[November 27, 2023] Bonnie was my first “girlfriend.” I was six years old, and now as I look back from many decades and a number of girlfriends later, I didn’t actually know what having a girlfriend meant. Some folks will say it’s not possible for a boy to have a girlfriend so young when he is immature, unfocused, inexperienced, and untested in the world. And that was me: happy-go-lucky, free-willed, a bit of a scaredy cat, and with a thin physique, tall, and slender but also physicality weak. I did have one strength, I could run as fast as the wind, and outpace even the top runners many years my senior. Bonnie was in my First-Grade class and that was my first memory of meeting her, yet that was all good because she was there and pretty, and she smiled at me. Yes, she was my girlfriend. We never kissed, hugged, or even held hands. That did not at all mean she wasn’t my girlfriend. She was. I just didn’t know it, yet, and would be until my family moved out of town six years later.
Bonnie contacted me on social media shortly after I retired from the Army, a few years ago. We both were happily married with kids and grandkids by then. We reminisced about those days. Our talks brought back so many good memories that I’d forgotten, they quickly came flooding back. Like memories of her dad, Mister Bo Sisson, who fought in the Battle of Leyte in the Pacific during World War 2, in 1944, wounded in the neck that earned him a Purple Heart. Adult men were always addressed as “mister.” Because of his severe wound from the war, Mr. Sisson wore a throat device that allowed him to talk. When I was seven or eight, I was invited into their home for a snack and got to meet Bonnie’s family. I asked Mr. Sisson if he had served in WW2 and, yes, he said so, but seemed reluctant to talk with me about the war around his family. Sadly, I never got the chance to discuss his wartime experiences. Later, I would listen to many local combat vets over the next few years. Mr. Sisson would be my first veteran I’d ever spoken to who lived in my small town of Mer Rouge. But it was he that sparked my interest in war and I believe the reason I later listened so intently to so many veterans.
I was elected president of my First-Grade class, Bonnie was the Secretary. I’m not sure we had any unique qualities or duties. Maybe we were just figureheads, or I don’t remember. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention; that could be the case, too. The big event of the year was the class play and the entire class would be part of it. Our teacher, Mrs. Esta Freeland said the play’s name would be “When the Pie was Opened,” and we studied hard, memorizing our parts. The play was based on the old nursery rhyme “Four and Twenty Blackbirds Baked in a Pie.” Or, that’s what the local paper said anyway. I think it came from a Mother Goose poem. Me? I was a bit slow learning my role. Technically I was probably below average in my acting ability, but we all played parts anyway. Bonnie, all my friends and I played starring roles. It was a great way to learn more about ourselves. Some of us had good voices that projected well like Mary Hendershot. Some could remember our lines better. On the day of the big play, Bonnie and I looked at each other across the stage and smiled. That made my day.
My next “girlfriend” would be a few years later after we moved out of town. I was working on a farm milking cows. And that is a story for another day.
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