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"Back in the days, when I was young....I'm not a kid anymore, but some days I sit and wish I was a kid again...." -Pharchyde

"Looking back on when I was a little nappy-headed boy...when my only worry was for Christmas what would be my toy..." - Stevie Wonder

COWBOYS TO GIRLS

There is a song from the 60s by a Philly group called the Intruders called "Cowboys to Girls". It was about a boy coming to realize that girls were, well, GIRLS! It's one of my all time favorite songs, because back in the day, it was out at about that time in my life. I had the ordinary childhood of any kid. I ran with my buddies like there was no tomorrow. Like that was all there was to live for. Going out to play. Mom could hold this privilege as bait, to make sure we ate our vegetables, made our beds, did our homework...there was no end to what we would do to ensure that we can be out there playing our brains out. Go to school, eat, do homework, play, and sleep. Then the hormones slowly start to seep in. There is no switch that gets cut on. It's a slow process. That stick figure that squeeked like a mouse and couldn't throw a ball straight became a vision of loveliness. How can I describe it? You just know when your biology has shifted gears and says, "HEY YO!!...Over Here!! This is what's REALLY important!!" My first crush, that is, earliest one that I can remember was on my fourth grade teacher. She was a fair-skinned black woman, but not being race sensitive yet, all that mattered to me was that she looked like Jackie Kennedy, or like Laura Petrie. She wrote on my report card that I was a good student, but I needed to smile more. Smile? Two things: First, I was scared to death that I would wet myself if she touched me, and second, to go around smiling too much for a boy in the innercity is like wearing a "Kick Me" sign on your back…you are just asking for a "whuppin"!! At that time, the only man I'd seen that smiled all the time was Liberace, and to me he was happy for all the wrong reasons. Secondly, you also wanted to appear to be a strong man to the ladies. (I know it's only elementary school) We thought of ourselves as men…we already had elaborate lies made up about ourselves. You didn't challenge the validity of your buddy's lie, because you don't want them to pick apart yours. Yeah, right. Like someone would believe we had seen the promised land at that age. It's funny what you remember from those times...it seemed so important then.

The prettiest girl in Oliver Wendell Holmes Elementary was in that class, an angel named Wanda. She was in the popular set of kids at school, but did not seem stuck up about it. She lived halfway between my house and school. If I was lucky, some days I would be passing her house on the way to school at the time she's coming out. One day, after I stayed behind to wash the blackboard after school, not for punishment, I really thought it was kind of cool. I saw Wanda leaving at the same time, and she was struggling with a load of books. There she was the classic damsel in distress. All the kids had left, leaving a trail of fire like the roadrunner when the bell rings every day. It was just me and the girl I thought walked on water. I was a quiet type, but I fought off the tag of "shy", because "shy" was the kid with the taped up bifocals that had no idea that a Snoopy lunch box at this grade level was not the move. Anyway, impulsively, I offered to carry her books. I saw it on TV...it's what a gentleman did. She gave me half of them and said thanks and we walked the rest of the way in almost dead silence. Actually, i think she was saying a few words. Like what she was doing a report on....it didnt matter. I was just listening. I thought of a hundred things to say, but my mouth said "see ya!!" I was too busy to talk anyway...I had to make a conscious effort to remember to breathe in, breathe out...to put one foot in front of the other. A goofy stumble over a pavement crack at this point could be deadly embarrassing. I would look over at her, and I couldn't believe it was just me and her alone. I could hear my heartbeat pumping in my ears. I wanted to tell her so much, and yet anything that would crack this silence seemed like it was going to spoil everything. That walk, even with it's silent awkwardness, was over way too soon. We reached her house on Market Street, a mostly commercial strip that has the El train rolling out of the 56th Street station every few minutes. I put the books down for her at her door, and she said how sweet it was that I helped her. Then she said "see you in class, Andre", and she held out her hand, and shook mine. Strange...it was like we were closing a business deal. Then again a kiss, at our age, I would of thought a kiss meant we were going to get married. A handshake was friendship. Her hand was soft and delicate like a baby's...she was a tender creature that smiled at me like I was Prince Charming. I was surprised to know that she knew my name. After all, the teacher only called it out every morning to take attendance. Our "moment" was not witnessed by a single soul. I even thought that was best, because it felt like something sacred, and I never felt compelled to brag or embellish on it to my buddies. Last thing I needed was the singing of "Andre and Wanda, sittin' in a tree..." From then on, she stayed with the little group she usually traveled in, and I hung as always with my buddies. But she would smile at me in passing, and each time she did, I felt like a man. How can I remember that much? You are little, and impressionable. We can all think of details that we find significant in our childhood. It was the last time that we are pure, just before we are forced to join the rat race of adulthood. It was June 1969. Nearly 30 years ago. Damn! I feel like Father Time! But its there in vivid detail. I can remember it all. She wore a green plaid dress, the kind the catholic school girls wear. She wore that a lot. We all were on about a ten day rotation of clothes. Wanda matched it with a light yellow blouse and even yellow berets in her hair. Want more detail? Black patent leather shoes and white knee highs. Some memories never leave you.

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