Since I still live right here in my home town, it was no trouble at all to show up at the Corvallis High Class of '69 Fiftieth class reunion, and the high point for me, hands down, was reconnecting with my fourth grade boyfriend, Bob Corcoran. Like me, he has a solid marriage, kids and grandkids. He's still cute, fit, and the same sweetheart of a guy I remembered. In high school he was all district half-back on the football team and I had leads in the plays. This made for an uncrossable line in the social hierarchy of the times, and we never talked about anything, much less our grade school romance. So, that Saturday night at the Country Club, I was tickled to learn that he remembered meeting to kiss, all those years ago, in the vacant lot on the far side of my block.
I told him I'd written about him in the flashback chapter of my memoir, Wedding in Yangshuo, where I explain what a ridiculously romantic little girl I'd been:
When I fell in love with Bobby Corcoran, the coolest, cutest boy in the fourth grade—ask anyone who went to Garfield Elementary—I clearly remember thinking, "At long last….love!" Because I honestly felt I had been waiting for this my entire life. All ten years.
Ah, the wonderful month of May, 1961. Bobby even gave me a ring—silver and black, with Chinese characters on it. I was pretty sure they must have meant ALL MY LOVE FOREVER, but as far as Bobby was concerned, love ended that year with the start of baseball season.
I nursed my broken heart for two whole years. Yes, the very years when, as the perfect soundtrack for this torch-carrying episode, the song "Bobby's Girl" topped the charts. As in, that's what I wanna be, that's the most important thing to me etc.
I still loved Bobby Corcoran when, in sixth grade, he gave that new girl—Shirley Something—a rhinestone heart necklace. That killed me. I wonder what happened to her. I wonder if she still has that necklace like I still have the ring with the Chinese characters.
Good thing I saved it since now I have a son who translates Chinese for a living and can tell me what the characters mean. They mean GOOD LUCK, Miles tells me. Perfectionist that he is on the smallest of translation jobs, even such personal ones for his mother, he feels compelled to point out that this is good luck using characters as it would be spoken in Cantonese, not Mandarin.
Well, I can go with that.
Thanks, Bobby. As it turns out, I have been lucky.
And now Bobby tells me he remembers the ring, remembers buying it in San Francisco's Chinatown with his family the previous year. When I told him how my heart had been broken over that necklace he gave Shirley, the new girl, he was shocked. "I never gave her any necklace," he insisted, "I gave YOU the ring."
Wow. So much heartbreak for nothing. Since I never lied, I never thought anyone else did either. Maybe she just made that story up because she wished the necklace she was wearing had been a gift from him.
In comparing all the details we remembered, I find I'm struck not by the fact that at ten, we were out in the grass of the vacant lot, experimenting with kissing, but that we had the freedom, in those days, to ride our bikes around the neighborhood at will, as long as we showed up at our suburban tract homes in time for dinner.
Bob remembered the special advanced assignment our 4th grade teacher, Ruth Jones, gave the two of us: to measure every room in our houses and draw floor plans. I so wish I could tell her this, but Ruth died recently. About a year ago a group of us gathered to dedicate a "Buddy Bench" to her on the playground of the last school where she taught--Adams Elementary. If you haven't heard, Buddy Benches are for kids to park themselves if they need a playmate, in hopes of being joined by some other solitary—sort of a pre-internet playdate site. I have no idea if they work. I'll ask my grandson Nolan about it. He just started kindergarten at Adams.
If you stay in your hometown, the connections never end, and you can find yourself driving by the site of every memory on a daily basis. Sometimes when I'd get a pedicure at the salon that occupies the site of what used to be our vacant lot trysting place, I'd think about kissing Bobby Corcoran and the wonderful taste it gave me of all the joy life might hold.