Posted in 20th Century, anecdotes, childhood, growing up, memoirs, personal history

Grade School Confidential

When I wasn’t shoving mathematical compass-points under my finger-nails (by mistake, I assure you – I wasn’t some juvenile masochist), or trying not to gag up my peanut-butter and apple-slice sandwich after someone in the class barfed up HIS Beefaroni, I, like many of my female counterparts, was caught up in a crush.

A crush means you’re “sweet on” somebody, or you write their name in a big heart with a big AND, and your own moniker below. In my case, it meant being obsessed to the point of making anonymous phone calls and doing drive-bys on my one-speed bike.

I had many the crush in my early years. I have often wondered what it was that really drew me to the boys at such a young age. What did I truly hope to accomplish if and when I got their attention? Was I expecting to tiptoe through the tulips hand-in-hand and share ice-cream sandwiches at the Becker’s convenience store? Did I really anticipate little kisses and making daisy-chains together? Where did I get this notion?

Why did I have this yearning to get close to the members of the opposite sex in my elementary school? Even in nursery school there are photos of me holding the chubby hand of another boy in my class. Perhaps it all came about from seeing my parents so cozy and cuddly together. As much as I squeezed my Teddy (and rubbed his glass eye) he never squeezed back. Maybe it was at the same nursery school, when I was paired with a “Prince Charming” in a performance for our parents that I began to envision living out my own fairy tale. Perhaps it was the 1965 T.V. film of “Cinderella” with Lesley Anne Warren and Stuart Damon, I don’t know. All I do know is that I was smitten with every tow-headed, freckle-faced, checked-shirted shorty of the Sixties and Seventies that even smiled crookedly at me or loaned me a pencil from his prized plaid case.

The sad part is, they weren’t smitten back.

I was a pretty smart kid in Grade School. I had transferred from Our Lady of Sorrows elementary in Toronto, where I had astonished my teachers at my ability to read and write. In my new school, St. Francis de Sales, I was in Grade One when I was summoned to the Principal’s interior office for a personal assessment by him. His name was Mr. Miller and he was the nicest man. Over a few days, he tested my abilities with the conclusion being that I was rather advanced for my age.

In the 60s we didn’t really have “enriched” programs and I wasn’t accelerated to Grade Two or anything, but I was designated some work that was more appropriate to my strengths. This was great for my education, but not so great for my personal advancement in the eyes of the boys. I became a bit of a threatening figure I guess. I was too much of a smarty pants for those young lads who were still grappling with spelling their own names.

I was a shrimpy little kid. My mother will be pleased to relate the story about how I’m an “eight-month baby” and that apparently accounts for any ailment I’ve ever had from Chicken Pox to Alopecia. To this day, my pre-mature origins are put down as the cause for every sniffle, sore throat and stomach upset To my way of thinking, the only detrimental effect of being premature was that it gave me a handicap in stature and made me as clumsy and uncoordinated as a foal just popped out of its mother’s belly.

When it came to gym class, I was hopeless – a scrawny little, bandy-legged runt with bad eyesight. No baseball, volleyball, basketball, or scoop-ball didn’t get the better of me. I couldn’t catch, throw, run, jump, vault, or whack in any way shape or form. I was always the last one picked for a team, and spent most of my outdoor Phys-ed days as far out in the field as possible, hoping to be forgotten or at least left alone.

My one saving grace was that I could dance. In folk-dancing, I was a pretty little thing in peasant dress and buster browns – all smiles, with coloured ribbons streaming from my golden hair.

Problem is, boys don’t like to dance, do they? A little too close for comfort, right? Too many steps to learn, restrictive clothing and it’s just not manly enough. So, where did that leave me? I was a too-smart, non-athletic, puny girl with no hope of attracting the boys I so longed to be with. So, what did I do?

I did what many girls have always done through the ages, I got my friend to tell the boy that I liked him. Then there was that waiting … and waiting … and waiting to find out what he said. Problem was, nine times out of ten, he liked the girlfriend, didn’t he? Or, he was just a boy’s boy – didn’t like the girls (yet) and just was NOT interested.

So then what did I do? I got out the phonebook, looked up his last name and tracked down his phone number. (I have been known to do some pretty amazing detective work with a phone book in my time. I have infinite patience when it comes to getting a result over a man/boy. I had no problem spending literally hours tracking down someone’s address simply because I had the phone number and it was in my home-city.)

