Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Johnny Angel

This is for Kathy Ward Who Asked Me For A  Few Memories Of Her Brother, John

Every girl remembers her first real boyfriend, and mine turned out to be my brother, John.  I know, that just doesn't sound right, but it is true.  Well, it is true now, although it wasn't true then.  Let me explain

In September of 1961, I was thrown into 9th grade in a public junior high school, having spent all of my academic years in Lutheran parochial schools.  The change was scary, overwhelming, frightening, exciting, and somewhat freeing.  Those years somewhere between childhood and adulthood were painful for me, but there were bright spots.

I had been noticing boys for a little while, but at the age of 13, not surprisingly, I had never had a crush on a boy until John and I ended up in speech class together.  He sat at the back of the class and I sat in the middle.  I have vivid memories of the room, which was in a Quonset hut, and can still picture him looking at me whenever I would turn around to see—well, if he was looking at me.  Yup, every day, he still seemed interested. I thought he was soooo cute.

He would go out of his way to talk to me a little, and would pass me in the hall “accidentally” when there was no reason why we should be in the same place at the same time.  When Christmas vacation was looming, I didn’t want to wait two whole weeks before I saw him again so, I sent him a Christmas card (don’t remember how I got his address) and put my return address on it.  

Sure enough, one afternoon there was a knock on our door and there was John, and his friend Pat Nichols.  I had been decorating our Christmas tree and both John and Pat were more than eager to help.  In those days, we had lead tinsel, yes, LEAD!  It was heavy, so it hung nicely, but when three junior high kids start putting the tinsel on, it gets to be a mess.  We threw it on instead of placing it on.  When we stepped back there were some very messy places, so John and Pat just took off the worst of the tinsel, rolled it up into lead balls, and started a playful war.  In my scrapbook, I still have a wad of that tinsel that John rolled up.  

I don’t think they stayed all that long, but after that initial visit, it was clear to me that we were boyfriend and girlfriend. The number one hit song of that time was "Johnny Angel" by Shelley Fabares.  So romantic!  One line in the song says, "How I tingle when he passes by."  That was me.  I tingled.  My steps were lighter; my smile came easier; and, my mind was preoccupied with thoughts of John.

Oh how I loved his name, John.  I loved the sound of it. I loved to write it over and over.  It became my favorite name.  I wondered why all parents didn't name their sons, John.  The letter J came alive and could be found on my notebook, on my school work, and in all of my doodles.  

I was thrilled whenever he called me on the phone.  We went “on dates” to Glacier Falls Ice Skating rink.  I couldn’t ice skate, but he didn't mind, and he held me up as we skated arm in arm.  We even skated and won free tickets once when the spotlight landed on us at the end of a skating session.  

We also got to go to a couple of movies together.  I’ll never forget the time we went to the Grove Theater in Garden Grove and saw Blue Hawaii staring Elvis Presley.  Oh, it was such a romantic movie.  We double dated with my best friend, Connie, and one of John’s friends, Don.  

Our dates really were not that long; maybe an hour and a half to two hours.  They were pretty well supervised, because my mom or his dad would pick us up and drop us off every where we went.  Little did I know that the parents were getting to know each other so very well by coordinating our rides.    

At that time, girls “went steady," which meant that the couple only dated each other.  The boy would give the girl his ring and she would put it on a chain and wear it around her neck.  I wanted that, and even put on Elvis’ song, “Won’t You Wear My Ring Around Your Neck," in the background when John would call.  But alas, all good things must come to an end and John moved on without me.  We lasted a few short months, which is a long time at that age.  

Time moved on and John wasn't constantly on my mind any more, when I got horrible news from my mom telling me that John’s mother had committed suicide by throwing herself out of the moving camper truck that John's father was driving.  The children, were in the camper part of the truck.  Hearing that story chilled me to the bone, and I could not stop dwelling on John’s mom’s pain, the children's pain, the dad's pain.  I couldn't understand why my mom would even give me these details, when there was no way I would have ever found out on my own.  It was one shock after another from that point onward.  I guess my mom took John’s dad, Les, a casserole to console him and the kids, and ended up marrying Les.  That’s how John became my brother.  

John moved out of his dad's house, before my mom and I moved in.  Mary, the oldest daughter was already married.  So Mom and Les housed me, Bruce, Laura and Kathy.  I moved out at 17.  Bruce moved out.  Then Les and the girls moved out and back in again.  Then Laura moved out, and finally, Kathy got married.  It was turbulent times, and even though I was a kid, and there was so much pain to go around, I have regrets that I couldn't help my little step-sisters.  I didn't have anything to give them at that time.  I wish that I had.

Every few months, I would run into John at one function or another. I can’t remember saying more than hi or goodbye.
I thought of him often, because I was living with his family. I always wondered what he was doing.  He never came around.   In 1966 heard that John had enlisted in the Army.  On May 2, 1967, John was killed in the field during his first tour, during his first year of service.  As I remember it, he was on a machine gun, but was issued an M-14 just before he was shot and killed.

So my brother didn't become my boyfriend, my boyfriend became my brother.  Johnny Angel died for his country.  We received his purple heart and some other medals of valor, but all we wanted was John.  He was a child, a mere 19 years old.  As I get older, he seems younger, and his death seems even more tragic. As more and more blessings pour into my life, I mourn that he never even got to marry, much less have children, or grandchildren.

But he is remembered, by his family and friends that he left behind.  I was so touched when recently on Facebook, I saw a Valentine's Day post from some woman that I never knew, mourning the loss of John.  It made me realize that there are many people in the world that carry memories of Johnny Angel.

 Oh, my, John was sooooo handsome.  I just flipped over him!

This is a Quonset hut left over from WWII and sold to schools for classrooms.

This is where John and I skated together, arm in arm.

John in 10th Grade

John on Leave from Fort Riley.  Such a little boy in that big uniform.

I see Les's signature and can't imagine the pain he felt as he signed this.

The Day of John's Funeral

Facebook Post on Valentine's Day