That winter went by relatively uneventfully. In my happy-go-lucky way, I continued to fall in and out of “love” with great regularity. Still being somewhat a bashful country boy, however, it was difficult to ask a girl for a date for fear of being turned down, so often I simply did not ask.
At one time or another, I “had a crush” on several of the girls—Oreva Parker, Dorothy Belisle, Vivian Burr, and Frances Pounds who worked part-time at Gearhart’s Drug Store. I dated some of them and others but never wound up “going steady”. I frequently saw Patty Cross and she was blossoming into a very luscious young lady; however, she was still back in her first year at Shumway Junior High and I never thought of her as more than a very good friend whose company I enjoyed and who I could talk to about anything. Elaine was pretty much in the same category. I adored both of them.
I recall one dating incident early in 1939. Each year in March the VHS Girl;s League put on a Tolo Dance. It was a social event of the year prior to the junior and senior proms.
At Tolo, roles were reversed—the girls had to ask and take the boys. Waiting for someone to ask us to go to the Tolo dance gave us boys some idea of the suspense that the girls went through regularly with regard to the regular dances. I had little confidence that any of the more popular girls would invite me. Most of the had their eye on one of the football varsity.
One afternoon when I started home from school, I found Lena Helm loitering along slowly outside the back gate I always used. Lena, and her brother Manuel, lived on the west side not far from our house and I knew them casually. Lena was a pleasant and attractive girl—pretty but not really beautiful. She was short and stocky but she had a nice face surrounded by well-kept dark hair. She was always friendly.
On this occasion, Lena walked along with me on the way home. We talked idly about this and that, then finally she blurted out, “How would you like to go to Tolo with me?”
I liked Lena and was very pleased. The dance was only a week away and I had not had any other offers. I grinned at her and said, “Sure, Lena, I’d like that! You have to come and get me, you know.”
She blushed and said, “I know. Maybe Manuel can drive us in the car and we won’t have to walk.”
I got a shock the next day. When I left the school building at noon, Marcia Chaffins, one of the popular girls from a quite well-to-do family, was waiting outside the door. She invited me to go to Tolo with her.
I would have liked going with her, although I had never seriously considered Marcia as a girlfriend. For a fleeting moment I considered making some excuse to Lena but I could not do that. My father had always taught us boys that a man’s word is his bond—better than any piece of paper—and that going back on a promise was unthinkable. Besides, I could not do that to dear sweet Lena who never hurt anyone by word or deed. Lena was my kind of people. I simply had to tell Marcia that I already had a date and thanked her for asking me.
On the night of the dance, I decided to make Lena do it right. My mother had always insisted that we boys not just pull up in front of a girl’s house and honk, but that we should go to the door properly. That night I got all dressed then sat down in the living room to read a book. Soon Manuel and Lena drew up to the curb and honked. I just ignored the horn and sat there.
Mother said, “Conrad, they are here for you.”
I just smiled and replied, “I know it. She hasn’t come to the door yet.”
After a couple of minutes, the doorbell rang. There stood an embarrassed Lena. She shyly stepped in and held out a small florist’s box. It contained a small corsage and now it was me who was embarrassed. I took the single white gardenia from the box wondering if I really was supposed to wear it.
“Uh, well,” I stammered, “I don’t think it would look so good on me but it would look nice on you.”
I pinned the gardenia on Lena’s coat. Off we went to the dance and we had a great time.