In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.
“Mark E, be sure to wash behind your ears,” Pamela says. It is Saturday, late afternoon, in Corydon, Iowa. Normally I bathe before bed, but this is not a normal Saturday. Dad and Mom will soon leave for a two-day Chautauqua retreat in Centerville, Iowa. Mom’s friend Francine is going with them. Her niece Julie, from Ontario, is staying here tonight. I am getting ready for Julie. Ears clean, bath done, I dry off, dress, brush my teeth, and comb my hair. This is so not like me.
In the kitchen, at the table, Dad, between mouthfuls of dinner, admonishes me to “do what Pamela says.” And Mom, being a mom, says, “remember your manners…be a gentleman.” Pamela takes all this in then says, “Is that cologne I smell, Mark E.” Swallowing hard, I search for an answer…
Knock! Knock! They are here, THANK GOD. Mom hurriedly deals with the dishes. Dad and Pamela head to the front door. I hang back.
“Come in, come on in,” Dad says to Francine. “My don’t you and Julie look pretty.” Standing off to the side, is Julie—curls, bauble and bows, pink dress, white blouse, and pink Mary Janes. My jaw drops. The Julie, who pals around with me at the farm and reservoir while wearing jeans and Buster Browns, is a princess.
Dad, Mom, and Francine say everything that must be said and then say it again before they head off to their Chautauqua. From the living room window we watch them leave. The second the car exits the driveway, upstairs I go. There, I grab every spare blanket, comforter, and quilt I can find. I bring them all to the living room, where I stack them neatly.
Watching me scurry about, Pamela says, “What’re you doing?” My “blanket fort” response causes her to smile and Julie to giggle. When I remind them that, “A Boy Scout is always prepared” they start laughing. They now know that tomorrow we build a fort.
“Okay, the fort will have to wait. It’s movie time. Let’s go,” Pamela says. Dutifully fulfilling her responsibilities, she gets Julie and me out the door and shepherds us downtown—Julie on her left side, me on the right.
At the movie theatre, I stand tall before the ticket window, and say, “Three please!” Inside, I squeeze through a row to get us three seats down front. Pamela, and Julie follow. Reaching the seats, we sit—left, center, right—Julie, Pamela, and me.
Lights come down, curtains open, and the show starts. During the cartoon I peer past Pamela at Julie. I see her laugh when Bugs Bunny says, “Eh… What’s up, doc?” However, when Julie looks at me, Pamela leans in, blocking my view. Bested by my big sister, I put a whole box of milk duds in my mouth, and settle in to enjoy the show.
Afterwards, Pamela shepherds us home via West Jackson and West Anthony Streets. Once there, Pamela sends Julie and I to run upstairs to change into our pajamas while she prepares an after-movie treat. When we return, Pamela is scooping cherry cobbler and ice cream into three bowls on a tray. When the bowls are full, Pamela, tray in hands, leads Julie and me to the living room.
Munching on a spoonful of cobbler, I look at Pamela, Julie, and then the stack of blankets, quilts, and comforters. A blanket-fort awaits its builder. I eat faster—gulping one double spoonful, then another, and another. When my bowl is empty, I jump up, grab a blanket, and drape it over a chair. Next I move an end table near to the chair. I hang a comforter, over both. Julie joins in with a quilt. Pamela brings a blanket. Julie gets pillows. On it goes until we construct a fort, correction, a spectacular fort. Resting on a soft comforter, the fort’s floor, it is Pamela in the middle, Julie on the left, and me on the right.
Later, I awaken. Go downstairs and into the fort. Julie is asleep there, a moonbeam shining on her face. Her beauty makes my heart beat fast.
Looking at Julie, in a curl, I worry that she might catch a chill. So I cover her with a blanket. As I do, the scent of lilac, her scent, wafts upward. A strand of hair rests on her face. As I move it aside, my hand shakes. I pause to look closely at Julie’s face, closer than I have ever looked at any girl before. A beauty mark punctuates her left cheek. Three freckles adorn her nose. I wonder…
Pop! Julie’s eyes open—twinkling sapphires. Their greenness is greater than I remember from previous encounters. Seeing me, Julie pulls me toward her. Kisses my lips. “Mark Edward, what will I ever do without you,” she says. Side by side, no one between us. We say no words.
Our moment becomes an hour, then another. Early on Julie falls asleep. I cannot sleep. Looking at her, I think about how I did not want for anything before meeting Julie. Now I cannot imagine life without her. I want to protect her, spend time alone with her, and be close to her. But she is leaving. There will be distance between us.
My silent reverie ends when Julie awakens, sits up, straightens her pajamas, and prepares to leave the fort. Before she goes, Julie whispers, “Mark, it’s late, come to bed.” With that, she takes me by the hand and leads me up the stairs. She releases her grasp on my hand at the spare room, gives me a secret smile and says, “Sweet dreams, Mark Edward.” As she closes the door behind her, my heart skips a beat.
This time, when I return to Heartland a memory waits for me about a girl who makes me feel like no girl ever makes me feel before. Her presence in my life evokes changes in my behavior that make me seem so unlike myself. Her kiss, so sweet and pure melts my heart then (and, upon remembrance, does so now). At the same time, her imminent departure and our impending separation create pain beyond words.
With the benefit of hindsight, I now realize that Julie expands my understanding of myself. How spending time, alone, with Julie, a girl, while strange and new, is a big step toward my personhood. That being close, sharing feelings, exploring barns, building blanket forts, and kisses with Julie are priceless lessons to be cherished. The joy and pain I experience with Julie completes and brings out the best in me. The flame she sparks within me burns bright to this day. Thank you, Julie.
Note: This is the 21st post in the Heartland Series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.