Coming up on Labor Day weekend is the annual Masonic Lodge Yard Sale. Bargains, things you need and things you just think you need will be there. The Masons use these funds partly to fund its Bikes for Books program, encouraging young people to spend time reading. They support quite a few charitable programs.
So, with that in mind, I was cleaning out my closets; this is my least favorite chore, since I tend to live in clutter. Movie ticket stubs from the “Ten Commandments” with Yul Brynner and Charlton Heston fell out of my pocketbooks. That takes me back. As I looked in the pockets of sweaters and coats, I found elastic hair ribbons from the 70s and maps from every trip we ever took, along with airline tags from our suitcases. I blame that new thing O.C.D., “obsessive compulsive disorder.” I do not hoard, I collect. I never knew I had it until I read an article saying if you put your M&Ms in a line by color before you eat them, you have it. Bill does it too! (Of course, an article about M&Ms is not a diagnosis. We know.) So, the Labor Day sale gives me a good reason to go through and “Give with warm hands.” My Grandma Irene used to say that. When I went into my dresser drawers to see what could be culled, I found a pink scarf wrapped around the front cardboard label of a pizza box. I shut the drawer and sat down on the bed.
When I was a freshman at St. Edmond’s Catholic School in Fort Dodge, Iowa I wore a typical pink dress that went with the scarf. I was 14 and afraid of high school, as insecure as any kid of that age. One of the reasons I later loved teaching middle school was because it is the worst time of anyone’s life, when you are pushed out of the nest and into the world. I remember how it was and the scarf reminded me of it all.
St. Edmond’s was run by Italian nuns and they worked to make it easier by hosting a dance for only Seniors and Freshmen. I had to go. Instead of our dull grey uniforms, we wore afternoon cotillion dresses with scarves in our hair. My dress was pink with white bobby socks and black shoes. I have never been so uncomfortable. Then all of a sudden, a very tall, very handsome young man (who just happened to be president of his class and captain of the football team) came across and held out his hand for me to dance with him. I could not speak, I nodded, and we did a fast dance, “The Twist” and a slow dance, “Young Love.” He escorted me back to the bleachers and I became a stalker for the rest of the year, learning everything I could about my crush. Tom Fitzgerald graduated that May and joined the U.S. Marines. My family moved to New Mexico, and poof, the magic was gone, but the kind gesture of dancing with the most inept freshman made a big impression on me.
When I came back to Fort Dodge for a visit, I was 21 and in college. I went to pick up a pizza at the only place we had in our little town. Who should be working there with his Marine hitch up? None other than Tom Fitzgerald. I was wearing the jewel of New Mexico, turquoise, and he asked me where I was from. I told him the “Land of Enchantment” but never mentioned the dance of seven years earlier. At my Grandma Irene’s house, we ate the pizza, and I tossed the box with one piece in the trunk. The box rode home with me to Albuquerque. I put it (and the piece of pizza, I know) in the garage.
Eight years later Bill and I moved to Edgewood. I cleaned out the garage and there was the box, but the bugs had eaten the last piece of pizza. I was about to burn it but took scissors and cut just the edge of the box, brought it into the house and wrapped the pink scarf up in it. Maybe I can’t blame OCD on my crazy cluttered closet. Somewhere there is a 78-year-old businessman, a retired Marine who served his country and his community, and and who gave a gawky freshman girl a sense of purpose and confidence. God bless you, Tom. Roaring Mouse, cleaning the closet for more memories. Out.