WOSTER: Falling in love in the '50s and '60s
Today is my wife's birthday, so forgive me if I'm thinking about her a bit.
She wouldn't mind if I said how old she is, but a sense of good manners stops me. I will simply say, come this June we'll have been married for 52 years, and we dated for six years before that, starting in high school back in Chamberlain. We had our first date, in fact, a month before her 16th birthday.
My gosh, could anything be more puppy-love, teen-magazine romantic than that? I could probably name 30 or 40 pop songs from our high school years that dealt with love-struck boys and their sweetheart girls who were "Only Sixteen,'' who were treated to "Sixteen Candles,'' or who were "16, you're beautiful and you're mine." Sometimes it seemed as if every other song on the radio was about young love, and every song Snooky Lanson or Gisele MacKenzie sang on "Your Hit Parade'' on the television involved a girl, a boy and a teen-age crush or a high-school sock hop.
We were hopelessly square back then. Even the hippest of the hip cats in my time were square. Well, but it was a simple time. Things like a first real high-school romance moved much more slowly than they seem to these days. A guy didn't just text and say something like, "How about we get together after class.'' He had to pick up the phone — an instrument that today would be referred to as a landline, something not many people still have — and call the girl's home. In those days the girl would never have initiated such a conversation, not under any circumstances.
I'm not saying that was a good system or a bad system. That's just the way things were. If the female in a potential relationship had been expected to make the first move, Nancy and I probably would have dated sooner that we did. She's always been one to see something that needs doing and immediately do it. I tend to procrastinate. I was painfully slow to make a phone call, knowing that one of her parents, probably her mother, would answer. Parents always answered the phones in those days. That was another of the unwritten rules that governed teen romance.
("Is Nancy there?'' "May I tell her who is calling?'' "Yes, sure.'' Awkward pause. "Who is this, then?'')
Most people who came of age in the 1950s or early 1960s remember those unwritten rules. We didn't need to see them on paper. We understood how things worked. They inched along. It was before Dylan began to sing about the times that were a-changin'. High school was a place where change crawled, if it moved at all.
As an old guy, I look back and think it maybe wasn't a bad thing that we moved at that pace. I doubt anyone could say the 16-year-olds of my generation were more reflective or aware than young people are today. The system, those rules, imposed the time to think, to ponder what we were doing. That doesn't mean I did any deep thinking about where a date with an angel might lead, how we might be together decades later. It simply meant that the time I might have spent reflecting, I instead spent fretting over what I would stammer when her mom answered the phone. Nancy, meanwhile, likely spent that time wondering if I'd ever call.
Consider how long it took to start this relationship: The first spark came in the fall, October, when we were seated together in study hall. She smiled and I was a goner. Even so, February had arrived before I asked her for a dance at a record hop in the city auditorium. By the time I called for an actual pick-you-up date, it was March. We first kissed on her birthday that April.
How does it go from a birthday kiss to three kids, five grandkids and a great-grandkid? One day at a time, I suppose. It begins with a glance, then a dance, then holding hands in the movie show. Suddenly, you're celebrating a birthday in 2019 and wondering how the time passed so quickly.