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Food For Thought

Writing seasonal columns

Coming up with a column for a particular season or a specific holiday seems like a no-brainer to most people. “How simple,” they say, “you don’t have to thrash around looking for a topic to write about.” After close to 30 years of coming up with columns about New Year’s Day, Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, April Fool’s Day, May Day, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, Halloween, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and a few assorted other days, I can’t help repeating myself. In recent years, I’ve tried to limit those day columns to those that are actually published on the official date of the holiday. This strategy doesn’t always work, but it helps.
Take tomorrow, for instance. Saint Valentine’s Day. I’ve approached this day from every possible angle including Lupercalia, penny Valentine cards, my role as Valentine princess, my first kiss, decorating the Valentine mailbox, my first date, and several other topics related to the day. I’m out of ideas, at least for the present. (One never knows when a new idea might pop up, but right now, there’s nothing fresh on the horizon.) Since it was a good many years ago that I wrote my first Valentine’s Day column, and because many of you weren’t old enough to be reading newspapers at the time, I think it might be safe to write about my first kiss– again. This idea was initially part of a challenge I presented to the rest of the people who worked on the newspaper at the time. It brought a few takers, some funny, others nostalgic, several “no way in hell”s, and blank stares.
Here is an abbreviated version: We were soul mates. His name was Charles. He was a sunny little boy with freckles and unruly hair. We met in kindergarten and, as we lived less than a block from each other, we often walked home from school together. These afternoon strolls were dominated by conversations about what good cooks our mothers were. (This might be a clue as to why we have both been on diets for our entire lives.) The walk home extended only four or five blocks, but it often took over an hour, as we tended to linger at the corner where we parted ways, talking until we’d exhausted the topic of mashed potatoes, or chocolate pudding, or whatever we’d been discussing.
In the spring of our third grade year, Charles told me that his family was moving to the other side of town where he would be attending a different school. We were both devastated by the threat of losing this precious friendship. (I don’t remember why neither one of us considered the possibilities of a seven- or eight-block bicycle ride between our two future neighborhoods.) At any rate, we recognized the need for a ceremony of some sort to commemorate our great friendship. We decided that a kiss was the way to go– a real, mouth-to-mouth girl-boy kiss.
We chose the cellar of his house as the venue for this ceremony. We wanted privacy, mostly as a preventive measure against the possibility of our older sisters happening to witness our ritual and teasing us unmercifully about it for the remainder of our lives. The cellar was accessed from the outside by one of those slanting doors featured in the childhood song “Playmates.” You younger readers probably never have heard that little ditty. It goes like this; “Playmate, come out and play with me/ and bring your dollies three/ climb up my apple tree/ look down my rain barrel/ slide down my cellar door/ and we’ll be jolly friends forevermore.”
We hauled open the cellar door and descended the concrete steps to the dimly lit room that smelled of laundry soap, the dirt floor, and old apples. Standing between the laundry tubs and tall wooden shelves filled with jars of canned peaches and tomatoes, we planned our ceremony and decided just what each of us would say. This took some time, as we were, probably subconsciously, patterning it after what we knew of wedding ceremonies. Having not ever attended a wedding at that age, I knew only what I’d seen in the few movies I’d been to. And it’s more likely that I was thinking of the swearing-in ceremony as the sheriff deputized a posse in some Roy Rogers movie.
We then joined our left hands, raised our right hands, promised to be friends forever, no matter what. Then, taking deep breaths, we closed our eyes and pressed our lips together. I dashed up the steps, through Charles’s back yard, up the hill, and cut through the alley, to my house. My heart was racing, I could barely breathe, certain that I had just committed some unspeakable sin. It was seven years before I again kissed a boy, and it wasn’t Charles, and I didn’t run away.