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On a warm summer evening, forty-three years ago, good friend Andy Thomas and I met on foot, at the Mark Twain grade school, with nothing more on our minds than to stroll up and down the streets and share in conversation. We always could while away the hours talking. Both of us at the time were unattached when it came to the fairer sex, and since each of us had a driver’s license, why we were on foot must have been a result of a lack of available transportation. But no bother, we liked to walk.

After a brief conversation at the school, we made our way south on Maple street, past Mac Jensen’s place, and down the hill in the direction of Grigg’s Park. Prior to reaching the bottom of the hill, we noticed that the tennis courts were under lights and spotted two people swatting the ball back and forth. Two girls. From that distance, it was hard to identify the players, but Andy recognized one as Angie Rogers. I knew Angie from school. But the other player remained a mystery.

After we crossed Centennial, I asked Andy if he knew the other girl. For some reason, I had become fixated on her. He identified her as the sister of a classmate, Debbie McClendon. I knew Debbie, but not her younger sister, Julie. That reality was about to change.

We enthusiastically approached the tennis court, like moths to a flame, or in my case, like an ox being led to the slaughter, and the two ceased playing long enough to talk with us. Nervous around girls, I’m sure my conversation was limited to a few one word answers and grunts, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the new girl, especially her eyes. The butterflies hovering in my stomach furiously beat their wings, and my knees became weak. I believe I was smitten.

We finally left the two of them to continue their game of tennis, but as we walked away, I’m surprised I didn’t run into a telephone pole or parked car, it being hard to navigate down the sidewalk with your head looking behind you. Our conversation the rest of the night had only one theme, Julie.

A few weeks later, now cruising up and down the streets of Carthage in my royal blue, 1958 Chevrolet Biscayne, I inexplicably ended up driving south on Maple Street, in the vicinity of Julie’s house. How did that happen? Truth be told, I was hoping to catch a glimpse. Lo and behold, who did I see walking down the sidewalk, but Julie McClendon with her good friend Laura Coombs. I pulled alongside them and stopped to say hello. I’m not sure whose idea it was, but they both ended up in my car.

The bench seat was wide enough to accommodate an entire baseball team, but somehow Julie ended up sitting right next to me, with Laura manning shotgun. With her sitting beside me, the sweet smell of perfume, the occasional brushing together of our skin, I found it difficult to concentrate on the road (today I have different distractions causing me not to concentrate on the road while driving, but that’s a different story). She must have batted her eyes at me, because when she asked to drive my car, being under age and thus breaking the law, I immediately pulled over and exchanged places. She always has been able to get me to do whatever she asks.

Keenly aware of what girls prefer, nearing seventeen and never having dated a girl being beside the point, I figured that Julie might not enjoy my loudly playing version of American Woman, so I switched the 8-track to the other side and found These Eyes. How romantic. I would find out years later that impressing her with my music would never happen, but at this point I was grossly unaware.

The remainder of the summer I sought glimpses of her whenever and wherever I could. I did spend an awful lot of time at the Municipal Park swimming pool that summer, her being a lifeguard there not having anything to do with it mind you. You might say I was obsessed, not that I’ve ever been obsessed with anything. But her being only fifteen, we could not officially date. Once the school year commenced, Julie turned sixteen and her parents, probably to this day still shaking their heads in wonder, allowed her to date me.

We became an item around school:

Kissed a few times:

And enjoyed the recognition of our peers on Prom night:

 

Four years, and many adventures later, Julie McClendon became my wife on July 22, 1978. Being inept with the spoken word, I wonder if I’ve ever expressed to her how much she means to me. Still today, when I gaze into her beautiful blue eyes, the butterflies flutter, just as they did on that tennis court forty-three years ago. She is my special gift from God, wholly undeserved. And I am forever grateful. She’s given me two wonderful sons and two special grandchildren.

She’s Julie, Jul, Gigi, Julia Kay, and a host of other pet names. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

Happy Anniversary, sweetheart.

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