— Chapter Five:To Know Him is to Love Him —
Comedy of Errors may also be purchased from Main Point Books in Wayne.
Stewart had already been in love more than once. While in the fourth grade, he was attracted to a seven-year-old girl named Ruth, who was only in the second grade. He knew she was too young for him, and he never thought of doing anything inappropriate with her. He had learned earlier that he shouldn’t try to “kiss a girl.” Unfortunately, his fourth-grade romance came to an end when he and Ruth were making up names for dinosaurs at a small table in her family’s kitchen. After several made-up names that ranged from “pigosaur” to “rhinososaur”, Stewart blurted out “fucosaur,” which he immediately knew was the wrong thing to say, but he had no way to take it back or modify it. Ruth’s mother was in the kitchen at the time and was listening to the game, and when she heard Stewart say a word that was not to be mentioned in her house and especially not in front of Ruth, their playtime ended, and Stewart was sent home, never to enjoy the company of Ruth again.
The remembrance of the poorly timed and accidental use of a “bad word” remained with Stewart throughout his pre-teen years, as did the trip to the principal’s office after kissing his first girlfriend in class; it, too, continued to weigh on him. At nine, Stewart didn’t even know the meaning of the word he’d used around Ruth; he only knew that it was not to be used around adults. Then, after he learned what the word signified, he made a point of never saying it or using any foul language again until high school.
In the sixth grade, Stewart was smitten by a tomboy who played baseball better than most of the boys who met on Saturdays for a game on the school playground. Her name was Diane and she was graceful, blond, and had a very pretty and delicate face. He met her after befriending her younger sister, Kaye, who enjoyed climbing trees and “walking the rails” that led from behind their apartments to the train yards in Yeadon, the nearest town besides Melbourne that touched onto the Philadelphia border. Stewart was very comfortable talking to Kaye, but he was quite shy around her sister.
In many grammar school romances, neither party admits to an attraction to the other, and most usually enjoy playing tricks on the other or finding ways to be near one another without confessing any of their feelings.
Diane’s family didn’t own a TV set, but Stewart’s parents did. He would invite Diane to watch 77 Sunset Strip and The Donna Reed Show in his parents’ apartment, where the two would lay flat upon the floor, propped up on their elbows on a long pillow taken from the couch, and spend time watching TV together. Stewart was happy just to have her close to him. Diane lived in an apartment, with her mother and sister, that was similar to his own, but with the floor plan reversed. Stewart never met Diane’s mother, about whom there were rumors that she invited men into her bedroom for sex. Stewart didn’t understand when or if his parents ever had sex after he was born, since his mother and father didn’t sleep in the same bed or even the same room. Stewart slept with his mother in the double bed in the single bedroom, while his father slept on the couch in the living room. Stewart assumed this was commonplace. It wasn’t until Stewart turned 14 that his mother found an apartment with a second bedroom for Stewart. When Stewart turned 17, his father was invited back to live with them, but not into his mother’s bedroom. Stewart maintained his bedroom while Jim was relegated to a pull-out couch in the living room.
Diane moved away from the school and the area after sixthth grade, and Stewart went off to Beverly Hills Junior High, a stately school located a mile from his home. The transition was difficult for Stewart as it must have been for many, since it was in junior high that girls were first developing breasts, and boys were first noticing girls as something quite different from themselves. Besides smelling better, girls seemed smarter and more grown up than boys. He was accustomed to seeing his mother without clothes, and knew that she had breasts, so he wasn’t embarrassed to be naked in front of either of his parents, but he had never been comfortable being seen by other female members of his family including his two grandmothers and his two great-aunts, Lizzie and Emma, with whom he stayed overnight on occasion. He was very private about his body as well as any feelings he had of which he believed his parents might not approve.
His mother never swore, and his father said “God damn” and “Hell” but never said any worse words in front of him. Many boys learned foul language from their brothers, uncles and fathers. So during Stewart’s early years, he seemed to those friends he had as somewhat odd and a bit of a prude, while hiding his understanding of anything sexual from everyone, in a similar way that he had hidden his knowledge of the falsities of the stories told to him by his parents about the “good fairy,” “the Easter Bunny,” and “Santa Claus.”
