His name is Lance but everyone calls him Lanny. In my mind he is Lancelot the shining knight because when I am nine years old he climbs the old cherry tree in the back yard of my house and delivers into my arms my cat Winky who had been crying for an hour on one of the top most branches.
“Leave that cat alone. He’ll come down when he’s ready,” my mother had answered when I asked her to call the fire department. She is working behind the counter of our family store – a corner luncheonette/dairy – and I am weeping in concert with the cat in the tree just outside the back door.
Lanny, who lives in the next street over, comes in the store and after learning of my dilemma offers to rescue Winky which he does with an alacrity I admire. He delivers the squirming cat, buys a cherry Popsicle and saunters back home. In that moment I am smitten and remain so for several years for Lanny is my first crush.
Lanny was a well-like boy but not a notable student or even exceptional athlete. One year older than me, he was everything that I admired – extroverted, cheerful, confident and so much a rascal he should have been Irish. I remember seeing him one late summer afternoon wearing his white Little League uniform talking with his friend Tom. My heart began to race, my cheeks burned bright red and I felt dizzy. How I yearned for him.
His fatal charm for me was his flirtatious manner which he got from his father who always wore a twinkle in his eye and was a favorite with the neighborhood ladies to the consternation of his dour and unsmiling wife. Lanny would flirt with me as he did all the girls and I would try to keep up a casual repartee but his sophistication was far beyond my own. He was my Tom Sawyer but I was not his Becky.
When I was in the 9th grade my ardor could no longer be restrained and when the Sadie Hawkins Dance came around, which is a girl-asks-boy affair, I was determined to invite humiliation and ask him. I did not really believe that he would accept; after all, I was an introverted intellectual who wore blue winged glasses and plaid pleated skirts and he was perfect.
Nevertheless, one night about a week before the dance, I screwed up my courage and dialed his phone number. As luck would have it, his mother answered and when I asked for him, she wanted to know who was calling. I stammered my reply and then heard my name shouted down the hallway of his house.
A moment later when he said hello, I mumbled out my invitation. He was kind and I could hear a smile in his voice as he told me he had already said yes to another girl. A combination of disappointment and relief spread through me as I hung up.
I was proud of myself for overcoming the fear of rejection long enough to be rejected. I had thrown my hat into the dating ring and even though it had sunk and it would be another two years before my first real date, and that with another neighborhood boy, I had openly declared my eligibility to court.
From that day forward things were never the same. I knew that Lanny knew that I had a crush on him and so did his friends. When he came in the store and played “Sea of Love” on the juke box his brown eyes had the extra twinkle of conquest but he was never unkind in his teasing of me and over time helped me to learn how to talk and flirt with boys.
He graduated a year before me and got a job at one of the local factories. After high school I started college immediately and rarely saw him. He married young to a dark haired beauty from a neighboring town and it was only several years later when we were both in our mid-twenties that I ran into him again at a local store.
“Do you still have a crush on me,” he asked, his flirtatious manner still provocative and disarming. “I’ve grown out of that,” I replied with my college-educated sophistication – but I really had not. He would always be the hero who rescued my cat and whose presence first awoke my princess heart.
It was many years later in a long-distance weekend conversation with my family back home that I was dismayed to learn that Lanny had died of a heart attack at age 49 – too young.
These first loves we have are never forgotten. They become the blueprint, for better or worse, of the lovers who succeed them. As we marry and raise our families they quietly rest at the bottom of our memories; they later visit our middle-aged dreams. Finally, these first loves come to life again in our old age when we remember the days of our youth, when life was still an adventure pregnant with possibilities.