backed up with the window tray still attached. Five large empty root beer glasses crashed onto the blacktop!
A startled Rick hit the brakes a little too hard as his attention diverted to the flying glass and we slid into the side of a ’61 Thunderbird! It wasn’t much of a lick. I’m thinking maybe just a scratch when Tarzan eased out from behind the wheel of the offended automobile. King Kong was riding shotgun! A crowd gathered in a nanosecond.
“Quick, look around and see if any of these girls are Valentine material.” Buddy was always one to make the best of a bad situation.
“Yeah, maybe a couple of us could get a list of prospects while Tarzan takes out his frustrations on Ricky.” Don was serious.
I was going to get out, maybe help diffuse this thing some way, but I was also trying to scan the crowd. You never know when a Sandra Dee or a Julie Newmar might pop up. I was reaching for the handle when the gorilla guy lifted the tray off the window with one hand and crushed it like it was tin foil.
We didn’t have our usual pause for silence. We didn’t ponder on the matter. We didn’t take stock as to how our parents might feel. We didn’t have a show of hands. And for once Buddy didn’t have nothing to say. Ricky dropped that thing into low and we vacated the premises! We barely missed rolling girl, hopped briefly up on the curve where the sidewalk led to the rest rooms and laid rubber from the A & W parking lot to way past the Texaco Station.
Don was the first to speak. “You know, Jane and Ruth Ann don’t look too bad if the lights are turned down kinda low...”
Listen, right then both of them could have been “My Valentine Forever.” And I learned a never to be forgotten lesson about shopping at home.