Her father was no John F Kennedy and her mother was no Jacqueline Kennedy. But if there was such a thing in West Hamlin, Lincoln County, West Virginia they would be it.
Clinton, Anna’s father, was a hardware store owner. Tall and slim, Clinton had a presence seldom associated with the staid life of someone in his vocation. That in large part is why Anna’s mother, Sarah, eventually found Clinton’s advances irresistible. That and the fact that he was persistent. When Clinton set his mind on something he doggedly stuck with it until he got it. Fifty years later when Sarah’s name is mentioned, inevitably someone will add, “Yes, and she was a beauty.” Anna’s sisters, one 2 years older and one a year younger, were pretty, genuine, and intelligent. They say there’s one in every family, so you would think Anna would be a bit of a misfit, a little chubby, or not so intelligent, or maybe just a trouble maker of some sort. No, Anna fit right in.
Sarah and Clinton came from humble beginnings. They didn’t feel like there was anything remarkable about their family at all. They had many of the same problems as any other family. They wanted to live in a little bigger house, wanted a newer model car, Sarah wished Clinton didn’t work so much, etc., etc.
So like every other girl getting ready for the party, Anna had mixed feelings. She was a little excited, a little nervous. Cathy said there was going to be dancing. Anna had rhythm and she and her sisters would play their parents records and dance around the living room with Sarah and Clinton looking on. Being silly, they would try the latest dance moves they had seen on American Band Stand as their parents encouraged them and laughed.
But dancing with a boy in front of all the other kids? That would be different. That was a little intimidating. What if she wasn’t asked to dance? There were other girls going to the party who were much more outgoing. She knew a couple girls who if not asked by the right boy, they were so forward, they would ask them themselves.
And Johnny, Johnny was going. They sat side by side in Mrs. Cook’s 5th grade English class. He wasn’t the best looking boy in the class but there was something about him. He was smart, and confident. He didn’t think he was all ‘that’ either. While some of the other boys clamored for attention, showing off and bragging, Johnny was just Johnny. Anna didn’t understand why most boys acted so weird around her. She hadn’t a clue how very pretty she was.
When they arrived at the party, Sarah walked in with Anna to say hi to Cathy’s mom and confirm the time she should pick her up. Sarah was hoping Cathy’s mom would invite her to stay, however, when asked she said she had errands to run. Cathy’s mom had to ask Sarah the appropriate number of times before she said yes. Several moms sat in the dining room drinking coffee, some smoking cigarettes. It was a time when ash trays were a requisite on every coffee and end table.
Cathy was picking out 45’s to play for the party. She asked Anna to come over and help. All the records were in sleeves with not a scratch on them. Anna’s family had a stack of records but nothing like this. Cathy bragged about the sound of the brand new RCA Victor stereo. You could stack 14, 45 RPM’s at a time.
The records they picked were:
Hey Jude, The Beatles; Honey, Bobby Goldsboro; (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay; Otis Redding; Sugar, Sugar, The Archies; Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In, 5th Dimension; Honky Tonk Women, The Rolling Stones; Everyday People, Sly and the Family Stone; Dizzy, Tommy Roe; Hot Fun in the Summer Time, Sly and the Family Stone; One, Three Dog Night; Build Me Up Buttercup, The Foundations; Suspicious Minds; Elvis Presley; You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog, Elvis Presley.
If Anna had her way there would be more Elvis and Motown but it was Cathy’s party, Cathy’s house, and she had the final approval.
Cathy had a crush on Sean, two years older and dreamy eyed with long, sandy brown hair. The party would start in earnest when Sean arrived with his best buds Tracy and Jim who were twins. But for now the boys gathered on one side of the room and the girls on the other.
Anna stood by the stereo with Sherri and Gwen, her two best friends.
“Wonder if Johnny’s coming?” Gwen asked Anna as if she should know.
“He said he was,” Sherri answered for Anna. Gwen and Sherri gave each other a knowing look.
“How should I know,” Anna said trying to brush the comment off. Sherri and Gwen gave each other that knowing look again.
The next time the doorbell rang and Cathy’s mom answered, there stood Johnny, alone, holding a birthday gift wrapped in pink paper and a silver bow.
“How cute, come in. I’m talking about you, honey, not the gift,” she said, barely refraining from patting him on the derriere as he passed by.
She surveyed the room unsatisfied by what she saw.
“You all are a bunch of party poopers,” she declared. “Come over here Cathy,” she said to her daughter, “and dance with this fine looking young man. You all grab a partner and join in.”
