It was September 1962. I was seven years old. The beginning of a new school year in Battle Creek, Lakeview Michigan. As you can imagine, I was not looking forward to returning to school. A new school. Strange faces. No friends. A bit daunting indeed. The name of the school was, and still is, as the school still exists, Coburn Elementary. It was about 1 mile from home. I had no problems at the school. I was welcomed without fanfare. I was and still am shy. It took a few days for me to begin to feel comfortable. The teacher and kids were friendly. Studies included arithmetic, reading, and writing.
One thing stands out in my memory was the maypole. The pole had long strands of different colored paper. Each kid that danced around the maypole would take the end of a paper strand, and when the music started, dance around the pole, weaving in and out of the dancers dancing in the opposite direction around the pole. This would weave the colored paper strands around the pole. It fascinated me.
It was also my first infatuation with a girl. We first met when both of us were selected to take the blackboard erasers outside and pound them together to release the chalk dust. We went outside to do what we were told to do. We talked about the school and where we were from, and how do you like it etc. Penny and I were both a bit shy. However, the words came easy, and talking to her and she to me was delightful. Also she was new to the school too. We played together, went to the cafeteria together, and kept each other company.
One day the class was watching a movie in general assembly in the gymnasium. As usual, Penny and I are together, chatting, and waiting for the movie to begin . 20,000 leagues under the sea, if memory serves me correctly. The lights dimmed and the movie began. We settled back and watched the movie. I was of the age when girls had “cooties”. But Penny was different. She was sweet. I liked her. We could talk to one another. We were like two peas in a pod. Then came the part in the movie when the Nautilus rams the frigate Abraham Lincoln, and throws professor Pierre Aronnax, Ned Land, and Aronnax’s faithful servant Conseil into the sea!
Penny sat up startled, and put her hand in mine and pulled me close. My first reaction was to pull my hand away in revulsion. Ugh! A girl so close! But I did not pull my hand away. I did not! It felt nice. She was warm and right there next to me. She had put her hand in mine! And held me close, as if she came to me for protection. It felt good. Her hand felt good in mine. I could hear her breathing softly there, right next to me. All these feeling were new to me. I had never experienced human touch of a girl. All I know, is that I liked it. It felt good, her there next to me. I did not want it to end. So we sat through the movie hand in hand. I was afraid that if I removed my hand the moment would pass and the feeling would go away. I don’t know for sure how she felt. I do think she liked it too. Our very young hands remained entwined throughout the movie. It was only when the lights came up, did we release one another and went on with the serious business of being a child. I will never forget Penny.