Dec. 2, 2012
Ever since I was a child, I have been drawn to gardening. A true introvert, I found the garden to be the perfect place for me to be alone and think. My garden knew my thoughts and kept the secrets I'd whisper. And it was where I could play my battery-operated transistor radio as loud as I wanted. With the FM radio dial set to KKXL, I'd spend hours in the sun talking to myself, gardening, and listening to the day's top hits. It was a place where good things happened.
During the 1970's there was an abundance of love songs that filled the air waves. While I was awakening into adolescence I was also memorizing the lyrics to songs such as Olivia Newton-John's "I Honestly Love You", the Eagles "Fooled Around and Fell In Love", and Peter Frampton's "Baby I Love Your Way." Who can forget "Love Will Keep Us Together" by The Captain & Tennille? Listening pleasures of the decade ranged from sweet love to the sultry and sexy. I'd croon quietly while I worked to thin carrots, pull carpet weeds and hill potatoes. Time would pass quickly as I sang my way through row after row of vegetables.
4-H was another reason why I spent time in the garden. One of my 4-H projects was to bring a garden exhibit to be judged at the county fair. In anticipation, the entire 4-H club would tour each others gardens. To the same degree that I loved gardening, I dreaded any event that called for public speaking. This included the 4-H garden tour. Painfully shy, the mere thought of it made my palms sweat and stomach ache.
Listening to the radio helped me wrangle my overwhelming anxiety about the pending tour. Each afternoon, I'd carry my little blue Panasonic Rolling Tone radio out to the garden and place it in the shade under the apple tree. Music playing, I would mindlessly weed, memorizing song lyrics and wondering what hidden meaning they held. For example, what was the purpose of Donna Summer's breathless moaning in "Love to Love You Baby?" Seriously, I didn't know. The only time I moaned in bed was when I accidentally rolled over on a miserable sunburn. The songs with the most cryptic lyrics really had me befuddled. I could feel something behind Bob Seeger's gravely voice and the pulsating melody of "Night Moves." There was an intensity when Seeger belted out that he, "felt the lightening and waited for the thunder." In the context of the song, I knew lightening and thunder were definitely not meteorologic references but I was clueless as to the interpretation. Throw in a song like The Who's "Mamma's Got a Squeezebox" and I was even more confused. All this love business made even less sense when I thought about the boys my age. There was nothing attractive about pubescent boys. They were gangly, greasy and stunk like BO. Seriously, somebody needed to talk to them about washing the important places. The music left questions jumbled in my mind like unconnected dots. Love was a mystery to me.
The warm days of June seemed to fast forward up to the date of the garden tour. Unfortunately, preparation for spending the day touring rural gardens required overdressing to prevent mosquito bites. In spite of the sunny 80+ degree weather, on this day I had donned a sweatshirt, jeans and cowboy boots. You'd sweat to death but avoided getting peppered with itchy mosquito bites.
A caravan of cars, filled with parents and kids carried us from farm to farm where we'd listen to a presentation and check out who had the cleanest garden with the straightest rows. By the time it was my turn the notes I had prepared were rumpled and ink smeared from the clutch of my sweaty palms. Nervously I watched the county extension agent as he quieted the chattering group and cued me to begin my presentation.
Sweat sprouted from all my pores, tickling as it ran down my back. I shyly kept my eyes on the ground, causing my heavy thick lensed glasses to slide down my nose. With a desert dry mouth and quaking voice I struggled to read the notes I'd prepared about the varieties I planted - Scarlet Nantees carrots, Blue Lake green beans, Big Boy tomatoes, sweet California Wonder green peppers, Green Goliath broccoli, Charleston Gray watermelon....
My blushing cheeks and shaking hands made me more self-conscious by the minute. I needed the torture to be over before I threw up.
Then a steady masculine voice said,
"There isn't a weed to be found. I can see you have worked very hard."
I peeked over the top of the glasses that had slid down my sweaty nose. The voice was coming from a tall myopic blur.
"Your potato hills are picture perfect."
His unexpected compliments pushed my blushing cheeks from pink to crimson.
I settled my glasses back onto the bridge of my nose and tilted my chin up to get a better look at the blur. The man who had spoken was our twenty-something county extension agent, standing just a few feet away. He looked at me with kind eyes and a big smile. My heart beat faster.
He wasn't gangly or greasy.
Unlike boys my age, he didn't stink.
I was grateful for his compliments that settled around me like a life preserver, rescuing me from drowning in a pool of my own anxiety. With his smooth and deep voice he then diverted the crowd's attention by engaging them in pratter about early yielding vegetable varieties. Relieved, I took a deep breath.
With everyone's focus off of me, I took a closer look at this attractive man. He had long blonde bangs combed over from a side part ala 1970s style. Like all hard working men his sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. A plaid trim fit shirt was tucked in under a thick leather belt. My eyes moved slowly down his snugly fitting dark denim Wrangler jeans to a pair of scuff-toed cowboy boots. Even though he wore a gold wedding band, it didn't stop my heart from beating faster. Visually inspecting this handsome man created a circuit of warm waves which rippled from my head down to my toes. Hot and dizzy, my knees threatened to give out. I tried to anchor myself by digging the heels of my cowboy boots into the soil underfoot.
Cuing me that it was time to move along to the next farm, he turned to me and said, "I see a blue ribbon in your future." To a 4-H kid, it didn't get any better than that.
His last compliment switched up the voltage on my circuit, causing a surge of burning electricity through my body. Was this Seeger's lightening? Have mercy. The feelings of fond affection that I had while listening to love songs on the radio exploded into sensations much larger. If such strong feelings could be ignited by a near stranger, I could only imagine the intensity of what it would be like to experience true love.
Throughout the garden tour I fantasized about what a great match this handsome man would be for me. He personified the ideal farm boy -- educated, understanding of rural life, but unencumbered by the daily labors of a farm. All afternoon long my heart pattered as I watched him stroll about in those Wrangler jeans. Invisibly tethered together with a lasso of love, I followed him through garden after garden, oblivious to the hot sun and mosquitoes. Along the way I discovered that he had an endearing sense of humor. Sort of a northern Minnesota hybrid cross between Oliver Wendell Douglas and Hank Kimball. Needless to say, I was a very happy teenager that day, full of new thoughts and wonderful feelings.
When I reflect back that first crush seems a little silly. All the while my sister was swooning over teen heart throbs Donny Osmond and David Cassidy, I had my own crush on the county extension agent. Is it any wonder why I kept that secret to myself for 37 years?
Decades have passed since I experienced the emotionally charged excitement of that first crush.
As a teen I quickly learned that a crush has nothing to do with love and that a perfect partner is only an idealized image.
While I was married I learned much about what love is and what it is not.
Not least of all, life experience helped me to understand the mysterious meaning behind those veiled love song lyrics. Seeger was right. Lightening and thunder doesn't just come from a summer storm. And my heart still flutters when I think about that handsome guy from extension.