In the eighth grade, Stewart fell in love again, with a girl who sat just ahead of him in homeroom, as well as in a few of his other classes. Her name was Linda Lacy, and she was placed in front of him solely because her last name, Lacy came directly before his last name in alphabetical order. They spoke to each other quite a bit in class, but he was never sure if she liked him as much as he did her. When they first met, she was taller than he was, but over the next year he edged past her, 5’7” to 5’6”.
Another boy, Jimmy, liked her too, and Stewart’s main focus in class was to find out whether she liked him more than she liked Jimmy. At this point in his life, Stewart was awash with emotions and the contrary awarenesses of physical attraction and friendship, and although Linda wasn’t the prettiest girl in class, to Stewart she became the only girl that he cared about.
From the age of eleven, Stewart had become socially involved with the activities at St. Giles Episcopal Church, a place of worship that his mother had introduced him to at the age of nine. Stewart’s parents never attended, but his mother thought that her son should grow up socially connected, never realizing that St. Giles administered to the needs of a less affluent congregation than did All Saints Church, where Stewart was christened. St. Giles maintained the formality of the Episcopal brand, but not the income level or social status linked to All Saints, located on the Main Line.
In seventh grade, Stewart had been approached by a classmate who attended the Sunday school at St. Giles about confirmation classes planned by the church for children ages twelve and up. Stewart knew nothing about confirmation, but, since asked, decided he’d attend. The program was conducted by Miss White, the attractive middle-aged woman with steel-gray hair who had taught his worship class during the four years he’d attended St. Giles. The classes were held on Wednesday afternoons and, once in the program, he was introduced to a small group of students, his age and older, who attended schools in and around the area.
In order to be confirmed, the candidates were required to memorize the Apostles’ and the Nicene Creeds, and know the Lord’s Prayer, as well as to thoroughly understand the tenets of the Episcopal faith. Stewart had gone to church long enough to know by heart all of the verses he was required to know, but gave little thought to analyzing his beliefs. He knew many of the tales from both the Old and New Testaments, and supposed he believed what he was taught to believe, and that was good enough for him to become a member of the church — in addition to pledging at least a quarter a week to St. Giles.
Once confirmed, Stewart became an usher with the job of leading people to their seats and passing the collection plate. He then became an acolyte, and was given the responsibility of serving the minister the wine and water used in the Eucharist, the ceremony he learned about in class that symbolized the sharing of the blood and body of Christ. He also joined the Youth Fellowship, an organization within the church for children aged twelve through high school. As he grew older he’d go on teaching Sunday School, join the choir, and become a youth advisor for teenagers not much younger than himself. He was given few instructions on what he was supposed to teach or advise his students and younger members of the church, but followed the lead of those who came before him, and put his own spin on what they taught, a practice modified significantly as he grew older. Membership in the Fellowship and his tenure as a teacher provided Stewart with a social life, a purpose, and a curiosity to try to understand his and others’ religions, as best he could. The greatest takeaway from his involvement in the church was that instead of having to work out the issues that coincided with his personal journey through adolescence, he had become bonded with other students who were also searching for ways of understanding their faith, their feelings and their paths to adulthood.
The best part about his time spent at St. Giles in his junior high school years was that he fit in and was respected, and was never once referred to as: “Mouse.”
