It was springtime in Indiana in that long ago time before television or Sputnik or even McDonald’s. It was 1949 and those of us in Mrs. Remaly’s third grade class did not know we were an endangered species: the world was a safe place to be with the last great war finished forever. As I think of that spring when Freddy wanted me to be his girlfriend, it’s like remembering Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher.
the elm trees are gone
from the old schoolyard . . .
our first kiss
We shared the room with second graders. There were about 30 of us in row after row of wooden desks heavily carved with ancient love stories: “MK x RJ, DW x TH, GM x SC.” And, inevitably, inexplicably, “Kilroy was here.”
It was springtime and all the windows were open, letting in the sounds and sweetness of the season.
trying to study—
from the playground
chain on maypole clangs
teacher at blackboard—
from unseen spring fields
a farmer’s tractor
A serious student, eager for the teacher’s praise, I was penciling cursive letters on blue-lined creamy paper. The boy behind me tapped my shoulder, handing me a folded note. He whispered, “It’s from Freddy.” I glanced at blushing, grinning Freddy, then looked quickly away. In my lap, I opened his note: “Dear Billie. I love you.
Do you love me? Answer back. Love, Freddy.” It was printed. He needed to work on cursive, too.
I wrote back a friendly reply. Every girl likes to get lovenotes. Soon, the boy behind me passed another—identical—note. I was getting nervous. What if Mrs. Remaly saw us? I didn’t want to get in trouble. I wrote back, “Dear Freddy. Please don’t send more notes. Love, Billie.” Within minutes, another note.
This time I wrote, “Dear Freddy. If you send more notes, I’ll tell the teacher.” Minutes later, a tap on my shoulder. “Dear Billie. I love you. Will you kiss me at recess? Answer back. Love, Freddy.” My hand went up and Mrs. Remaly came over. I told her Freddy wouldn’t stop sending me notes. She took him to the cloakroom.
I figured she’d just tell him to stop. Instead, after a long time, we heard Freddy sobbing. She came out, leading him by the hand, and asked me for the notes. Then she took him to the front of the class and made him read each note aloud. He sobbed through every word and then had to stand in the cloakroom until recess. We could hear him crying the whole time. I felt awful. I had never meant for that to happen.
All these years later, I’ve wondered how Freddy came to terms with that event. Was he able to shrug it off or did it somehow injure him at some inner level for the rest of his life? I moved away from Indiana after high school and never saw him again. But I’ve never forgotten the mean-spirited results of my telling on him, just so I wouldn’t get in trouble.
this love note
saying I’m so sorry . . .
decades too late