All right... I lied, but I hope you'll forgive me. This moment came to me and I just had to write about it as one last installment of Moving Polaroids. Next blog will get back to our regularly scheduled programs of mayhem and madness.
I had my first girlfriend when I was in kindergarten and her name was Lisa W. She had a cute, pixie face, dirty-blonde hair and dark eyes that always made me laugh.
It was puppy-love, of course, but when Lisa leaned in close to me and whispered in my ear that she loved me, my heart sky-rocketed and I'm sure I turned all sorts of red. When she moved away right before the end of kindergarten, I was heart broken. But then school let out and summer came and I filled my days playing in creeks and building hay forts in the barn and pretending I was Bruce Lee fighting off twenty ninjas at the same time.
In first grade, I met Ruth. And Ruth... well... Ruth eclipsed Lisa by a mile. I was absolutely smitten with her. Her hair was shoulder length and curly in the style of Charlie's Angels and her eyes were blazing chunks of ice that turned me into a stuttering fool whenever she looked at me. I was head over heels.
The fact that she didn't feel this way about me at all didn't deter me at all (yes... even in those days, I was a poetic, yearning fool that pined away for what he could never have). I wrote love note after love note (note: Ruth... if you do happen to come across my blog, and for whatever reason, you still have any of those notes... you might want to save them for Ebay later. They just might fetch a decent price as some of my earliest writing samples) and it didn't matter to her.
This heart-wrenching crush continued on through the sixth grade and that year I did something foolhardy and pound foolish and utterly spur of the moment.
It was the sixth grade talent show try outs and the gymnasium was filled with students watching the auditions. I had no plans - none at all - to try out for this show. I was perfectly happy sitting back and watching my fellow classmates fumble their magic tricks and play their clarinets or trumpets or whatever.
But then... the gym teacher called the next try out and I saw Ruth and four of her friends start walking toward the stage. Things suddenly got extremely interesting for me.
The five of them were on stage and the gym teacher pushed play on a cassette player. Ruth sang The Rose (and yes... I completely laughed my ass off during that scene in Napoleon Dynamite when he does the dance skit to The Rose... hey, it was the seventies, what the hell do you want from me? I was still wearing flair hippie jeans and silk shirts). Maybe it's my almost 40-year old memory, but looking back, her voice was angelic. Mesmerizing. Rose petals fell from the ceiling and I felt hot all over.
Her audition was over and the kids erupted with applause. Their act was definitely in.
The teacher asked if there was anyone else who wanted to try out and hadn't signed up yet. And somehow... my hand raised of its own volition. The gym teacher called me and I rose to my feet in a fog and started floating toward the stage like Bugs Bunny.
I had no magic act. I played no brass trumpet and didn't have a clue how to tap dance. I was just some little kid who grew up on a farm and caught crayfish and spring frogs and helped bale hay and attempted to ride a pig once in a while and I had absolutely no fucking idea what I was going to...
Wait... I could sing.
Hell, I'd been doing it at every family gathering for as long as I could remember. I once sang while sitting on my grandmother's lap when I was so young I could barely pronounce the song lyrics to John Denver's "Grandma's Feather Bed" (yes.. John Denver... piss off, I was little and I'd seen him on The Muppets and thought he was cool).
So I walked onto the stage, grabbed the microphone and explained to everyone that I was going to sing a song I'd learned from my grandmother and it was going to be without music.
The song I sang was "Bringing Mary Home"
No real surprise it's a song dancing around a dark topic, eh? Even then my true colors were starting to show. I sang the shit out of that song and when I was over, there was a beat of silence in the gym and then a huge round of applause. This made me a happy boy, because I looked into the crowd and saw Ruth smiling and clapping.
Oh yes. This was indeed a good day for young Master Ford. After all, I'd pulled this stunt to impress her.
The gym teacher caught me as I stepped off stage and told me right away that I made the cut but asked me if I knew anyone who could play an instrument to accompany me.
As a matter of fact, I did.
When I got home, I told my mother she'd been volunteered to play guitar on stage with me. My mother does not do well in front of large crowds. My mother is full of piss and vinegar. My mother was going to strangle me.
After I told her how many people would be at the show - only the kids themselves and their parents.. a hundred or so... maybe a couple hundred - she turned a pale shade of green and nodded her head and bit her lip and poured herself a fresh cup of coffee and smoked a cigarette.
I think she went upstairs to lie down after that.
But she came through for me in flying colors. The night of the talent show came and we were ready. My mother had her Gibson 12-string acoustic ready and we'd been told the order of acts, so we knew we were coming up next. I know she was nervous and it made me giggle a little inside because I was nothing of the sort. I had the verve of the Incredible Hulk, the courage of Perseus and the heart of Bruce Lee.
Then I stepped up on stage again and damn near wanted to piss myself.
The lights were dim but I could see the dark sea of the crowd. Holy hell. Had I thought there would only be a hundred people? There must have been thousands of faces out there, all expectant, smiling, waiting. And looking at me.
My mother strummed the opening chord to the song and I looked over at her. She smiled a tiny smile at me.
And I promptly forgot every single word of the song I was supposed to sing. This revelation did very little to help my bladder condition. Mom strummed again and I saw her raise an eyebrow slightly, questioning. I turned back to face the crowd and my head snapped back into place. Lyrics slammed home and I began to sing.
My mother and I rocked the freakin' house that night. People clapped their asses off when we were done. More than one person came up afterward and thanked us, shook my mother's hand and gave me a pat on the back.
On the ride back home, we smiled and giggled and talked about my momentary stage fright. My mother teased me and slapped and told me she really would strangle me if i volunteered her for that again. But I know she was happy. I know it's something she would have never attempted by herself. I was proud of her and I know she was proud of me.
After all that, I'd love tell you that Ruth was so impressed that she planted a kiss with her bow-shaped lips and we rode off on a white horse into a fiery sunset.
I'd like to tell you that, but that ain't how it went down. My little attempt didn't make a dent in Ruth's attention. But I'll tell you what did - when I finally stopped giving a damn. The following year, in seventh grade, I threw myself into classes and went to dances and had great times with girls named Sunny and Jennifer and Barbie and Angie (and actually danced with those last two at the same time. Oh yes... I was the envy of many a wall flower. The only thing that could've improved my status was having them get into a cat fight while ABBA's Dancing Queen played as background music).
I didn't so much as forget about Ruth, as I left her go. My parents decided to move at the end of that year and I suppose the news hadn't circled back around to Ruth yet. I'd only had one class with her that year and we hardly ever talked. A week from summer vacation, she stopped me at my locker one afternoon, smiled brightly, and asked me teasingly "How's it going? You don't say hi anymore?"
Well, I'll be damned.
I smiled right back and told her that I was going to move in another month or so. It's been years since that moment and I still can't adequately describe what I saw move across her face that afternoon. I just remember her looking down and pausing for a moment, then locking her sapphire gaze on me again. She leaned over and kissed my cheek and left my life without a word.
But I still hold all those pictures in the scrapbook of my mind.