My husband and I are both 51. We were kind of shocked when we realized that we have now known each other for 42 years, but that’s what can happen when you meet your future spouse on the playground in 4thgrade.
P. S. A few details of this story are made up. These pictures, however, are completely factual.
If you’ve ever moved to a new town and had a first day at a new school, then you know what a big deal it is to be the “new kid.” It’s an even bigger deal when that new school is in a new town of 1,100 people because, as my mom used to say, “everyone and their brother” knows who you are.
I was that kid on my first day of first grade at Shell Lake Elementary School. But in the summer of 1977, the rumors started to fly in our tiny town about another new kid who would join our 4thgrade class. What we knew was that he was tall for nine-years-old, had a good tan from playing Little League baseball in Yankton, South Dakota all summer, and most amazingly, he had already kissed a girl. We couldn’t believe a new kid could bring that kind of excitement and sophistication to Shell Lake, Wisconsin. The first day of 4thgrade did not disappoint. Pat Quenan was everything he was rumored to be.
The love bug flew just as easily as those summer rumors and it seemed that by lunch time on that first day all twenty-two 4thgrade girls, including me, had a crush on the new kid. I surveyed my chances. Even though I matched his tan skin melanocyte for melanocyte, I was rather round and wore large, plastic framed glasses. I hoped the cute, little gold stick-on butterfly I sometimes wore in the right corner of the right lens might entice him, but I was pretty sure he’d prefer a girl with 20/20 vision.
I worked up my nerve to make a move for the new kid during after-lunch-recess and waited impatiently to be released outside as the lunch ladies inspected my lunch tray for any stray morsels. Out on the playground, I bypassed the boys I usually played with and avoided the girl who occasionally picked up a garter snake and chased me with it. When I spotted the new kid standing alone on the blacktop, I took a few steps toward him. But as soon I saw a sea of swooning nine-year-old girls also herding in his direction, I got that sinking feeling that I should have just stayed inside with the lunch ladies and picked at my tray.
I back-tracked off the blacktop toward a dusty field that was partially-rimmed with a partially-collapsing chain link back-stop fence. The boys I had bypassed were already there and arguing about which game we should play that first recess of 4thgrade. Suddenly, over their shouts and possibly from over near the monkey-bars, the news broke: Jolene Harmon, with her perfect vision, liked the new kid. It was over. There was no way any of us, especially me, could compete with the most popular girl in the class – if not the most popular girl in the whole school.
Since my chance of landing Pat Quenan had reached zero, I picked up a red, rock-hard playground ball that had rolled my direction and headed onto the field to do something I knew I was good at: kick hard and run fast down a base path that was covered in patchy grass. Then, to my surprise, and to the obliviousness of the boys who were now knee-deep in another argument about which team had to take the girl, the new kid came over and asked to play. The arguing stopped and we carefully factored in that because he had baseball experience, he could probably run bases and throw as well as the rest of us, plus we were already short a fielder anyway. We decided the new kid could play.