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Puppy Love

Sometimes, romance is all about not barking up the wrong tree

My first attack of puppy love occurred at age 7 in the third grade at Rosevine, a country school in Sabine County. One morning my teacher had a yellow rose tucked over her right ear, and I swooned at this sudden bloom of beauty! Her face was radiant—why had I not seen this before? In that instant, she became my queen, and I donned a suit of armor to defend her from the dragon that wanted to devour her.

This special feeling lasted several weeks but began to fade when she gave me a B+ on some homework I felt deserved an A.

My second encounter with puppy love came in the fourth grade. Out of the blue, my heart pointed to a black-haired young lady and said, “She is the most beautiful girl in the world.” Her hair suddenly took on a radiance that set my heart racing. My eyes wanted to follow her every move, which was a problem as her desk was behind mine. I ran through a large portfolio of excuses to look rearward, including such jewels as “a crick in my neck,” “The sun’s shining in my eyes,” and telling the teacher “Your voice seemed to come from back there.”

Miss Baker, having witnessed numerous cases of puppy love, wasn’t fooled for a minute. As my alibis dwindled in quality she made her move by announcing, “Class, I’m sure you have noticed we need to reconfigure Harry’s seating arrangement. One, we turn Harry’s desk around and I teach Harry’s back; or two, I move my desk to the back of the room and teach the backs of the entire class except for Harry.”

The class pet offered the adopted solution: “Miss Baker, why not move Harry two seats back in another row?”

That’s what the teacher did, and all went well for a number of weeks. But the fourth grade was a hotbed of passing notes written on full sheets of notebook paper. The paper was folded lengthwise four times and then into a “love knot” two inches square. To the raven-haired object of my heart’s desire, I simply wrote “I love you,” folded it into a perfect love knot and sent it on its way. My heart waited. An answer finally arrived and spoke in terms as simple as mine: “Are you crazy?”

My first reaction was she answered, so she loved me. But the three words in her message kept getting in the way. When the real meaning finally got through, I wanted revenge. When we got our class pictures, I cut her face out with my pocketknife. My sister told Mom we had class pictures, and Mom insisted on seeing mine. I finally handed the photograph of my class to her. She sat in silence for a long time and then asked why I cut that girl’s face out. I said, “I didn’t—it came that way.” Mom handed the picture back and never said a word.

I was in the sixth grade when puppy love caught me again. This little farm girl sat across from me. After several months I suddenly noticed her flawless complexion. I saw that her lips seemed to glisten, her nose went perky, her hair shined, her teeth sparkled, and her feed-sack dress turned to velvet. She bloomed!

I wrote, “I think I love you,” folded it in a perfect love knot and sent it on its way. Her note arrived; I opened it and read, “Do you want a kiss?”

Was she talking candy or lips? I didn’t have the slightest idea. Driven to answer, even though I had a severe case of brain block, I sent a note back: “No.” She read it and stuck her tongue out at me.

Then came the seventh grade. We had assembly every Friday morning. That provided a weekly opportunity to check out the girls, and it wasn’t long before my eyes settled on a specific “sugar and spice, and everything nice.” My heart and mind unanimously agreed, and I had another case of puppy love. Alas, she was a junior and far out of reach. She never knew.

As a high school sophomore I had matured—at least I thought so. I no longer wrote notes or cut faces out of class pictures. I had picked up the more sophisticated strategy of winking. But I had developed another maneuver that I felt obtained positive results 95 percent of the time. I would wink to get their attention and then go, “aha … aha … aha … aha … aha … aha” and nod my head “yes” as I panted like a dog. I was having a cup of coffee with Dad one afternoon when a pretty girl walked in. I gave her a wink, followed by the “aha … aha … aha …” routine. Dad gave me a long, strange look. Coffee was a nickel a cup. He placed a dime on the counter and walked out without a word. When he saw Mom he said, “Maizie, that boy is either crazy or epileptic.” Dad didn’t speak to me for weeks.

But the girl invited me to her table. It was 1946, and my family had just purchased a new fluid-drive Dodge car. So I asked her for a date—my first. She said “Yes”—her first. But her family moved away, and neither of us worked very hard to keep the relationship alive. It faded away.

That was the way it went with puppy love—it faded away. But one night at age 19, I was hanging out with the young crowd, and without giving it much thought, asked this perky little girl if I could drive her home.

Forty-eight years—including 46 years of marriage—and four children later, I lost her to cancer. That time it wasn’t puppy love.

Harry Noble is a frequent contributor to Texas Co-op Power.