In the summer of 1971, before I went corn detasseling and before I had a run in with the law, two single women moved in next door.
Alice was from Georgia, a real Georgia peach with fiery red hair and freckles; her roommate Betty was a platinum blonde and had kept the spirit of ’67 that summer of love alive with her bellowing bell-bottomed jeans, loose fitting floral print blouses (sans bra) and pink-tinted glasses.
How they ended up in Oglesby, Illinois a town of 4,200 approximately 90 miles southwest of Chicago would remain a mystery. They might have been taking classes at Illinois Valley Community College just outside of Oglesby or they might have been on their way to somewhere else in Betty’s Volkswagen Beetle when they got as far as Oglesby and decided to stop. Nonetheless, they were living next door to me and I had a crush on them both.
Now I had never been much of a ladies man (then and now) nor was I what you would say popular with the rest of the kids at school. Skinny with reddish-orange hair-and being called carrot-top more than I would have liked to be called-I was more of a borderline nerd than being cool, but that was about to change. For a few weeks in the summer of 1971, after I got to know Alice and Betty, I would become the envy of every hormonally awakened, soon-to-be-big-men-on-campus Eighth Grade classmates.
I met them the day they moved in and when I heard Alice’s sweet Georgian accent I went simply gaa-gaa. And then there was bra-less Betty who struck me as sweet and innocent-like Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island. Other than Goldie Hawn and Judy Carne on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, or Raquel Welch and Ann Margaret in the movies, I had never been this close to older, beautiful women in real life.
Are you just going to stand there squinting, staring and rubbing your eyes or help them with some of those boxes?
“Can I help you?” I asked sheepishly praying I would not have an uncontrollable urge to blush.
“How sweet, thanks,” said Alice.
Her accent got me right from the start.
They also met my mom the same day and soon after they started coming around to borrow things and on a few occasions, my mom even cooked lunch or dinner for them. Other times they sat on the porch drinking beer. Cool. I would get to see a lot of Alice and Betty.
When they were not studying, shopping, or doing whatever female stuff twenty-something women do, they both loved sunbathing. I loved sunbathing, too. I mean, I loved that they loved sunbathing and loved to watch them sunbathing. So did some of the male neighbors and so did some of my male classmates who lived down the street.
Now the trick was to maximize their sunbathing to my advantage and heighten my status among my classmates. Instead of climbing up the pear tree to perch on a branch for a bird’s eye view of their tanning bodies, I began to coordinate my movements when I espied my classmates or friends coming down or up the street and hoping that either Alice or Betty would need something when I was sitting on the porch or passing by them on my way to the front door.
“Jeffrey honey, would you be a doll and get me some more iced-tea?”
“Jeffrey honey, would you be a real sweetheart and get me my suntan lotion?”
“Jeffrey darling, would you rub some lotion on my back?”
Well, maybe they didn’t ask me for these things exactly the way that I have remembered them; and maybe just maybe the terms of endearment embellishment have been tweaked just a little for a little dramatic flair and poetic license. However, you can’t blame a guy for wanting to remember them this way, especially rubbing suntan lotion on their backs.
As for impressing my friends, I didn’t have to do anything. All I had to do was just sit on the porch with my Archie Comics and wave to them when they passed. They knew that I was lucky hormonally charged teenager.
Sometimes when Alice came over I would impress her with my knowledge of the American Civil War or as Alice called it, The War Between the States. She was the first person I knew intimately from the South and having just seen Gone With the Wind earlier that summer, I figured I could impress her with my knowledge. Whether she was going genuinely going along with me or just humoring this wide-eyed puppy dog of a boy trying to impress her didn’t make any difference to me.
One time though I got to make a real, lasting impression on two of my friends. It was at the end of summer and not long before Alice and Betty moved out. We were walking home from the Ben Franklin when I saw Betty filling up her Beetle at Pope’s Citgo Station.
“Hey Jeffrey,” she said, “How are you today sweetie?”
Sweetie. She called me Sweetie and right in front of my two friends who would most assuredly tell everyone when school started. I hoped they would not forget.
“I’m fine Betty,” I said, relieved that my voice had changed before the start of summer so I didn’t have to worry about sounding like Alfalfa from The Little Rascals/Our Gang comedies trying to hit a high note. “Are you coming over tonight?”
Mom told me to remind Betty or Alice if I saw them that spaghetti dinner was still on for 7:00. I wouldn’t divulge that information to my friends. For all they knew, I was inviting her over.
It was one of her bra-less days and the t-shirt she had on left nothing to be desired or imagined. When she walked up jiggling and bouncing, I thought for sure my friends’ eyes were going to pop out of their skulls.
“Sure thing Jeffrey,” she said smiling. “See you later darling.”
My two friends looked at each other and mouthed the word “darling.”
I was hoping that Alice, Betty and I would have more time together but a week after Washington Grade School started they moved. Their apartment was too small for two people and they said they needed more space. When they left, Betty gave us this cool combination aquarium and lamp she had made out of a glass water jug-the kind you would use for a water cooler.
“Whenever you turn on the light or watch the fish, you will always remember us,” said Betty.
I would never see them again after that summer and the crushes I had on them both would fade when school started and I got to see Janie again as well as my Glenda, the daughter of one of my mom’s friends and I started to work on a real romance and not just puppy love.