Stewart remained committed to his one-sided romance with his classmate, Linda, into ninth grade, and finally found an opportunity to ask her on a date – his first. The advisers of the St. Giles Youth Fellowship had planned a dance for members and their invited guests on the second Sunday in November. Linda lived with her mother, a divorced elementary school teacher, in an apartment located in Westbrook Park, the district where she taught and a section of Delaware County nearly five miles away from Stewart and St. Giles. While in a discussion with her in homeroom, Stewart told Linda about his involvement in his church, and in his telling, he brought up the dance, at which time he asked if she’d like to attend it with him. He was surprised, but delighted, when she accepted, with her only concern about the distance separating her apartment from Stewart’s and St. Giles. Stewart’s parents didn’t have a car, and Stewart didn’t want them intruding even if he had a mother or father who drove and could drive them to the dance. The plan that the two students came up with was that Stewart would meet Linda at the 69th Street Terminal in Upper Darby, to which she would arrive by taking the trolley from the Westbrook Park station near her home. Stewart would meet her there, and they’d would walk to the church from there. At the end of the evening, they’d return to the trolley stop and she’d meet her mother at the Westbrook Park station.
The Westbrook Park trolley stop was less than a block from Linda’s apartment, and although the dance, which included a buffet dinner, was scheduled to start after dark, children growing up the 1950s and ‘60s had freedoms that later generations would lose due to a change of culture and the news that announced every kidnapping, rape and murder, and alerted parents to the unsafe world outside their doors, encouraging them to shield their children from dangers apparently lurking in every corner of their existence.
In the early ’60s, when Stewart and Linda were growing up, it was still considered normal behavior in many areas of the country for pre-teen boys and girls to play ball in vacant lots unsupervised by adults. Children would escape for hours on weekends climbing trees, wandering down railroad tracks and exploring unfenced construction sites, stream beds and deserted factories, contorting their bodies through fields of abandoned cars, and through tunnels poorly barricaded. Neither Stewart’s parents nor Linda’s mother, therefore, were overly concerned about the whereabouts of their barely teenage children, their use of public transportation, the encroachment of nightfall on their gatherings, or their attendance at functions at schools, churches, movie houses, rollerskating rinks or parties in houses owned by parents they had never met,
The Monday prior to the dance, Stewart thought it best to confirm with Linda that she would be joining him on Sunday night, and hadn’t changed her mind. Linda had asked her mother if she could attend the dance, and her mother had responded by giving her daughter the trolley schedule, which Linda pulled from her notebook and handed to Stewart marked with the time, circled in red, that she was expected to arrive on the Terminal platform. Linda also showed Stewart the latest time for the trolley to take her back home on Sunday night, which was also circled, indicating the time her mother would meet her at the trolley stop near her apartment.
Stewart’s heart raced as Linda spoke enthusiastically as she presented the plan, and he could hardly contain his excitement at the thought of introducing Linda to his small group of friends at church. It should be noted that Stewart had no idea of what to say or how to behave when on a date, and it never entered his mind that he had never danced with a girl and had only watched others dancing either in the gym at recess, or on Bandstand on TV. He also had few concerns over what to talk about or escorting a girl to an event, since he had become comfortable with conversations with girls during Fellowship meetings and at church.
Stewart hadn’t told his parents about his upcoming date. All they knew was that he was going to his Fellowship meeting on Sunday night. They were curious when he told them he wouldn’t be home for dinner, but not overly surprised since he usually left early for the meetings. The dance was to begin at 6:30 and end at 8:30. The clothes that Stewart had were mostly those outgrown by his cousin, but since Stewart had grown quickly over the last few months, he had few options to dress for the dance, but decided he’d wear a sports coat over his Sunday white dress shirt, but with a sweater under it, and without a tie. Although it was getting colder, he decided not to wear his jacket, since it was badly worn and extended down past his sports coat.
He was familiar with the menu for the evening, since it rarely changed from event to event: Hawaiian Punch, pizza, hamburgers and cupcakes. Stewart asked his mother for some money to buy a dozen cupcakes at Hanscom’s on Market Street and then crossed back over to Kresge’s on the opposite corner to buy a carnation for Linda before walking down to the bottom of the hill past Lit Brothers Department Store and across Market Street to the 69th Street Terminal, where he waited until 6:10, when the trolley and Diane arrived on schedule. He saw her as she got up from her seat and walked to the front of the car and down the steps to the platform, She was wearing a long black coat over a red dress and her hair was arranged on top of her head, which made her look much more mature and, to Stewart, beautiful.
