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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Silken and Fleeting. By John von Daler

                 The day starts like so many others in Tulsa: not a cloud in the sky, it is already warm at 8 a.m. I walk to school down the gently curving lanes from the top of the hill where we live. The lawns are green and well-kept, but underneath the grass the red earth draws down whatever moisture there is and turns it into clay. The fresh morning air only barely conceals the threat of dust and draught that could follow at midday.



                I am carrying my satchel of books and a lunch pail. I have on the required levis and a short-sleeved shirt from Best and Company in New York, light blue and green. The shirt had been expensive, but I would have traded it any day for a clean white tee-shirt, ironed, the short sleeves rolled up. Alas, the muscles do not ripple on my arms and the choice of my clothes has not been laid in my hands; I have to make do with a kind of quality that only impresses grown-ups.
                At school a buzz permeates the air of the classroom. A new girl is starting today in our fifth grade homeroom. The other girls have surrounded her in the corner. It appears that she immediately has taken the lead among the beauties in our class. All those saddle oxfords, white bobby-socks and wide skirts with petticoats hover and float like lilies in a pond as they try to maneuver closer to Jocelyn. We boys have to make do with glimpses and conjecture.
                As far as I can see from the other side of the room, she is spectacularly beautiful with curly blond hair, blue eyes, clothes so right that our own home-grown beauties already the next day would have to change their style. And then she wears glasses. Light blue, with gem-studded corners that point coquettishly at God, they seem the only right thing to wear. If you are female and see too well for glasses, then that same God would have to take mercy on you and answering your prayers, strike a blow at those all-too perfect organs, so that you too can adorn yourself with spectacles.
                Our teacher, a homely man with no sense of humor, calls us to our seats and the girls leave off their buzzing to learn multiplication and division and why Oklahoma just started out of the blue. Then we unpack our lunches and the cold milk is circulated by the monitor. Jocelyn drinks chocolate milk and eats a lettuce and bologna sandwich on white bread with store-bought mayonaise. All my stuff is homemade and dark and healthy. Quite a few of us eat very, very quickly to get rid of the incriminating evidence as we glance across the classroom, taking notes.
                After lunch we go to gym class. Today is Friday: we are going to dance square dance while our teacher calls out directions and steps in that quasi-French that has been filtered through New Orleans and then transferred to Oklahoma in a new kind of twang, Dosey-Doe, she shouts meaning deux-à-deux, I think, as we pair off and strut around in a circle.
                But to be deux-à-deux you need a partner and today the boys are supposed to bow deeply for their chosen girls. Of course when the teacher, a short-haired, very athletic and gruff woman in her thirties sends us off, Jocelyn suddenly finds herself surrounded by five or six boys, including me. We cannot resist the thought of putting our right arm across her well-formed shoulders and holding both her right and left hands in ours as we dance. The other girls stand still, looking out the windows, as Jocelyn tries to make her choice among all these boys whom she just has met. A kind of frozen moment descends on the little gym as we all stand still in time to wait on her decision.
                Just as she turns her glasses towards each of us and inspects the crew cuts and ducktails and braces, something happens. Without deciding to do it, I take a step into the never, never land between Jocelyn and the half-circle of boys and grab her hand. She half stumbles in my direction as the teacher calls to order and the other boys scramble to get partners. Jocelyn and I take our places in a group of four couples.
                The dance itself has faded from my memory, but the feeling of elation at my victory, together with the feeling that it had been won too easily, too quickly, exist inside me to this day. Would I just be a stepping stone from which Jocelyn could jump into the arms of someone who was more athletic than I, or would she be fascinated by my great capacity to read and to get good grades?

                I have forgotten the answers to those important questions. But I have never forgotten the slightly wet, soft little hand that held mine and the feel of my own hand running up her warm, bare arm with its thin layer of golden fuzz, onto her cotton blouse, across that soft stretch of shoulders, behind her neck and down the other side of her body as we separated from the dosey-doe. Possibly I never spoke to Jocelyn again, nor have I ever again danced with her. We all have our sensual stories of wedding nights or first-time love-making or wild swims in the moonlight. But these explicit and adult memories, complete and detailed, can never match my flimmering, elusive, silken memory of touching Jocelyn's shoulder fleetlingly one hot day in Tulsa in the 1950's.


Let "Pieces"
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