The phone number was excellent for making those after-school calls to the boy’s house. Unfortunately, it was often his older brother who answered and gave your true love a really hard time, thus turning him off the prospect of speaking with you even before he reached the phone. Worse still, was if a parent answered and he was embarrassed even more. Often he would not even come to the phone.

In that case, Plan B had to be put into action; time to get out the blue bicycle, put on the windbreaker, grab your best friend (who wasn’t always as keen as you would hope) and cycle over to his house. This involved skill in anticipating where he might be at the time. He was most likely outside on his or a neighbour’s driveway shooting a ball at a raggy old hockey net (this is Canada, after all), or he’d be playing tag with a bunch of friends (just like I should have been doing, if I’d had any sense).

Often, you would ride by and there’d be no sign of your prey. The adrenaline would be flowing as you cycled past the white-siding bungalow like the alter-ego of the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz”. Quite frankly, I think, to your boy-target you had about as much appeal as Miss Gulch too.

When you didn’t catch sight of him, you’d circle around and have another breeze past the house. As many times as it took, you and your gal-pal would pedal furiously back and forth until the boy emerged, unknowingly, rather like a deer in the forest, held in the sight of a hunter’s rifle.

Bang! There he is! You’d squeal, and suddenly he’d catch sight of you and his face would run scarlet as the behind of a newborn with diaper rash. Swiftly, he would make a mad dash around the corner and out of sight, never to be seen again.

In school, you’d send scrap-paper missives his way asking if he saw you at his house. He would ignore them. Undaunted, you’d send a friend over to ask him point blank. Never a good plan, for these little charmers can turn when cornered. He would go all red again, but this time, not with embarrassment, with anger. “Get lost!” He’d say pointedly to her, all the while glaring at you. Your hopes dashed, you would go home that night and sniff a bit, but in those days you were a resilient little madam and the next day, you’d set your sights on some other Mc or Mac or St. Something-or-other (Catholic school, remember?)There was always somebody else to fill their size 4 sneakers.

I’ll leave you with my most catastrophic fatal attraction:
It was Grade Eight and I still had not learned that I needed to let the boys come to me. I was absolutely smitten with a bleach-blonde boy called DW, who was in Grade Seven. I can still picture him: he wore a brown-plaid mid-length jacket most of the time that offset his beachy hair. He had a gorgeous smile and blue eyes. I had just seen “The Way We Were” and I fancied him as a very (very) young Robert Redford. I was really in love this time.

DW also went to my church, so every Sunday I was keen to get to mass, where I knew I could catch a glimpse of him dressed in his finery for the Lord. At school, he barely gave me the time of day. By junior high, I had attained two broken teeth in a bicycle accident, was sporting gorgeous tortoise-shell framed glasses that could start a fire in an instant and my now mousy-brown hair had a tendency toward the oily side. Hand-me-down polyester top-stitched jeans and skin tight sweaters that revealed either my undershirt or training-bra, did nothing to captivate the boys in school (for all the Yardley pot-o-gloss lipgloss I smeared on my lips).

I truly was a brave young lady though, because I wrote DW a long letter trying to explain my admiration for him, appealing to his sense of Christianity and decency to give me a chance. Not only did he tear it to pieces and flush it down the toilet, when I asked him if he had read it, he took fiendish delight in telling me he had done so.

Such is the course of young love, mostly one-sided and often ending up down the pan.

Kathleen Mortensen©2009

Posted in 20th Century, anecdotes, childhood, growing up, memoirs, personal history, Uncategorized, youth

A Kiss Is Still A Kiss

As a little girl, I used to love my Daddy’s kisses. He would come home from work and I would run towards him, fling myself into his arms and call out, “Take ‘er, Daddy!” He would scoop me up and plant one on me. I would laugh and then he’d put me down and give my mom a kiss. This went on for many years, until I was a teenager, I almost always would race up to my dad when he got home, give him a kiss and then go on my way. Even as a teenager and a young adult, I never failed to give both him and my mom a kiss goodnight. We were a very loving family.

Lots of people remember their first kiss. They treasure it along with the faded rose pressed between the old book on the shelf or tucked away in the corner of a “hope chest” in the attic. I’m not much of a sentimentalist. That’s not to say that I’m not emotional, or don’t carry memories in my mind, I do, it’s just that I don’t hold on to many physical mementoes and I don’t remember my first kiss.