He greeted her by handing her the cupcakes before quickly switching hands and giving her the carnation which, with his help, she pinned to the lapel of her coat, which was a bit too long for her, and most likely lent to her by her mother.
Not knowing exactly how to begin the conversation, he asked if she came to 69th Street to shop often, and she responded that she and her girlfriends would come many weekends to one of the three movie theaters in the area, and that they especially liked the Tower Theater.
They climbed the 69th Street hill past Florsheim Shoes and the card shop where Stewart’s mother had once worked part-time, and turned right at Gimbels where the street crested, and then turned down poorly-lit Richfield Road, and through a neighborhood of brick row homes built in the 1940s, flanked by a lovely row of Victorian-era houses that lead to the entrance to St. Giles.
Warm light shone through the leaded glass windows that formed an atmospheric path to the parish house entrance of the church, evoking a time when Upper Darby, the nearest suburb to the western edge of Philadelphia, was prosperous and elegant.
Stewart and Linda were among the first to arrive after Sandy and Rich, who were setting up a folding table for the buffet. Gary and Susie had arrived with their dates, Michelle and Rod. Gary initiated the introductions between the couples and Stewart followed his lead by introducing Linda to those she didn’t know. Bob Thompson, who had just walked through the door, was in one of Linda’s classes, and Glenda Atlee, who was dropped off by her father, sat in the desk in front of, and to the right of, Stewart and Linda in homeroom. Billy Morrow, Sandy Turner and René Stevens all lived in Lansdowne and were freshmen at Lansdowne High. Terry Nichols, Gary Wetzel and Roberta Powell were in the ninth-grade class at the newly-built Drexel Hill Junior High School located a mile from the high school, where they all would go the following year. Those in the group who knew Stewart at school were surprised that he had brought a date to the dance — especially Linda, who was attractive, engaging and popular. From what they knew of Stewart, he was more reclusive in class and when outside the bonds formed in the Fellowship. He also seemed quite shy, and less interested in girls than the other boys his age.
As soon as Bob arrived, Linda became quite talkative and began a story about their English teacher, Mr. Richards. Sandy and Billy kept busy, arranging and rearranging the food, napkins and paper plates as more members came in with contributions to the feast. Randy Janson took charge of the music, which he’d assembled from a stack of LPs and 45s he brought to play on a borrowed turntable he set up with speakers, along with an amplifier on the stage built into the left side of the parish meeting room. He adjusted and readjusted the sound, which seemed to him much too loud, but about which no one seemed concerned. Del Shannon’s “Runaway” played over and over again, while Randy fussed with the lighting, and then segued to Ricky Nelson’s “Travelin’ Man.”
At the beginning, the girls from the Fellowship danced together to what were considered fast numbers, and then Linda, and even some of the boys, stepped in to make some noise to the “Bristol Stomp.”
When the Stomp ended, Brent and Laurie, the youth advisors, both 21, engaged to be married, and in their last year at Drexel and Penn State respectively, strolled onto the dance floor holding hands. Brent signaled Randy to lower the sound and then to pause the music. He also grabbed a microphone from behind his table and jumped down from the stage to give it to Brent.
“It looks like we’ve got a good crowd for the dance tonight,” Brent began, to which everyone responded with hoots and hollers. “I’m pleased to see some new faces at tonight’s event. Gary, Susie and Stewart, will you introduce your guests?”
Stewart had already introduced Linda, but he took the lead by saying, “Linda and I have been in homeroom together since 7th grade, as well as science and social studies classes this year. I thought she might enjoy meeting all of you, so I asked her to come.”
There was some more hooting from the boys while Bob shouted, “Go, Stewart!” Gary and Susie held hands with their guests, by which they acknowledged that they were going steady, a fact Susie had never previously mentioned to anyone in the group. When Stewart saw Gary and Susie holding hands with the person accompanying each of them, he reached over and took Linda’s hand and held it.
