He was my first sweetheart. Grown-ups in our lives might have called it “puppy love.” Actually, it was more like a special friendship than love, and it lasted throughout our years at Major Elementary School.
I liked Billy because he was not “bratty” like the other boys. He did not tease girls and did not take fiendish delight in writing obscene words on the back of the school building. He was a dear, thoughtful boy. His family was well-respected throughout the area. He was the youngest of five children, doted over by his older sisters, maybe even a bit spoiled by them.
I was a shy first grader when I first met him. His sister, Vera Sue, and my sister, Mildred, were friends. Billy had not officially started school. He was a year younger than I. We didn’t have kindergarten, but older sisters often brought younger siblings to school during the latter half of the year before they would enter first grade.
It was cold the first day he came. The younger children were sitting on a bench near the stove. Vera Sue brought Billy in and sat him down beside me. I thought he was beautiful! He had large brown eyes and a winsome smile. He was wearing blue corduroy overalls and matching jacket. To his sister’s delight, he liked me immediately. Although I would never have admitted it, I liked him, too. That was a terrible dilemma for a first grade girl. I was not supposed to like boys! I kept quiet about it, so as not to jeopardize myself by breaking our accepted unwritten rule. To me, the worst possible fate that could befall me would be having my peers tease me about my boyfriend. Being teased at home by my sisters was almost as bad!
As the years progressed, Billy and I enjoyed a growing friendship. I often reread a poem I found in a book from our limited school library. I fancied that the sentiment it expressed was like the relationship Billy and I shared. The poem, by Scottish poet James Hogg, described the friendship of two children who enjoyed each other’s company in the freedom of summer in the country:
Where the blackbird sings the latest,
Where the hawthorn blooms the sweetest,
Where the nestlings chirp and flee,
That’s the way for Billy and me.
Where the mowers mow the cleanest,
Where the hay lies thick and greenest,
There to track the homeward bee,
That’s the way for Billy and me.
But the only time I got to spend with Billy was at school. I lived at least three miles from the school and he lived nearly as far in the other direction.
Our school was small, with only two rooms. Often at recess the boys and girls played organized games together. When we played partner games, I always chose Billy and he always chose me. In such games as “Go in and out the window” the choice was obvious enough to make me feel self-conscious. The children in the circle would sing “Go in and out the window” while the one selected to be “It” would weave in and out among them. Then “It” would follow the directions given in the song, including “Stand forth and face your lover,” and “I’ll kneel because I love you.” I would follow the directions when it was my turn, doing so in as casual and nonchalant manner as I could, but always standing or kneeling in front of Billy.
In the winter when it was too cold to play outside we played indoor games. One we all enjoyed was called “Wink.” Chairs would be placed in a circle, a girl seated in all except one. The boys would stand behind the girls, one boy behind the empty chair. The boy with the empty chair would try to get a partner by winking at her without being seen by the boy behind her chair. Once winked at, the girl had to move to the vacant chair before the boy behind her could stop her by placing a hand on her shoulder. Everyone knew, of course, that Billy would wink at me!
Often in the classroom Billy would walk by my desk on his way to the pencil sharpener, or the water cooler, or wherever else a boy could think of to go to be legitimately out of his seat. As he walked by, he would drop candy or gum into the ink well (no longer used for ink) on my desk. In the fall, he would bring me the largest Virginia Beauty apples from his tree.
One Valentines’ Day, when I was probably in the fifth grade, he put three cards addressed to me in the valentine box. For that, I did get some sibling teasing! Two of the cards were of the store-bought variety. The other was a beautiful handmade one, probably the work of Vera Sue. It was decorated in watercolor with hearts and flowers. Inside was a sweetly sentimental verse which I immediately memorized.
As we grew older I became less concerned about being teased. At the end of my last year at Major School we had a picnic under the large oak trees on the school yard. Billy rode his bike to school that day, and we spent most of the free time riding around the yard together. I sat on the bar in front of him. Later that day he rode his bike behind my sister and me as we walked home. He went so far with us that I began to feel uneasy. How would I explain his coming home with me to my mother? I was relieved but disappointed at the same time when he finally decided to turn back.
I left Major School in the seventh grade to go to Oak Hill Academy. Before leaving I gave Billy my yellow hair bow as a memento. He wore it on his ball cap. As I rode the bus each day I would look for him walking to school so I could wave to him. The last time I saw him, he was still wearing the yellow bow on his cap.
I thought our friendship would resume the next year when he would also ride the bus to Oak Hill, but that was not to be. Abruptly, I stopped seeing him in the mornings, and I learned that his family had moved away. Que, sera, sera!
Update: Several years ago I called Billy’s sister when I was in Virginia and got his telephone number. I called him when I returned home. When I identified myself there was a long pause and I was afraid that I had made a big mistake. Then he said, “It’s who??” and when I repeated what I had said he said, “Oh, my gosh!” just the way he he said it all those years before. We exchanged information about our spouses and our children. He and his wife were running a small store and they have two adopted sons.