Perhaps it’s because my first kiss wasn’t very memorable to begin with, or maybe because the person who gave it to me didn’t rank very high on my scale of desirability. More than likely, it’s because I soon afterward sent him packing – not for the kiss, but because I just felt hemmed in.

At the age of 15 I had my first date and although it was exciting to experience, I don’t remember being too keen to have a second one, at least not with that particular fellow.

I tended to hanker after the boys I could never have, thus rendering me safe to have my fantasies, but not ever to have to act upon them. It was a good method, especially for a Catholic girl who wasn’t supposed to get physical with boys in the first place. Of course, eventually some boys came along with whom I wanted to spend more time and eventually I quite enjoyed kissing. In fact, I would say that along the way I became quite expert at kissing. I grew to like it – a whole lot!
 
On the other hand, I was kissed by quite a number of boys who I never wanted to kiss again. If the kiss went badly, they were history! They probably never knew what had gone wrong and I sincerely apologize if I hurt their feelings, but let’s just say that if you had a moustache, or you shoved your tongue in my mouth, unbidden, or your lips were too dry, or too gooey, or your 5 o’clock shadow shaved the skin off my cheek, or you didn’t smell right – too flowery, or worse still, I tasted aftershave on your lips, then you’ve only yourself to blame.

I suppose I always gravitated to someone with a semblance of what my father had in terms of appearance and demeanour (although I would never have thought so at the time). My father was clean-shaven (and my mother and I made sure he stayed that way). Any suggestion of facial hair and my mother would harangue him until it came off.
 
If I was interested enough in someone to accept a date and that person did have facial hair, I either was just curious to see what it would be like to kiss them (not so good, as it turned out) or I had intentions of making them change it for me if I liked them enough. This rarely happened. The kiss with the hairy moustache usually resulted in the heave-ho.

Once, when I was quite a bit older, I was working in a school as a personal assistant to a blind student in Grade 9. I took a shine to his Science teacher, a fairly meek, reddish-haired, bespectacled and bearded man who was 11 years my senior. Every time he came around to give personal instruction to my charge, I would fairly gush over him – making huge gaffes in my speech and blushing beetroot red at the same time. I finally decided to take the bull by the horns and approach him. I believe I said something along the lines of “I’m quite nervous around you, you seem to like me, why don’ t we go out and see if we can overcome all this?” He was quite amenable to the idea and we went out for a nice Italian pasta dinner and to see a Japanese film.

I think what I liked about Mr. Science, was his intelligence. He had a not bad sense of humour and he was a perfect gentleman, but the age difference made me feel nervous because I really felt this guy was ready to take the big leap, if you know what I mean and I definitely wasn’t thinking along those lines.

After a couple of dates (on one occasion I happened to mention that I didn’t like beards, by the way), I took him to my favourite dance bar, and he stuck out like a big ol’ sore thumb! My usual crowd were looking at me like I’d brought my dad along and I knew that there was no way this could go on.

When Mr. Science called a few days later, I told my parents to tell him I was sick with the flu and couldn’t even talk on the phone!
 That night, I was in my room when the doorbell rang. I hung inside the doorway, listening while my dad answered (it was after dinner and rarely did someone just show up at our door). I could barely hear the conversation, but there was a definite exchange and then I did hear my dad say, “Oh, she’s sick with the flu – he could lie with the best of them when required – she’s in bed.” “Took one of those Nyquil things and went out like a light.” (My mom added from behind). Then I heard a voice say, “Oh, Well could you give these to her when she wakes up?” There was a rustling of paper and then the door was shut and the person was gone.

I heard my dad say something and then my mom came charging down hall to where I was cringing in my bedroom doorway. She had a huge bouquet of rosesin her arms.
She said, “You’re going to have to tell him you don’t want to see him anymore.” Then she started to laugh. I said, “What’s so funny?” She replied, “Well, I didn’t recognize him at first because he shaved off his beard.” I was stunned. I never thought he’d take it that far. I realized then that I’d made a narrow escape. This guy was SERIOUS!

I spent the better part of the rest of that school year, dodging Mr. Science by taking circuitous routes in and out of my blind-student’s high school. Eventually, he gave up on the experiment. He grew back the beard and everything was forgotten. We never did kiss.

When I was in a high school, a fairly decent looking guy I knew suggested we get together to “do homework”. I was game and invited him over to my house one evening. As I recall, he said he needed my help on an English essay, I didn’t suspect anything and, as I say, he was cute enough, so I went along with it.

