One night this week while staying at the family lake house in Minnesota (the one that’s up for sale now), my twin brother and I went through a huge tub of old photos. We found pictures of our cousins when we were all young; family shots taken on our farm near Hastings, ND where we grew up; pictures of Mother’s Ladies Aid group taken in the Spring Creek Lutheran church basement; and pictures of all of us kids from high school. I looked at pictures of me and was hit by how many lifetimes ago that was. A lot of chapters have been added to my Book of Life since then.
One boy from high school really stood out
There wasn’t a picture of him in the photo stash. I could look one up in the yearbook, but I don’t need to. I remember him so vividly: my first crush/boyfriend in high school. We weren’t going together in our junior year, but I particularly remember that first day of school in 1969 when he showed up in a whole new hip, happening wardrobe.
On that hot August day, Doug G. came to West Fargo High School wearing blue and yellow striped hip-hugger bell bottoms, a three-inch-wide black belt, and a white loose fitting cotton poet’s shirt, tucked in. The shirt had full gathers at the shoulder seams and cuffs and buttons in the front (some left open).
On the second day he was in red bell-bottomed pants and a white and cream striped shirt with a Nehru collar. By Friday he’d worn three different pairs of hip huggers with five different shirts. He’d made a statement. I’m not sure if anybody appreciated it more than I did.
Where did style like this come from?
I’d only seen clothes like that in the pages of Life magazine, on rock stars. In West Fargo, ND, boys in my class wore tan thin-wale corduroy straight-legged pants and plaid cotton/poly shirts from Sears. Doug’s clothes had to have come from a high fashion city like Minneapolis or Chicago. His mother would have bought them for him. She could afford high style.
She wasn’t like other mothers in West Fargo. She had dyed red hair but mostly she wore the latest in wig fashions. She was a doctor’s wife, thin and tan. She had alligator handbags, painted her long fingernails red, and wore animal print scarves in her hair. Every spring she headed the fashion show fundraiser for the symphony in Fargo.
At first I thought Mrs. G. made Doug wear those clothes because of her love of style. But looking back, I think he might have picked them out himself. He wasn’t afraid to be an original. He didn’t play sports. He played oboe in the concert band and electric bass guitar in a garage rock band called Truck. He belted out his original songs at low-budget school dances sponsored by the Science Club which he was a member of. He told jokes during class, used his pencils as drumsticks to play Jimi Hendrix tunes on his desk. He never studied but he aced every test.
You never forget that first kiss
We were girlfriend/boyfriend back in ninth grade. His lips were the first ones I ever kissed. They were full and soft. We’d make out on the couch for hours when his mom was out of the house. He’s the kind of boy you don’t stop noticing even when you’re not going out any more. I’d run into his cousin, Susan G., at high school games. She was a cheerleader for Fargo North. We’d talk during halftime. We liked each other. She told me she couldn’t forgive him when he ended up with someone else, someone she didn’t approve of. (She got a new name a few years later when she married the actor Jeff Bridges.)
I left for California right after graduation, but I never forgot about Doug. When the lottery system went into effect during the Viet Nam war, I bought a copy of the Fresno Bee and looked up his birthday; December 14th. It didn’t take long to find it. His draft number was two.
I couldn’t imagine Doug in the service in drab green fatigues and black boots, his straight blond mop top hair shaved off, his big blue eyes standing out more than usual, saluting Army captains, taking orders.
Catching up at our high school reunion
The next time I saw him was about twenty years later at our high school reunion. He was easy to spot. While all the other guys were still in their corduroys and plaid shirts, he was in charcoal matte silk pants and a bright turquoise colored silk shirt. He wore a crimson red baseball cap over what I’m sure was a receding hairline.
We sat across from each other at long folding tables in the ice hockey stadium and ate hot dogs, baked beans and salad. I asked him about Viet Nam. He hadn’t gone. He’d stayed in the states and played standup bass in the Army Band. He graduated from the University of Minnesota with an engineering degree. He introduced me to his wife and I smiled over pictures of their two kids. They were moving to Colorado where he was going to be Mr. Mom while his wife took the position of college bandleader in Boulder.
We talked about who wasn’t at the reunion: Charlotte F., beautiful, long-haired blond Charlotte with the mysterious smile. A cheerleader, flute player and later a full-blown drug addict, she was the girl Doug dumped me for in tenth grade. It was sudden and unexpected.
About two weeks after he dumped me, it looked like he’d come to his senses. In third period Honor’s English we passed notes back and forth. He wrote that he’d changed his mind about Charlotte and was coming back to me. But by the end of the day, they were leaving school hand in hand.
I was crushed. He was my first love and this was my first heartbreak.
That was way back then
We were all grown up now, sharing stories about our lives away from West Fargo. Doug’s wife got up to talk to Patti Munter. That’s when Doug put his plastic fork down and looked straight at me. He said, “Remember tenth grade? Me and you and Charlotte? Me writing you that misleading note? I don’t know why I did that to you. You didn’t deserve it. It’s bothered me for a long time. Would you forgive me?”
“Yes,” I said. I couldn’t have guessed how much that meant to me all those years later.
As memorable as Doug was in high school, that conversation showed me style like nothing else could.