She didn’t pull away, but appeared a bit uncomfortable, so Stewart released her hand from his grasp.
“As you might expect,” said Laurie, “tonight we won’t be having the short service we usually have in the church, since Brent and I both agree that Fellowship isn’t just about religious faith, it’s about making people comfortable and accepting that we, as humans, are not all alike, and don’t necessarily have the same beliefs.
“We will, however, be having a brief meeting to discuss next Sunday’s activities, as well as the bake sale we’re holding in March, and the state of our group’s bank account. In the meantime, enjoy the music and the great spread that Sandy and Billy have been putting together that includes pizza from Pica’s and burgers from Gino’s — all of which were provided by Dr. Fell and Miss Wilson.
In Sunday School and Fellowship, Stewart had heard that his minister had been seeing their former Sunday school teacher. Dr. Fell’s wife had died of cancer a few years back, and he now lived only with his adult son, David, in the rectory. One of the adults, who Stewart didn’t know by name, had been overheard saying that she’d seen the minister kissing Miss Wilson in the teacher’s white Buick Skylark while walking past the rectory one evening. It didn’t take long before that bit of gossip was shared with most all of the parishioners. In the eyes of most of the congregation, Dr. Fell seemed rather stoic and proper, and the members had a difficult time picturing him canoodling with anyone, especially Miss Wilson.
“We’ll hold our meeting after everyone has had a chance to eat,” continued Laurie, before leaving the dance floor. “So enjoy the music and have fun!”
Realizing that Gary, Susie and Stewart all had “dates,” Randy lowered the lights and played “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” by the Shirelles, at which time, as if on cue, the two steady couples walked to the center of the dance floor and began slow dancing.
Stewart and Linda stood by the punch bowl and watched until the end of the song, when “I Fall to Pieces,” by Patsy Cline, was played by Randy, at which time Stewart took Linda’s hand and led her to the floor, assuming that the other couples would remain dancing. Instead, he and Linda became the focus of attention for the group when Randy aimed a red-filtered spotlight on them as they reached the center of the floor.
Stewart had danced a slow dance once in the seventh grade with a girl he was friendly with who guided him through the motions, but he had never danced with Linda, and he didn’t know how to lead. He didn’t realize, until he put his right arm around his partner’s waist and took her right hand in his left, that neither of them knew how to slow dance. Linda and Stewart moved forward at the same time, crashing into each other, and then moved left and right independently as if dodging an attack. Then Stewart dropped his arms to his sides and began anew, showing little improvement as each of the dancers appeared intent on escaping each other rather than dancing together.
Obviously there were some chuckles and snickers from those watching at the buffet table as well as from the couples who had just left the floor, who were well practiced dancers, having been coupled at functions in the school gym, parties and other events. Stewart reacted to the look of panic on Linda’s face, and realized that he had to act quickly to reduce the embarrassment he believed he’d caused her.
So, without saying a word, and without another pause, Stewart stepped back from Linda and turned towards the buffet table with his head bent down and his arms at his side. He then raised and swiveled head his head towards Linda and broke into a smile. Seeing his grinning face forced a laugh from Linda. Stewart then turned to his date, put one hand behind his back and the other across his stomach, and bowed to her from the waist, after which he took Linda’s hand in his own. Suddenly realizing what Stewart was doing, Linda faced him, crossed her legs below her knees and lowered herself into a curtsy as she had learned to do as a child. The couple rose up in unison, as if the act was planned, smiled and tilted their heads down one more time as they walked to the buffet table amidst applause and a few cheers.
The meeting was held as planned, and with the business of the day completed, Randy returned to the stage to restart the music. Susie’s steady, Rod, requested the Connie Francis tune “Where the Boys Are” as he walked over to Linda and led her slowly to the dance floor. Randy changed the gel on the spotlight to blue, while Gary’s partner, Michelle, took Stewart by the hand and guided him through a simple walking step. At the half-way point in the song, Gary and Michelle reunited with their partners Susie and Rod, and Linda and Stewart were brought back together under the spotlight.