Well, P came over and we did do a bit of homework, but he wasn’t really paying attention for some reason. I was right into the essay – would have got a good mark if it had been my own.

When it came time to leave, P was sitting on our landing at the top of the stairs to put on his shoes (my parents were in the family room downstairs watching t.v.). I sat down beside P, in a friendly sort of way – like you do, when suddenly he grabbed me, and pressed his lips against mine. It was only seconds before he was sticking his thick, sea-urchin-like tongue into my mouth. It actually made me gag! I pulled away and stared at him like he’d just walked in off the street. I’m pretty sure I said, “I think you should go home now.” (or something to that effect).
 
I even told my mother what had happened because quite frankly, I was disgusted! Fortunately, P wasn’t in my grade at school, he was a year junior to mine. It was easy to steer clear of him and that I did. He eventually got married to someone I always considered rather snotty and I often thought about how she would most likely spend the rest of her life kissing a mouth with a big, thick, prickly tongue. Better her than me!

Then there were they guys of whom you just could not get enough. Their kisses were the perfect combination of texture, pressure, intensity and taste. When your lips came together it was soft and tender at first and then deeper and fervent and finally, one of you would find a crevice between the top and bottom teeth and you would explore each other’s mouths like you were savouring a bowl of jell-o with Cool Whip on top. It was heavenly!

When you first saw each other, you watched each other’s lips move as you spoke, watched the corners of the mouth rise and fall, the teeth flash when they smiled. You conversed, but all you could think about was when you would come face to face and your two lips would meet. It drove you to distraction!

Sometimes, you would wait for that second meeting, but sometimes that was just impossible! You would be talking about some insignificant thing and one of you would move in a bit closer and then it would happen; your lips would touch and that would be it. The rest of the night you would spend in a back booth of kissing until your lips were chapped.
 
I was pretty forward for a Catholic girl. If I felt the molecular charge (and for me that was quite rare), I would act upon it, either by stating my feelings or by touching the person’s face. I was not afraid.

When I met my husband, back in 1993, it was a “blind” date of sorts because we met through a telephone dating service. It was de rigueur to meet in this way. There was no internet dating, no “e-Harmony” or “Tinder”.

Our first date was spent in an open restaurant in the middle of a mall. To say we got on “like a house on fire” would be an understatement. Every joke he told made me genuinely laugh; every thing I said, held his interest. We had many things in common, our upbringings, though at opposite ends of the city were very much the same and our cultural references, identical. We connected in a big way.
 
I felt an immediate trust in this new man I had only just met. I threw caution to the wind and even accepted an invitation to sit in his car and listen to his new “Waterboys” cd. (How bad could he be, if he liked them?)

True to my instincts, he was the perfect gentleman and we had great fun enjoying the music and getting to know one another. I came away from the date thinking, “I like this man. I’m not going to get carried away, but I DO like him and he’s a really nice guy.”

Strange things happen to you when you really have an attraction to someone. In their absence, they seem to be always at the back of your mind, your curiosity perpetually musing over unanswered questions: What does he eat for breakfast? Where does he go for fun? Does he like “The Cure”? What would he be doing right now?
 
The true test for me as to whether I really was in to someone was if I could see their face when they were gone. If I could envision them, detail by detail and feature by feature, they were in serious jeopardy. If their face became a blur, they were in for the long run. K had turned into The Invisible Man.

When we finally got together for a second date, we went to the movies to see Woody Allen’s latest, Manhattan Murder Mystery. It was a laugh and we both enjoyed it. I don’t remember whether or not we held hands or he put his arm around me.

On the way back to my house, I suggested we stop off at my favourite little Irish pub. When he parked in the parallel spot in front, we sat in the bucket seats of his white Toyota and listened to my current favourite classical piece at that time (I’d heard it on a skating competition), the Meditation from Thaïs by Jules Massenet, performed by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. I was always very moved by this piece and this time was no exception. I felt an exhilaration and my emotion was infectious for he was feeling the same way. Again, I decided to do something risky. Thinking of how date-night typically ends with that awkward moment where you have the first kiss, I said, “Let’s just get this kiss out of the way, so we can enjoy ourselves.” He was game. He moved in and I leaned over. Our lips brushed, lightly at first and then more insistently. It was just right. All the elements came together in perfect harmony. Who could have known that this was to be the first kiss with the only man I would ever kiss again in that same way?
 
Sorry, Mr. Science. It’s all about the right chemistry, don’t you know?

Kathleen Mortensen©2009