Most of you probably remember your first love. Mine is certainly burned into my mind as a series of bittersweet memories. I will never forget those long ago feelings of intense romantic attachment followed by the pain of rejection.
I am considered an old man now. The days slip by ever so quickly as I approach my date with eternity. Of course, I might live many more years, but the days on earth before me do not begin to match those that have gone by. Sinner though I may be, however, I do not fear the end of this earthly life. I put my trust in the loving God who made me.
From time to time my mind is filled with images of past events. I think of happy moments. I think of embarrassing moments. Sometimes there is a strong desire to go back and undo some unkind word or action on my part that caused hurt or injury to another. But, as a poet wrote, “the moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on.” There are no erasures. Nevertheless, I am keenly conscious of these past failures on my part, and now I strive more diligently to be considerate and loving toward all persons with whom I come in contact.
The images of my darling wife Ann, beloved Mom and Dad, dear brothers and sisters, float through my mind along with profound feelings of affection. How fortunate was I to love them and to be loved by them. I also think of my sons, grandchildren, and other members of my wonderful extended family, and of friends past and present. They have been such a blessing to me. I pray that I have been a blessing to them.
Each of us can recall certain key events in our past that that made a permanent imprint on our psyche. For me, one such event happened in the fall of 1944, 74 years ago. I lived in Carolina Beach, North Carolina. I had just turned 15 and had entered my sophomore year of high school. The war was still raging in Europe and the Pacific. Following the Allied breakout from Normandy, the end appeared to be almost in sight in Europe. We were not so sure about Asia. I also remember that there was a terrible outbreak of polio that year, and one center of infection was around Hickory, North Carolina, about 300 miles to our west. Everyone was afraid of polio. My family was attending St. Paul’s Methodist Church. The Rev. Paul Carruth was pastor, and he had married my dear sister Roberta earlier that year. St. Paul’s had a very active youth group, and I attended along with many of my friends.
In September, shortly after the start of school, I encountered a young girl I had never seen before. She and her family had recently moved to the beach, and her father may have been employed at the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company, the major employer in the area. The girl’s name was Janice W. She was very attractive, had honey-blonde hair and blue eyes, and possessed a winning personality. Within a few weeks of our first meeting, the two of us attended a party at the home of a friend – another member of the St. Paul’s youth group. Suddenly, I was in love.
I don’t know how it happened. I had experienced “affaires de coeur” before this time, brief little romances with some little girlfriend or another, but this was something entirely new. I felt as though I was literally in free fall. My emotions are impossible to explain. There were many sentimental love songs that were popular in those days, but I don’t believe that any of them could adequately describe my feelings for Janice. Remember Thumper the bunny in Walt Disney’s Bambi? Well, just like Thumper, I was “twitterpated”.
It was an ethereal sort of love. There was nothing carnal about it. It was almost as if I worshiped Janice. That’s not a very healthy feeling to have about another human being, but I do believe it describes my state of mind. You see, I was very naïve and a true romantic. For years I had read historical novels that painted their heroines as veritable paragons of virtue – without spot or blemish. Even the movie heroines were pictured that way in those days. Anyway, that’s the way I felt about Janice, and she was my first real love. Perhaps it was puppy love, but, as a wise man once said, “Puppy love is real to the puppy.”
I didn’t drive, so Janice and I never really dated, but we saw a lot of each other at various teen social events. We were considered “a couple.” I would be with her as much as possible, and occasionally I visited at her home. Time went by, and I continued to wallow in my happy romantic fog. I don’t know how I managed to concentrate in school. If I remember correctly, I did get a failing grade in Spanish that fall. All I can recall from that class is a little Spanish ditty that went like this: “Me gustan todas (repeat twice) en general, pero la rubia (repeat twice) me gusta mas.” That described my feelings perfectly.
At Christmastime that year my Mom and Dad and I travelled to Daytona Beach , Florida, to see my sister Sallie and her husband Ware. Ware was an Army officer and stationed at Daytona. I believe that it was while we were at Daytona Beach the Battle of the Bulge began. My brother Harold was with a combat engineering unit at the front, so we were worried about him. He came through it okay, but communications were very slow in those days, so we weren’t reassured until sometime after the beginning of new year. Anyway, we returned to Carolina Beach either shortly before or immediately after Christmas Day.
Of course, I was anxious to see Janice. I had given her a Christmas gift before I left for Florida. It was a small gold locket and chain. I remember her opening the package, and I helped her fasten the chain around her neck. There was the usual spate of Christmas and New Year parties, and we continued to spend much time in each other’s company. Suddenly, however, everything changed.
One evening in February, as we talked intimately at a friend’s home, Janice let me know that my love for her was not reciprocated. She liked me, but she didn’t love me. I was devastated. The moon and the stars suddenly fell from the sky. My heart seemed to crack. Probably it was absolute foolishness on my part, but I loved Janice so much that I just couldn’t accept the fact that she did not feel the same way about me. My excessive ardor may have repelled her, or perhaps she didn’t wish to be treated as if she were a saint. Anyway, it was over. We continued to see each other, but things were never again the same. A few months later I learned that she was spending time with someone else, a newcomer to the beach named Bill. My first great love affair had crashed upon the rocks. As someone said about the snake that fell in love with a garden hose, I had “loved not wisely but too well.”
It was a long, long time before I got over Janice. We lived in a small community, and we saw each other often – at school, at social events, etc. Anytime I was near her my heart still ached. I did discover, however, that one can live with a broken heart. I dated other girls. In fact, I went steady with one young lady during most of my senior year in high school, but my heart remained stuck in neutral. Life had lost a lot of its zest and zing.
The last time I saw Janice was at a New Year’s party on the eve of 1948. I was home on vacation during my freshman year at the University of North Carolina. Janice was there with Bill, and we exchanged greetings and best wishes. She was warm and gracious and lovely as always. I know she remained fond of me, and I still loved her. When I bade her adieu that night, I did not know that it would be the last time I would ever see her.
The following summer I met my future wife, the beautiful Ann Laura McGuire. Her hair was even more blonde than Janice’s, her eyes were also blue, and her smile radiated warmth and charm. Suddenly, the moon and the stars were back in their proper places. Once more I was in love, and this time the girl loved me.
Memories of Janice gradually faded, and I lost track of her completely. Many years later I received a supposedly comprehensive book about the graduates of New Hanover High School, the school that Janice, Bill, Ann, and I all attended, but there was no biographic information on Janice or Bill. What had happened to them? In September 2017 I finally got my answer. Out of the blue, I suddenly thought of Janice, my long lost love. This time I was moved to check the internet, and after a brief search I found that Janice’s obituary had been published in a Maryland newspaper only two months before my inquiry. She had lived much of her life in Ocean City, Maryland, less than a three-hour drive from my own home.
Janice and Bill married in November 1948, and they spent 68 years as man and wife. He joined the Navy. They had 4 children, 10 grandchildren, and 23 great-grandchildren. She was very active in church and community affairs and was evidently very much loved by all who knew her. Her husband Bill survives her.
May God bless her memory.