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Food for Thought

At 16, Jimmy, the first boy I had an actual date with, was hardly a man of the world. He tried, though. With his mother's concerned coaching and the example of his father's easy charm, he pretended he was an old hand at this dating business. He was a year ahead of me in high school, so I didn't really know him except from afar. He played in the school band, was a member of the Thespian Club that I had just joined, and went to the same church as I did.
Though he never really mentioned it, I didn't think he had had any dating experience prior to our first date. Conscientious as he was – and cautious – I'm sure he would never have talked about any other girl he may have gone out with. At any rate, his deportment was impeccable. Far above what I had expected from watching all those Andy Hardy movies and hearing bits and pieces of gossip from girls I knew about their dating experiences. I'd imagined my first date would be with an easy-going, casually affectionate boy who would tease me, hold my hand, maybe playfully tug the ribbon off my pony-tail. My imagination had created the perfect first boyfriend long before Jimmy phoned for that first date.
For starters, he endeared himself to my father by phoning and asking him for permission to invite me to go bowling. Much to my chagrin, it turned out the bowling alley was in the recreation building at the VA hospital where his father was a doctor. AND WE WENT WITH HIS PARENTS.
As I look back from the vantage point of having raised three sons, I realize that, in 1950, it was not so unusual for a shy teenager to be apprehensive and a bit tongue-tied on the occasion of his first date. His caring parents might well have suggested the \group activity\ as a way of easing into the new world of couples. Even for that first date, though, Jimmy picked me up in the family car – a large, sleek Oldsmobile – without his parents, and delivered me home by himself. No matter whether the activities included any other family members or not. We went to choir practice on Thursday evenings, to church on Sunday (and often back to his house for Sunday dinner) with his parents and sometimes his younger brother. Alone we attended school activities and movies, played tennis a few times until he concluded I was hopeless as an athlete. We went on a few picnics combined with a swim at a nearby lake one summer. I even tried to teach him to dance – when I knew very little about it myself – after he asked me to his senior prom.
What I remember most vividly about him, though, was his nearly desperate attempts at making conversation. Small talk, really. We never, ever, talked about serious matters like the Korean War, apprehensions about the future or conflicts with our parents. Never a trace of the usual things that teenagers discuss today when they spend all those long hours on their cell phones: gossip about celebrities and classmates, siblings and other relatives, family vacations and family projects. I don't know why, maybe we just assumed that the other didn't care or already knew.
Seemingly having been advised to avoid talking about himself and to encourage me to talk about myself and, at the same time, admonished to never ask personal or prying questions, Jimmy was left with little to talk about. He actually, on several occasions, asked the ubiquitous “read any good books lately?” Comments on things that were happening around us, if not traumatic or controversial, seemed to be on his list of acceptable topics. One summer evening when a large, juicy bug splattered itself suddenly against the car windshield, he remarked seriously, “I bet he doesn't have the guts to do that again!” It took me a while to examine that statement and recognize it as an example of his father's sense of humor.
Jimmy spent the summer after he graduated from high school working on a farm, then went off to college for a couple years. When his father died of cancer, Jimmy enlisted in the army and was sent to Korea where he served as a medic. In the meantime, his mother moved to Washington state and I exchanged letters with them both for several years after that. I still keep in touch with Jim and his wife Myra. I write letters, they tend to instigate lengthy phone calls rather than write. I'll tell you one thing, he no longer has any trouble thinking of interesting things to talk about!