The little boy sitting on my front step was very cute, with curly brown hair, big brown eyes and a sweet smile. His name was Richard and he was 8 years old. I guess you could call him my first “suitor,” but being 8, too, I wasn’t interested. Instead of being pleased to be singled out for Richard’s attention, I was horrified to see him sitting there on my front step every day after school staring at me adoringly. Richard’s last name was Nichol and to add to my discomfort every day my friends would walk by my house and teasingly yell, “Hey, Penny Nickel! Penny Nickel has a boyfriend!” and laugh hysterically.
Looking at photos of my 8-year-old self now, I can see why I was so infuriated. In the photos you see a small girl with a blond ponytail wearing her usual “uniform” of dirt-stained jeans, sweatshirt and sneakers all designed to make her run the fastest, climb the highest and ride her bike the swiftest.
My friend Nancy and I played with all the boys and girls in our neighborhood, building forts, climbing trees, wrestling and racing our bikes down the street. Many times we surpassed the boys at those activities. I thought about this recently as I was gardening and watched our neighbor’s cute 6-year-old daughter run and ride her bike faster than the little boys she was playing with.
Friends of both sexes became important to me, too, when I reached high school. During those years, after attending the basketball games where we all cheered our team to victory, several of our friends’ parents would graciously open up their homes and host an “open house” for the 30 or 40 kids who would show up after each game. I enjoyed getting to know the different groups of kids in our large high school, and many of the boys I met at those parties became my good friends.
I realized much later that during those years I had the unusual opportunity to view boys as more than just potential dates. I began to see that sometimes boys could just be friends who shared similar interests with me and who could offer me a male perspective on various issues that were different than those of my girlfriends.
Mike was a tall, handsome boy I had known since kindergarten. We were always just pals, but when we were juniors in high school he played a key role in one of the oddest but most romantic moments of my life. It happened at my friend Kathy’s sweet 16 party. Kathy’s uncle was the longtime head gardener at the summer estate of one of Rochester’s most prominent executives. He allowed Kathy to host her birthday party at the beach house and adjoining swimming pool on his estate that were located on a bluff overlooking the lake. It was a great party and after dinner I strolled over to the top of the tall, grassy hill that went down to the beach. Suddenly Mike appeared beside me.
He grabbed my hand, said “come on” and unexpectedly began racing me down the hill. When we got to the edge of the water he stopped and, much to my surprise, quickly scooped me up in his arms and carried me out into the lake. And then, as he stood there in the water holding me, we silently watched the sun descend into a glowing ball of fire that lit up the entire sky. It was absolutely breathtaking, like a scene out of a movie.
Years later, when I was walking along that same beach with my husband, I shared my memories with him of that amazing night.