The Four-Letter Word

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Love.

That’s the four-letter word I’m addressing today. It is Valentine’s Day, after all.

Unwilling to divulge too much (I – who talk about myself here week after week, year after year – dare to say), I intend to write only about the first men I loved.

First, my father. Though I learned, as I got older, to watch out for his unpredictable moods and rapidly changing temperament, when I was very young, I loved my father without reservation. The quality of the air seemed to change when “Daddy” came into a room, suddenly sparked with energy. My mother’s mood brightened; her voice held a hint of laughter.

We small children waited for him to come home from work, and squealed with giddy delight when he walked through the door. We ran to him, grabbed his long legs and held on, never knowing what would happen next.

Sometimes he’d take big, lumbering steps on into the kitchen to give my mother a kiss, pretending he didn’t know that several young ones were clinging to his lower extremities. Sometimes he’d grab us up in one big bundle, and tickle us before he let us get away.

If he asked, “Has your Mama been picking on you?” we giggled knowing what was coming next. “Shall I give her a spanking for you?” was the next question, and we could barely contain our hysteria at the idea. He’d continue this line of conversation, most of us squealing, “No!” to save our mother, maybe one daring child nodding “yes” just to keep the game alive. Finally, my mother would raise an eyebrow, and say, “Bob, don’t you dare!” That ended that.

He might grab one child up onto his shoulders for a romp around the kitchen, or toss one of us over his shoulder to carry us “like a sack of potatoes.” When he finally took to his chair at the head of the table, we’d all been jostled and teased enough to let him have a rest. He usually kept at least one little one on his lap.

My second love was my Grandpa Ted, my mother’s father, who lived next door. I don’t remember ever a cross word from that man. Only love. And I adored him in return. “I’m gonna give you a pop right in the kisser,” he’d grin, before planting a kiss on both cheeks. Though he was in my life for only my first six years, I can still clearly remember the way it felt to hold his hand as he walked with me, and the rough scratch of his whiskers.

In the first and second grade, I had a crush on William Malcolm. He was perfectly groomed, quiet and polite. He liked me too, as evidenced by a Valentine’s Day card he sent to my house. I don’t know how much he cared, because the sentiment was unreadable. In fact, my parents were impressed that the postal service deciphered the writing on the envelope in order to deliver it!

About that time, television and movies started to influence my love life. First Tommy Sands, who starred in Babes in Toyland grabbed my attention. Next, Edd Byrnes, who played Kookie on 77 Sunset Strip. Troy Donahue, Bobby Darin, Frankie Avalon, and several other cute young men piqued my interest.

Then, Bonanza came on the air, with Ben Cartwright and his three grown sons, on the Ponderosa Ranch. I loved every one of those Cartwrights, each so different, each special in their own way. Ben was handsome, with his white hair and dark brows, wise and protective. Adam was the smart one; Hoss was a gentle giant. My favorite, though, was Little Joe.

Played by Michael Landon, Little Joe Cartwright was often funny, mischievous, sometimes naive…and so, so cute! I couldn’t get enough of him! I never missed an episode of Bananza. I eventually regretted my love for Joe Cartwright, though.

When the Beatles made their first stage appearance in the United States, it was on the Ed Sullivan Show…which just happened to run at the same time as Bonanza, on a different station. My sister Brenda, being one year older and a mile more intelligent in the ways of the world, knew it was something we didn’t want to miss. I begged to differ.

In fact, I remember throwing a major screaming fit, insisting on my right to choose the programming that night. My mother relented; I won the argument. That night, we watched the drama unfold on the Ponderosa Ranch. By the time I made it to school on the bus the following Monday, listening all the way to every other child raving about the Beatles, I knew I’d made a mistake. Adding to my regret, by the end of the week, I realized the really true love of my young life was Beatle, Paul McCartney!

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