Although they were no Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers,the two novice dancers didn’t look uncomfortably paired on the dance floor, and Stewart even decided to end the dance with a flourish — a slowly executed spin of Linda that ended in a bow by him to her. Linda was delighted, and quite shocked that Stewart would even attempt the turn, let alone succeed. She thoroughly enjoyed the dance and the applause that followed — from the kind and gentle group into which she had been welcomed.
In the time that remained, Randy played a few fast paced numbers that were danced by girls who knew the dances of the day, including the Pony and the Mashed Potato. They were followed by the Twist, that all could do — even Stewart.
At the conclusion, the girls formed a line for the Madison and instructed all those unfamiliar with the dance to the basic steps, to which each was to add his or her own special move or attitude. At its conclusion, Brent walked to the center of the floor and, accompanied by Laurie, applauded the entire group of teens for making the evening a successful and true statement of Fellowship. Brent didn’t mention the awkward moment finessed by Stewart and Linda, since he realized that all who were there knew what had happened when the ice was broken and everyone responded in keeping with the mission of the group.
“If there is anything we can gain from tonight, as well as from our celebration of Fellowship,” said Brent, “it is that we have the ability to accept others for their flaws as well as for their attributes. Many people go through life without ever learning how to establish a common ground between those we like and those we don’t, or those who are different and those we’re comfortable being around.
“Tonight was a special moment for Laurie and me, as we know it was for all of you.
“By the way, if your parents are picking you up, we’ll wait with you by the parish house door. If you’ve arrived here on your own, or with a guest, and are returning home on your own, be careful and stay safe.”
Randy began packing up the records he’d brought with him while other members of the group cleaned up the meeting room. Stewart and Linda headed out with quick goodbyes in order to reach the Terminal before the final trolley was scheduled to leave for the evening.
The two 14-year-olds walked in silence for nearly half a block before Linda took hold of Stewart’s arm, stopped him and spoke. “I enjoyed the evening, Stewart. I don’t know if you can imagine how embarrassed I felt when we looked so stupid trying to dance together. I was mortified (a word they’d both learned in Mr. Richards’ English class).”
“I was too, Linda,” Stewart confessed. “My stomach dropped to my feet and my hands got clammy when I saw how upset you were, and what it must have been like to meet new people and look so ridiculous in front of them.”
“But you handled it so well. I can’t imagine recovering that quickly. I almost burst into tears.”
“That was what I was most afraid of, Linda. I knew it would have been all my fault to have you cry. I honestly don’t know how or why I did what I did, but in the zillions of things I could imagine doing at the moment, I did the only thing that had a chance to work. It could have easily failed, especially if you hadn’t bought into it. But you did, and you were wonderful, charming...and beautiful.”
“But your friends — the couples dancing; they were so gracious and nice. That’s not how it usually is at school.”
“No, it’s not. And it might not have been that way tonight. But is was, and I am thankful for it, and happy that you weren’t embarrassed by it, and that you don’t hate me for failing you.”
“I’m thankful too, Stewart. And I couldn’t ever hate you.”
Linda leaned forward and gave Stewart a peck on the cheek. He smiled, and probably blushed, but it was too dark outside to see any color come to his face. Linda took his hand and they walked together that way back down the hill and into the Terminal and Stewart waited with her for the trolley. They didn’t have much to say, or perhaps they didn’t need to talk. Each felt the other’s triumph, and each valued the caring exhibited by the group.
They unclasped their hands when the trolley arrived, and Stewart walked Linda up the step leading from the platform to the trolley. She looked at him and smiled, and he made no attempt to top off the evening with a kiss. Her peck on his cheek was enough of a gift to assure him of his value in Linda’s eyes. Anything more would have been unnecessary and awkward for each of them.
There would be many moments in his life when Stewart would need to balance his desire with his actions, but this one stood apart and set a standard for him. Sometimes it’s best not to kiss the girl, but for the girl to value you enough to give you a moment of pleasure in a way that benefits you both for a lifetime.