She was a vision of beauty to me. Mary Cottle was as perfect as a girl could be, at least from the perspective of a ten-year-old boy, me. I found it difficult to express my opinion of her, to her. It wasn’t until my creative juices intermingled with my as-yet-to-be-developed hormonal juices that I found the opportunity to tell Mary how I felt about her.
In that same year, there was an I.Q. test given to all of the students at my elementary school. I scored second from the highest, slightly under Bryan Butler, who went on to become a reputable scientist. I cannot remember my test score, but I was told that it was in the genius level (whatever that means). Because my circle of friends were not deemed as in my same caliber by the school offic9ials, I was made into a project for the school guidance counselor, Mr. Covington. Under his tutelage, I was moved to higher-level classes. Also, he made a special period for me and some other boys to play basketball every day.
Of course, the other boys weren’t from my normal circle of friends. They6 were high achievers, both academically and athletically, Bryan Butler being among them. Even though none of us were thrilled about the idea of someone actually trying to force a friendship between us, we all enjoyed the time away from the classroom to play basketball.
I never did acclimatize to their way of thinking and doing things (the axiom “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” comes to mind), but I did acquire a love for the game of basketball. Never actually becoming that great of a player, I always dreamt throughout my life that I would marry a tall black woman with big feet and hands so that my offspring would become great basketball players. Also, I closely followed the happenings of the NBA throughout my youth, being not a fan of one particular team but a fan of the great players, whatever team they were playing for.
One of Mr. Covington’s actions was to encourage me to develop my imagination. He saw potential in me as a writer and arranged time for me to write short stories and skits, something I had done at an earlier age, putting on shows for the neighborhood. I don’t remember much about those shows, as I was quite young, only the fact that I used blankets and a rope for a curtain and involved my neighborhood friends in the skits.
During one writing session that Mr. Covington arranged, I wrote a satire of the cartoon Snow White. My version was called “Snow Black and the Six Dingbats”. The details of the mini-musical escape me, but it must have been funny, because I remember seeing the adult teachers who saw it laughing a great deal. The only thing I can remember about it, other than the main actress being pulled around in a cardboard box made to look like a carriage, ala Cinderella, was part of the song that the six dingbats sang as they marched across the stage area, “Hi ho! Hi ho! We’re off to see a show! The show’s called Jaws and Jaws has claws! Hi ho! Hi ho!” Not really funny, but the choreography and costuming made up for it. As a ten year-old, it was a great achievement to bring all of those classmates together through several rehearsals to finalize the production. I feel that I demonstrated great leadership skills for someone of that age.
After our final dress rehearsal, Mr. Covington had us go from classroom to classroom, throughout the grade school, presenting the show. I remember how well the production was received and how good I felt hearing the applause and laughter during each show. There was a follow-up show, another satire, but it is this first one that I remember most. It was the first time in my life that I felt truly appreciated. I am grateful to Mr. Covington’s efforts. Although his project didn’t turn out the way he had intended it to, he did accomplish many positives.
More memorable than the accolades given to me by the elementary students and faculty was the appreciation I received from the ten year-old girl who played the starring role, Mary. I had spent quite an unorthodox amount of time with her, during the preparation for the big show. I passed it off under the guise of wanting to get the Snow Black character just right. But, what I really wanted was to get my feelings across to Mary just right.
I befriended her, often visiting her house after school. She lived in a trailer home, adjacent to the Hill farm. Her father was employed on the farm as a worker. We played games together on the grounds of the main farmhouse, she, a few of her neighborhood’s children, and me. After all these years, I still remember vividly her shiny brown hair bouncing off of her shoulders as she ran away from me when I was “It”, and her excited smile when she discovered me crouching inside of an empty 50-gallon drum, during a game of Hide and Seek.
I wasn’t the only one vying for Mary’s affection that year. Jason Taylor, a classmate that lived close to her house, visited her as often as I did. He was much better looking than I was, but couldn’t make Mary laugh like I could. And it was my sense of humor that Mary loved. It was my ace in the hole and she paid little attention to Jason and a lot to me.
Mary made me feel special and I tried my hardest to reciprocate. Frequently, I bought her toys and candy. Then, after spending many long afternoons together, with and without the company of Jason and other friends, I gave Mary a Valentine’s Day card and asked her to be my Valentine. To my sheer delight, she accepted and gave me a kiss. It was one of those quick pecks, but it was full on, on the mouth, and it was my first kiss by a girl other than my mother and sisters. I was taken aback, but in a good way. I vowed to love no other from that time forward.
A few months later she told me that her father got a job in Canada and they were moving. Shortly after that, they left. My heart sank. We wrote each other a few times, but Mary didn’t have the zest for writing like I did. Her letters became increasingly farther between, until she quite writing altogether. I mimicked her writing pace and also slowed to a halt. I thought I’d never see her again, until one day there was a knock on the garage door.
It was a weekday and I was, surprisingly, home. I had stayed home sick from a cold. I hadn’t even showered that day, feeling so lethargic from my illness. So, it was with bed-head and PJ’s that I opened the door to greet Mary. There she was, wearing a big purple coat with a faux fur collar and as beautiful as ever. I don’t remember why she was back in town, but I do remember how embarrassed I felt, looking the way I did. She stayed but a brief few minutes, as someone had driven her to my house and was outside waiting in their vehicle. She said she missed me and vowed to write more often. My first love then turned and left through the garage. I never saw nor heard from her again.