by Terry Hargrove
I’ve been desperately in love 79 times. I know that might seem kind of creepy, that I’ve kept count and an accurate count at that, but I still remember my first true love. Or maybe she was my second or third. Anyway, her name was Elizabeth, and I loved her the way all eight-year-old boys love: like an idiot. But if it weren’t for Uncle Tuesday and my crippling lack of balance, I just might have pulled it off.
Once a month, we would all pile into the family car and go see Uncle Tuesday‘s farm. Uncle Tuesday ran the town’s roller skating rink, but he lived far from Lewisburg, in the unincorporated village of Utopia, Tennessee. I saw Uncle Tuesday thousands of times, but I never saw his farm, because The Dad would always try a shortcut to Utopia, and we’d get lost, ending up in Alabama or Mississippi.
“It’s not my fault,” The Dad would exclaim. “It’s not that far to Utopia, there just ain’t no good road between here and there.”
But we didn’t mind that much. It was 1963, and there weren’t a lot of entertainment options in Middle Tennessee. Besides, there were lots of interesting things to see in Mississippi, and I don’t need to tell you how exciting northern Alabama is, especially from the back seat of a car with no air conditioner. In August.
Eventually, mom gave up on these jaunts, so it was just us kids with The Dad, cutting across the dirt roads that ended in Montgomery or Biloxi, and listening to The Dad sing the same song over and over.
“How I’d love to touch, the green, green grass, of home…“
“Of home…” we tried to harmonize, and we meant it. It is a great song.
Now that I’m older, I’ve come to doubt the existence of Uncle Tuesday‘s farm. Maybe those drives were an exercise in family bonding, since we talked about all kinds of things on the road. And on the particular day I’m thinking of, I had Elizabeth on my mind.
“Dad? How do you get a girl to like you?”
“I never had to do anything special,” he said. “They just did.”
“No, no. What I mean is, how can I get a girl to like me?”
“Hell, boy, what are you, eight? And thinking about girls already? Ask me again in 10 years.”
“Terry’s got a girlfriend, Terry’s got a girlfriend,” my sisters began to sing. Harpies!
“In ten years you’ll tell me how to get a girl to like me?”
“I said ask again in ten years,” he laughed, “and I’ll tell you then what I’ll tell you now. Who the hell knows? Here’s the thing about love, boy. If you like her, she won’t like you, and if she likes you, you won’t like her, and one day you’ll get tired of trying to figure it all out, so you’ll get married and have kids. Love is a word in a book, boy. Everybody’s looking for it, but most folks never find it. Oh, sure, they find something, and that something is better that what they thought they were looking for, but it ain’t what they set out to find. Understand?”
“The green, green grass of home,” I sang.
“Is this about that little poofy girl at the skating rink?” asked my sister Donna.
“You need to give that up. Find a girl who’s just like yourself, that’s what I say.”
What the hell did she just say? The thought of a girl who was just like me was too much to think about. Such a she-creature could be found in a strange work of banned fiction. Or maybe a circus.
“She’s too rich for you,” continued Donna. “And besides, when you try to skate you always fall. You get going too fast, then its ‘Look out! Can’t stop!’ You really need to practice more.”
But I didn’t want to practice. The real obstacle I had to overcome was that I didn’t like skating. It seemed ridiculously dangerous, and not worth the effort or the bruises. I fell down a lot at the skating rink, so when I went there, I stayed seated and ate popcorn.
I was already making a plan. Maybe we weren’t a likely couple, but I could change. I could morph into somebody brand new, and maybe by exchanging prayer for practice, become a graceful skater in six days, and sweep her right off the floor. Elizabeth liked to go to the roller skating rink on Saturday afternoons, so I would lie in wait for here there, and make a move under the spinning center light.
Sadly, all four of my siblings were intent on watching. So the following Saturday, I laced up my rented skates and waited for her to arrive. She did. Oh, she was magnificent, with her sequined poofy dress and, I don’t know what it’s called, but it was a thing in her raven hair, and it was sequined and poofy, too. Elizabeth didn’t rent skates like us. No, she brought her own skates and they matched her sequined perfection.
“You look so purty you hurt my eyes,“ said an old guy who was selling hot dogs. “A few more sparkly things and you’d look like something Porter Wagoner would wear at the Grand Ole Opry.” Elizabeth didn’t know who Porter Wagoner was, but she smiled and slid away, making perfect ovals around the rink. And I went stumbling after her.
Donna was right. I wasn’t a very good skater. I wasn’t even a very good walker, stumbling into things all the time, and on wheels I was worse. But I managed to get close enough to Elizabeth to begin a conversation.
“I come here all the time,” I said. “I love to skate.”
“I love to skate, too,” she said. “Well, I’ll see you…”
“Do you ever skate with a partner?” I asked. “Because we could skate together.”
“No, thank you,” she said. “So long, I have to…who are all those people staring at us?”
“Just my family,” I said. “Ignore them. My uncle Tuesday owns this place.”
“No,” she said. “My uncle owns the building. Your uncle rents it from him.”
“I have to go to church tomorrow. Do you go to church?”
“Every Sunday,” she said wearily. Maybe she didn’t like church. That meant I would have to learn to not like it either. I didn’t know how I would break that news to mom.
“Maybe we could meet here tomorrow afternoon and skate together?” I said. “My uncle will open it just for us.”
“Um, I don’t think that’s such a good idea. Why are you moving your arms around like that?”
“Look out!” I cried. “Can’t stop!”
My skates struck Elizabeth’s skates and she fell hard. I fell on top of her. When we were parted, she had a broken arm. She never came to the skating rink again, and I, in spite of Samantha the circus girl’s constant nagging, never forgave myself for hurting her.
It was a shame that our first and only conversation ended like that. I felt and still feel that we were meant to be together for a long time, until the fifth grade at least. But I guess that Elizabeth and I were like home and Utopia, not that far apart, but there was no good road between us. And like The Dad, I could never travel far from home without becoming hopelessly lost.
Categories: scholars and rogues