The Paper Boy

February 5, 2023 | My Jottings

I had my first real crush on a boy when I was in the fifth grade. His name was Duane Edmunson. Since his last name began with the letters Ed, his friends called him Ed instead of Duane. I liked him because I thought he was cute (he looked like Paul McCartney if you squinted your eyes and stood 1/8 of a mile away), he was tall (I was the tallest girl in the class), and he was nice. He didn’t behave like an idiot like some of the other boys did.

Duane liked sports, and spent most of his time at recess playing football or basketball with his friends. He was also a paper boy for the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, our evening newspaper, and I used to see him riding his purple Schwinn Sting Ray bike with his canvas paper carrier on the handlebars.

At Workman Avenue Elementary School in West Covina, California, we often went into the cafeteria and square danced for recess time when it rained outside. I remember The Virginia Reel, and another dance we did in a circle to the words “Oh, Johnny, oh Johnny oh!” I always hoped that Duane would end up being my square dance partner.

Many of my classmates had crushes on boys too. My friend Denel went steady with cute Barry Fourzon in second grade and red-headed Bob McCarter in fourth. I confided in my friends about my crush on Duane, and we giggled together like girls do. It was very innocent, even though looking back now I think we were too young to be focusing on boys when we were only 10 years old. I don’t think a boy ever had a crush on me back then, unless you count Irwin Fast, who asked most of the girls to go steady because he just wanted to say he had a girlfriend.

I don’t know who spread the word, but someone told someone else who told Duane that I liked him. It was probably a passed, crumpled note in class that had written in faint pencil, Julie S. likes you. When I found out about that I was embarrassed, but I had hopes that maybe Duane might like me back. What were we going to do if we “liked” each other? Nothing at all. He didn’t live close to me, he ate lunch with his friends as I did mine, and we were too young to date.

After a couple of months, two of my friends called my name on the playground one sunny afternoon and came running up to me. “Ed wants to go steady with you!” one of them exclaimed. This was the way of things — messengers were used to do the asking and the relaying of messages. She held out a little cardboard jewelry box and nestled inside was a pretty gold heart necklace. On the flat heart were several clear rhinestones shaped in a small cross. I was so shocked, but I was happy, and they helped me put my necklace on. I couldn’t believe that Duane actually liked me and wanted to go steady.

Things continued as before, with Duane playing football at recess with his friends, me playing four-square with mine, and we exchanged occasional shy smiles and quick hip-high waves when we saw each other at lunch. One time I saw him finishing his paper route and went out to the sidewalk to talk to him. He gave me a ride on his bike and I thought the clouds had parted and the angels sang.

I don’t remember how long Duane and I went steady before I got the news. Probably a month or two had passed. Two friends told me that they had felt sorry because no boys were interested in me, so they talked Duane into asking me to go steady. He was a nice guy and thought it seemed like a kind thing to do, to take pity on the tall gangly girl with the freckles and the buck teeth. I know that none of them were trying to hurt me. But I’ll bet you can guess that it did. I gave the necklace back to Duane, and tried not to show how “other” and alone I felt.

Seven years later Duane and I graduated from high school in the same class, and he continued to be a football-loving, relatively shy, uncommonly nice guy. He had a serious girlfriend, and I was dating the guy I would eventually marry.

Why this particular memory wandered back to me I’m not sure. It makes me wish I could go back and tell that ten year-old girl a few important things, put my arms around her and comfort her heart.