Earlier today I sat down at my HP computer and scrolled through my Facebook timeline. Up pops a post from a sixth-grade boy who lives in Grantsville, West Virginia. I have family who live there – my dad’s wife, my stepbrother and his four kids. This sixth-grader had just posted he was in a relationship with my eleven-year-old niece.
I’m not so old that I don’t recall life in the sixth grade. In my case, the year was 1964 when I attended two elementary schools in Southern California. Kids went steady back then. They held hands, he carried her books and they might share a kiss as he walked her to her house. We didn’t call it dating… we were too young to drive. But you could go steady. We sure didn’t call our hand-holding and fumbling kisses “being in a relationship.”
To be honest, I wasn’t one of the kids who ventured into the going-steady world; when I was 11, I had a best friend, Laura Wagner. I never thought about going steady with her. I wanted to play catch with her, maybe ride our bikes together after school. I sure didn’t want to hold her hand or kiss her.
The few sixth-grade girls who went steady with boys in the mid-60s were usually the most mature physically. Their hormones were kicking in, which explains their desire to go steady with the 12-year-old boys who were the best athletes, physically maturing faster than other boys in the sixth grade. With hormones firing like skyrockets on the Fourth of July, those kids on the cusp of teen-hood found themselves irresistibly drawn to a new game – flirting.
In the mid-60s, mom thought the nation was fast becoming a land of sexual immorality. Still, when I look back at my high school years, a typical senior class back then might have had one or two girls who got pregnant. Nowadays, even in small towns, the numbers of girls in high school having babies are higher than in the mid-60s.
The sixth-graders in the mid-1960s were the children of the World War II generation. In turn, the men and women of the World War II generation grew up in the ‘20s and ‘30s and were raised by parents who came of age during the Victorian/Edwardian Ages. While dating practices became less strict as the decades passed, parents in the ‘60s were still heavily monitoring the dating habits of their children, even as the Sexual Revolution – and miniskirts, Woodstock, communes, Charlie Manson – dominated the later years of the decade. Few mothers would allow 11-year-old daughters to go steady or be in a relationship.
Which reminds me of my Writing Wranglers & Warriors blog from earlier this month. A semi-true short story of the romance of my Aunt Ethel and Uncle Raymond Snyder in the early years of the 2st Century’s second decade. Their lifetime love affair got off to a rocky start. Nineteen-year-old Raymond walked 14-year-old Ethel home from church on a cold January day. Her mom Icie Bell wouldn’t permit him to warm up inside the parlor, instead informing Ethel, “You tell him to get!” In some ways, the dating habits of the mid-60s were closer to 1912 than 2015.
Since January 11, I’ve been at my sister’s, first to visit our dad in the hospital and then to bury him. Between his death and burial ceremony, I spent some time on Pinterest investigating romantic postcards and paintings from the Victorian era. My Uncle Raymond would share his romantic longings with his Ethel via postcards, which had superseded calling cards by the early 20th century. No doubt he also sent her Valentine’s Day cards.
Nowadays, in these less strict times, teenagers are liable to send nude photos to each other via e-mail. Parents are sometimes shocked when they see the online sexual talk of their teens. The selfies girls email to their significant others are a far cry from the sweet paintings girls looked at back in the early 1900s.
I’m including six romantic paintings as part of this post that teenager Ethel might have kept in a keepsake box. The first one (A1) is a bit risqué for 1900, and its sensuality is what attracted me to it. They’re doing far more than hand-holding, yet the painting remains tasteful, even charming. The girl in her gray walking dress leans forward to smell a flower that has bloomed on a tree barely beyond a sapling, young like her. Her attention has been stolen by her beau, who leans his body against hers, his hands on her hips. His mouth moves close, his lips touching her hair, his goal a kiss on her earlobe.
In the next photo (A2), the gentleman with the top hat has reached through the iron-gate to clasp his sweetheart’s fingers. I find his gesture as powerful as a kiss. The two are saying farewell after a fine evening together – perhaps at a concert or at the playhouse – but they don’t want to leave each other’s side. Her free hand plays with her neck choker, a flirtatious gesture. Her head tilts toward his. Will they share a kiss before she heads to the house? And a final thought… why isn’t he walking her to the house? Do her parents disapprove of him, consider him a dandy with impious thoughts?
The woman in the third photo (A3) has a white flower pinned in her hair, perhaps a white rose. She has gone
full tilt for a special night, donning an attractive green gown, its decolletage just a bit on the naughty side. She leans toward the couch’s cushions, her head angled upward so her eager lips can meet her suitor’s. The words above the couple reveal what’s on their mind. They think they’re alone… perfect opportunity for a kiss. Notice the curtain to their right? Looks like they might be inside an ornate theater, not yet ready to watch the next act of George Bernard Shaw’s The Philanderer. I wonder… if his kisses make her hot, will she open the fan in her hand and fan herself?
In the next photo (A4), the parasol provides privacy as the pair shares a kiss. She holds a bouquet of flowers. Perhaps he picked them for her and she think his gesture deserves a thank-you kiss. From the way Mr. Derby Hat holds her, I wager he has no intention of ending the kiss after a quick peck. Are they with the people up ahead? I’ve my doubts. He doesn’t want to share her with others on this spring day in the park. I like the extra details in the painting; notice the cat behind the little girl?
The boyfriend on a flowery spring day has taken off his white hat (photo A5), not wanting it to interfere with the coming kiss. It’s an excellent move on his part. His beloved has perched her bottom on the spot where the two wooden beams intersect and has leaned forward to give him a sweet kiss. The flower pinned to her bosom is the same color – purple – as the vines of flowers clinging to the trellis. I’d say he picked the flower and pinned it as a prelude to the kiss. With all the flowers about them, the fragrances must be making them passion drunk.
When I saw this painting (A6), I knew I needed to include it. The oldsters are sitting on a park bench, a cane propped at the gentleman’s legs, an umbrella between them. When you’ve been alive as long as this couple, you learn that even a sunny day can cloud up quickly and produce a downpour. A fallen leaf rests on the ground near the umbrella, even though flowers are blooming and nearby trees and plants are clothed in leafy finery. The leaf on the ground can be seen as a sign of change; we watch change happen every autumn. Leaves turn colors and fall from trees and provide nourishment for the earth. It’s a reminder that all in life is temporary and we are part of a cycle of life and death – in nature and in our own mortal lives. Notice the dog beside the old woman? The little guy looks over to where he’s heard a noise. He
has sensed the approach of the young couple and their little girl. They gleam in sunbeams while the elderly couple rest in the shade.
If I were a time traveler and I had the choice of traveling to the second decade of the 21st century or the second decade of the 20th century, I’d choose the 20th century. I’d elect courtship and kisses in the park, not nude selfies and dirty-talk chats and text messages.