Yesterday a dear friend from high school told me he always liked my smile. I do like to smile. For some reason that simple statement reminded me of something I did long ago when I was still a little girl, trying hard to be grown-up. I wrote a letter to Ann Landers, the advice columnist. Yes, I was so sure I was in the right and Mom was wrong, I wrote a letter to get documentation from a respected outside source.
Dear Ann Landers,” I wrote using my stationery with the violets on the upper left corner. “My Mom forbids me to go steady. I’m not going steady, I just want to date the same boy. I’ve liked him since 8th grade, and only this year have I been allowed to date. I don’t have his ring or anything and we don’t say we’re going steady. He’s just the only boy I’m interested in. I know he’s The One. That’s not enough for Mom. Now she insists that I go on three dates with other boys between each date with The One. I think this is unfair. I am only allowed to go out on a date once a week, which is stricter than any other parents. Mom’s new rule means I will be able to date The One only once a month. How should I handle this situation. Sincerely, Love Thwarted.”
That last word before my signature, ‘situation’, proved I was grown for sure, and ‘Love Thwarted,’ well, that was better than any signature I ever saw in Ann Landers’s newspaper column.
I waited and waited, watching the mailbox every day. Running down our long gravel drive, the only driveway with stupid black walnuts in the ruts, to assure no one else saw my letter first. I never got any privacy. I planned to read Ann Landers’s reply out-loud. Preferably at the supper table.
At last my response came in the Self-addressed Stamped Envelope I provided. That’s how I recognized it. I opened the letter in the kitchen, ready to proclaim the respected and sage advice of Ann Landers to that ever kitchen-occupying mother of mine. My plans changed on the spot. I couldn’t possibly wait all the way to suppertime. I would show Mom the error of her ways right now. She didn’t have a clue about how the real world worked. I was about to one-up her, big time.
Dear Love Thwarted, Your mother is wise to insist you date other young men. After all, if a butterfly only visits the lemon tree, she will think lemons are the sweetest thing on this earth. I suggest you thank your mother for providing you with such an elegant way of telling “The One,” that he’s not the only fruit in the orchard. Sincerely, Ann Landers.
Drat. I read the letter twice, not believing what she said. I turned it over. Maybe she wrote something more on the back; it was an awfully short reply. Perhaps Ann Landers misunderstood my situation. Perhaps I could be clearer. But no, there was my letter, neatly folded, behind Ann’s. I crumpled the two letters into one tiny ball and shoved them to the bottom of the waste basket. Double Drat.
“What was that?” Mom said, looking out over a cloud of steam. She was sterilizing cross-cut nipples for little Johnny’s gross smelling beef-based baby formula that was the only thing Johnny could drink or he’d have an asthma attack.
“Oh nothing,” I said. Stuck without independent documentation to support or verify my position. Drat. Drat. And Double Drat.
Who was going to date me? I might be out of high school before I could date The One again. I guess I underestimated my friends, and even The One. They all banned together to help me find dates.
Eventually, I realized no amount of sugar could make a lemon anything but a lemon. I went to college, then grew a career in a male dominated field. Spending some of my early years just being friends with guys gave me an edge that a lot of young women lacked. Ann Landers was right, and yes, so was Mom. She is pretty darned smart.
I was lucky when I was in high school. I got to know a lot of nice guys with very little pressure to be anyone other than myself. Some asked me out, some I asked out. Some guys were happy to go out with me, some told me no way. Some I liked a lot. I mean like-liked them. Most became my friends. Some even remembered my smile. To this very day.