Three other couples joined them on the dance floor. Anna was both relieved and disappointed she wasn’t asked to dance. The other couples jerked and gyrated on the dance floor to Honky Tonk Women, which was not a good dance song, anyway. Johnny and Cathy on the other hand moved in rhythm. The other kids may have well been dancing without partners but Johnny and Cathy danced together.
Cathy’s mom was pleased when Sean with his friends arrived while Cathy and Johnny were still on the dance floor. She was surprised when Johnny reached out and took Cathy’s hand and they began dancing a version of the Jitterbug. She had taught Cathy how to Jitterbug but as far as she knew, this is the first time she had danced like that with a boy.
But what pleased Cathy’s mom most was the look on Sean’s face when he saw Cathy dancing with Johnny. Sean was that guy who could have his pick of any girl in the school. Cathy was way too fond of him and Cathy’s mom felt the relationship was one sided. Sean would appreciate Cathy more with a little competition.
But when Cathy saw Sean, she ran over and jumped up on her tip toes and gave him a warm embrace. Johnny was left standing alone in the middle of the living room floor. He looked puzzled and a little lost. When he realized what had happen he turned to walk over to his friends. For some it would be humiliating the way Cathy left him standing there without a second thought. She was thoughtless like that and would become colder still as the years went by.
Everybody was staring at Johnny as he walked off the floor. Anna felt a pang for Johnny and caught his eye as he walked past. She reached out and was going to give Johnny’s hand a reassuring squeeze. She was surprised when he took her hand and led onto the make shift dance floor.
The first minute was a bit awkward, as Anna imagined it might be in her worst dreams, but not nearly as awkward as Sean and Cathy looked. Sean played imaginary drums as he shuffled his feet looking off into the distance as if Cathy didn’t exist.
It may have felt like minutes, but in reality it was only a few brief moments before Anna and Johnny began to feel each other’s rhythm. By the time Hot Fun in the Summer Time played, Johnny and Anna were moving as one. He took her hand and pulled her close as he whirled her around the dance floor. The moves they did naturally wouldn’t be named for a couple of years to come. The moms came out to watch.
You only find one or two dance partners in your lifetime that can feel your rhythm as you meld into one on the dance floor. Johnny and Anna found that special someone at a very early age. They danced until sweat glistened off their faces, not the least bit fatigued. They could have, would have, danced all night if left alone. But nothing that good lasts for long. Cathy’s mom stopped the music for the obligatory cake and ice cream.
Somehow Johnny and Anna were separated in the shuffle as the cake was served. They traded glances and smiles as they sat across the table from one another. Afterward, Johnny found Anna sitting outside on the porch swing with Sherri and Gwen. Gwen scooted over to make a place for Johnny next to Anna. As he sat down he put his arm on the back of the swing. It almost felt to Anna like he had his arm around her.
The back porch overlooked the Guyandotte River. On the surface of the gently flowing green water floated the first fallen leaves of autumn. The mountains were ablaze with color. Across the river a train rumbled and blew its forlorn horn as it approached the crossing at Virginia Street.
They talked and laughed as they watched the long coal train pass. Finally the music started again. Sherri and Gwen jumped up and said, “Let’s go,” expecting Johnny and Anna to follow. But they liked the feeling of sitting so close together. As the other girls left, Johnny’s arm came off the back of the swing, unmistakably around Anna’s shoulder. He pulled her close and she leaned into him. He felt her long, flowing, auburn hair tickle his cheek for the first time.
“Mom taught me how to dance. I enjoy dancing with you much more,” he said.
“And I enjoy dancing more with you than dancing with my sisters,” she said turning her head to look into his eyes.
It was one of those moments. The kiss was no less inevitable than the opposite poles of two magnets being drawn together.
Even in adulthood most first kisses are awkward. But they kissed like they danced. Her lips were soft, his slightly parted, they touched tongues for a brief moment in a soft embrace. They parted then came together in a passionate kiss. A kiss that all other kisses in their lives would be compared to.
But at their age and being the good kids they were, they couldn’t, they wouldn’t, stay there on the swing and neck. She stood up and pulled him off the swing.
“Let’s dance,” she said softly.
“Like its 1969,” he added.
And they ran back into the house in a childish exuberance that is all too fleeting in every young life.
“Was it a good day?” Sarah asked Anna on the drive home.
“The best, Mom,” Anna answered. Anna sensed her mom knew she had received her first kiss.
“It’s a special day, honey. You don’t get many like this, don’t let it be forgot,” her mom said wistfully remembering her first kiss.
And the lyrics to the song Anna’s dad listened to every night before he went to bed began to run through Anna’s head.
“Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot,
For one brief, shining moment
That was known as Camelot.”