They always say you never forget your first love.
That’s probably because you’re so young your brain still has a full roster of fresh memory cells.
Or maybe it’s more like imprinting. Birds will bond and follow the first moving object they see after they’re born. Perhaps something similar happens with people. They imprint on the first person they fall in love with so the memory stays with them the rest of their lives.
Hm-m-m. The fresh cell theory makes more sense.
A few years ago I set out to find out what happened to my first love.
Last week I finally found out.
First loves usually happen when we’re young. Unfortunately, when you’re under 18 they call it puppy love and expect you to grow out of it. I remember thinking at the time that my feelings were the real thing, no matter what anybody said. In hindsight I was right.
I was a tall skinny girl of fourteen -- about to be a sophomore in high school. The summer had just kicked in. I put on my new bathing suit and walked from my house about a mile to Tower Road Beach, named for the tower at the end of the road. There, for the first time in my life, I noticed the lifeguards. What opened my eyes? My age? Teenage hormones? The fact that these guys were really cute for once? Who knows.
That summer was also the first time I stuffed a pair of Hanes sheer nylons into the top of my bathing suit. After much trial and error I determined that stockings create a more natural look than washcloths. Thankfully, Victoria’s Secret has come up with more sophisticated solutions since.
Since we're on a trip down memory lane, if that summer was the very first time I stuffed the top of my bathing suit, the very last time was at a pool party in college.
I was wearing a red two-piece. The snap was broken so I had to hold the top of the suit together with a pin. When I dived into the pool the pin broke, leaving me standing in water up to my neck, holding my suit together. A moment later somebody pointed out that there was a pair of stockings floating under my chin. Apparently those bitchy nylons had decided to betray me when the top came loose. I got out of the pool so fast there were tread marks left on the deck. My boyfriend, who had been inside changing, kept asking why I didn’t want to go swimming anymore.
But, as usual, I digress.
After all these years, Tower Road Beach looks pretty much the same. Except for a new guardhouse, new swings, and a deck the park district built for barbecues. And now there are female lifeguards.
It’s a boutique beach – small, intimate, and like so many sandy spots along Lake Michigan, located at the bottom of a bluff, accessible only by navigating a winding path on foot or driving down a narrow steep road.
Because it has never been very large as beaches go, there are only four or five lifeguards that rotate on and off in shifts of three.
By the end of the first few days of that defining summer, my fourteen-year-old self had crushes on two of the college boys sitting high in the chairs.
Don had just graduated from the same high school I went to. He had lettered in swimming and was about to enter Duke as a freshman. Boy was he cute.
Kurn had just moved with his family from Little Rock, Arkansas. He was a sophomore at Dartmouth. Boy was he cute.
I was a coltish high school kid who hadn't taken geometry or kissed anyone except my parents. Oh, boy, was I in over my head.
When summer started, Don and Kurn came over to check me out, spinning their whistles around their forefingers while casually inquiring whether I was a summer girl or lived there.
Summer girls were nannies from farm country Wisconsin who came down to live-in and help out with the kids of the families in our fairly affluent community. I, however, lived there, which meant I had parents around to supervise my behavior.
I realized later they thought I was older at first because I was so tall -- almost 5'10" at the time. [I would hit six feet my senior year.] However, as soon as I told them I was fourteen -- and a half -- hey, I’m almost fifteen, their eyes glazed over and they had to go fix something in the guard house.
Strike two. And while we’re at it, strike three.
I was considered jail bait -- eliminated before the competition began as a contender for their charms. This was before Joey Buttafuocco.
Over the summer I still managed to get to know Don and Kurn pretty well. When the summer girls and college co-eds were busy working on their tans or supervising their charges, I was hanging around the guard chair like a Saint Bernard puppy, ignoring a flock of boys my age who were doing cartwheels to get my attention.
Luckily, instead of ignoring me, Don and Kurn decided to give me the little sister treatment. They would send me on missions to find out the names of any new, datable girls on the beach. When I completed my appointed tasks they would have me run up to the guardhouse for something they forgot. Then they began making pointed hints about bringing them homemade cookies. So that summer, along with the Hanes hose experiment, I learned how to bake chocolate chips.
I spent every day at the beach from dawn to dusk, much of it slathering on baby oil and baking at 350. [Have I mentioned my dermatologist’s new home in Aspen?]
In those days, we could stay on the beach all night if we wanted. Ah, such innocent times. No get off the beach or get arrested rules. No village curfew either, although I would be grounded if I wasn’t home by a certain time.
The guards were off duty at 9:00 PM. Everybody who was left on the beach – usually girls -- would help them build huge bonfires as soon as the sun went down. A couple of the guys would bring out their guitars and banjos and yes, we would gather around and sing folk songs.
That’s right -- Kum-Ba-Yah.
Kurn was an extraordinary five-string banjo player. His fingers were lightning fast. Think Steve Martin [yes, THAT Steve Martin] on the soundtrack for Deliverance. [Go rent it.] He was also fluent in Spanish because his family had lived in Peru for years. As if to punctuate that experience, the tops of two of his fingers had been blown off in a mining accident, working for his father’s company. [To this day, I am fascinated by men with scars. Women, not so much.] He had canoed all over Canada. He was on the ski patrol in college. He could swim, obviously. He could sail. I was awestruck. None of his many accomplishments was lost on me. Nor was his constant reminder that I was too young.
I don't know exactly when the transition occurred, but after not too long, I was hanging around Kurn more than Don. Despite keeping me at arm’s length, Kurn teased me constantly and paid me a lot of attention. Don really became more of a big brother, giving me advice about dating – don’t be one of those silly girls -- and offering suggestions for where to go to college. [I went to Duke because of him].
NEXT INSTALLMENT – What Kurn told one of the boys my age at the end of the summer: http://mrslinklatersguidetotheuniverse.blogspot.com/2004/09/first-love-part-deux.html