...courtesy of a first Love's mom?
A lot of what I write is for the benefit of my grandchildren, four being teenagers. Of course, as unbelievable as it may seem, we all were teens at one time, struggling to find identity and a niche in life, living each new experience with unbridled intensity and emotion.
The setting for this story is Cocoa, Florida, where I attended a baseball rookie training camp in the early months of 1956. Talk about "wet behind the ears", I was all of that and more. It was difficult enough trying to make the grade in professional baseball at 18 years of age but I also had to hopelessly fall in love for the first time, just to complicate matters.
"The face of an angel," I gasped as my eyes fell on a breathtaking countenance engulfed by a sea of church choir members. The worship service on that Sunday morning at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Cocoa was a blur. That face in the choir was my sole focus. I was feeling something strange in the pit of my stomach.
As I left the sanctuary following the service I was startled by a tap on the shoulder. My heart jumped into my throat as I turned to see that face on a tall and statuesque body, standing in front of me. "Hi, my name is Sylvia. I saw you in the congregation and I just wanted to welcome you. Are you a ball player?" We chatted at length, exchanging information about ourselves on the church steps that unforgettable Sunday morning in the warm Florida sun. For a kid from small town Dresden, Ontario, this was the stuff of which dreams are made.
I learned that Sylvia was also 18 years of age and soon to graduate from high school. She played clarinet in the school band. Her mother was director of the church choir and her father was Chief of the nearby Cape Canaveral Police Force (later to become Cape Kennedy). I don't remember what I told Sylvia about myself, but I must have divulged the name of the lady who owned the home where I had been billeted. "I'd better get going. My mother has been waiting," exclaimed "that face" as we parted company. The four block walk that followed was as if I was floating on a cloud. My feet must have hit the sidewalk at some point, but it didn't feel like it.
Several hours later I was in the process of composing a letter to my mother when I heard the downstairs telephone ring. "Just one moment. I'll get him for you...Dick, it's a call for you!" came my landlady's voice from the foot of the stairs. "It's a girl," she said with a wide grin and a wink as she passed the receiver over to me.
To my disbelief it was Sylvia on the other end of the line, asking me if I had been to the ocean yet. I hadn't and she invited me to take a trip to the beach after baseball the next day -- "if I liked to". Needless to say, I liked to and we did. She picked me up in her parents' black 1955 Mercury and if this was a dream I didn't want to wake up. We had a glorious few hours ocean side, capped by an invitation to be her escort for the Cocoa District High School's annual Valentine's Ball. Adding to the honor of it all was the fact that Sylvia just happened to be a prime candidate for Queen of the Ball. I was also flabbergasted to learn that her up-to-then boy friend, a school basketball and football star named Bob, was also a shoe in for King of the Ball. Needless to say, news that the potential Queen of the Ball would be escorted by an out of town baseball player and not the King-in-waiting, caused quite a stir in the school community.
Sylvia arranged for us to accompany two other couples, one of which would provide a car. Good thing too because I not only did not have access to a vehicle, I did not yet even have a driver's licence. Sylvia met me at her front door on the evening of the grand occasion and introduced me to her parents as I presented her with a break-the-bank orchid corsage. Another more uncomfortable introduction awaited me an hour later in the school auditorium.
"Bob, I want you to meet Dick Wright," Sylvia enthused to the hulking six foot plus, 200 pound figure looming large in front of me. As we shook hands, I got the distinct impression that Bob was not all that impressed. I was certainly not one of his favorite people at that particular juncture in time and undoubtedly there was potential for someone else to be "crowned" that evening. I would have liked to know Bob better but something seemed to tell me that it would be advisable for me to stay clear of him for the duration of my stay in Cocoa.
The evening was an unqualified success. As expected, Sylvia and Bob were crowned Queen and King and I was overcome with apprehension as the Ball drew to a close. That apprehension was altered somewhat when Sylvia gently rested her head on my shoulder on our way home and softly whispered: "I don't want us to kiss tonight. My mother kept saying over and over today 'easy to kiss, easy to forget' and I don't want you to ever forget me." On one hand I understood but on the other I was let down just a bit. I don't remember anything about the brief balance of the evening. The words "easy to kiss, easy to forget" resonated in my ears -- still do to this day. When I got back to my rooming house that night I noticed a slight smudge of lipstick on the lapel of my suit coat, left there by Sylvia when he snuggled close to utter those six mood altering words. I wore the suit for several years after that but could never quite bring myself to have the coat dry cleaned.
Shortly thereafter I signed a contract and shipped out to join my new team in Georgia. My heart was broken and I cried a lot for a few days. I was happy to have the opportunity to continue playing baseball in the states but I was reluctant to leave Sylvia and all that she had come to mean to me. I never told her, but I was truly in love for the first time. I never knew that love could hurt so much. "I'll come back some day," I tried to assure myself. As it turned out I never again saw Sylvia. We exchanged letters for several months but eventually we stopped corresponding. I don't know why. Long distance relationships are sometimes like that, especially when you are young with so much more to experience.
Sylvia's mother was probably right about that damn "easy to kiss, easy to forget" expression. I'm sure she would be pleased to know that I never did get to kiss her daughter. Likewise, I never forgot the face that so captured my fancy all those years ago. I wonder if her daughter remembers the kid from Canada that she never got to kiss!?