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James R. Stout

Sweet Pea and Billie and Me

            The summer that I was 10 years old was a great summer. Well, great for me personally, but perhaps not so great for others. Young American servicemen in jungles on the other side of the world probably weren’t having a good summer. For that matter, 30 or so young college students at the University of Texas didn’t have a great summer due to a sniper’s bullets. And, there was a sick and warped man up Chicago way that made for a terrible summer for several young women. But, for a 10-year-old boy with a great homelife in a small town in Texas life was pretty good.

            Big events in my life that summer included attending my first Major League Baseball game at the Houston Astrodome. The hometown beat the Cincinnati Reds 6-3 which included a 3-run homerun that set-off the famous scoreboard and thrilled me more than you can imagine. I also spent 3 weeks at my grandparent’s farm and learned to shoot my grandfather’s .22 rifle. Grandpa was more than happy to set me lose on his 700-acre ranch to kill as many armadillos as possible. They dug holes in the pastures which could cause expensive repairs to his truck or even worse, those armadillo holes were just waiting there for a cow to step in and break its leg. Grandpa spent a goodly amount of time teaching me gun safety and he was very specific about what I shoot at. Armadillos and crows were allowed and encouraged. Crows because they would get into his corn fields. But I was never to shoot other birds or any other animal that I didn’t plan on eating. Well, that meant that squirrels and rabbits were safe because I wasn’t about to start skinning one for dinner when Grandma had dinner taken care of and her dinners were far and away better than a tough old squirrel or rabbit. Raccoons were nocturnal and left them out of the mix. Besides that, grandpa’s old hound dog was apt to beat us to it anyway.

            I spent a week with my cousins down in Houston that summer and we had a great time doing things like going to the local public swimming pool, going to see a double-feature movie, playing all kinds of games, and we even built a couple of treehouses in their 1-acre backyard. It was also a summer filled with great music. We had “Summer in The City” by The Lovin Spoonful, “Paperback Writer” by The Beatles, “Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and The Shondells, “Red Rubber Ball” by The Cyrkle, “Wild Thing” by The Troggs, “The Pied Piper” by Crispin St. Peters, “Don’t Bring Me Down” by The Animals, and then there was a bubblegum (before the genre was so named) hit called “Sweat Pea” by Tommy Roe. And this brings me to Billie.

            Billie was a cute little girl my age who lived across the street. Her family moved into their house at the end of May after school was out. Billie was a brunette and she rode a nice little “Stingray” bicycle that was about the same color of green that her eyes were. I was in “luv”. Over the next couple of weeks, I had a mini-foreshadowing of what was to come later on down the road where girls were concerned. You know, that was 53 years ago and so far as I can tell girls/women are still pretty much the same – confusing.

            It all started very innocently. In fact, it would become my modus operandi for years to come where cute girls were concerned. I sat on the curb in front of our house and my lips were sealed with some kind of out-of-this-world superglue. If I were going to be able to talk to Billie, then she was going to have to start the ball rolling. In other words, I was shy. Well, at first anyway. One day Billie came outside and got on her bike and started to ride around in circles on the street. I sat there making sideway glances and wanting so badly to say something, but I had absolutely no experience with girls. Hey, I was only 10! To tell the truth, I was like that for years to come even after I had some experience under my belt. Finally, Billie said “Hello”. It was my turn, so I say, “Hi” Within a few minutes we had introduced ourselves to each other. Things moved rather quickly after that.

            By the next day, I was riding my bike along with Billie on her bike and that’s when it happened. We were just tooling along on Alabama Street and I did the old “Look ma, no hands” routine which Billie then copied and wonder of wonders our hands met. Billie either started to lose her balance or feigned losing her balance, one never knows given feminine ways, and I dawned my good guy hat and saved the fair maiden by grabbing her hand. Superglue again.

            Well, over the next two weeks we talked about all kinds of things. I had a little transistor radio on my bike handlebars, and we would listen to the hits of the day. That’s how “Sweet Pea” became “our” song. I can only imagine the laughs of other kids and probably a parent or two at the sight and sound of Billie and me riding our bikes, holding hands, and singing “Oh, sweet pea, won’t you be my girl? Won’t you, won’t you, won’t you be my girl?”

            We would get a couple of lawn chairs and sit in them and talk about “stuff”. Sometimes we played house. Now, get your mind out of the gutter. We were only 10. By playing house, Billie would pretend to be cooking dinner and I would pretend to be reading the afternoon newspaper. It was all very innocent and, dare I say it, sweet. But the little lovebirds were not destined to grow-up together and become “real” boyfriend and girlfriend. Not even close. We made it about 2 weeks and then I said something that she didn’t like. This too was a foreshadowing of things to come where girls were concerned. I still don’t know what I said that made her mad. But she sure did get mad.

            She didn’t call me names and I just sort of stood there in a confused state of mind. Yea, that happened a lot with girls for me. What she did do though was point out that I had freckles on my nose. This was apparently supposed to hurt my feelings or make me mad. In today’s vernacular, it was a “fail”. I could have cared less if I had freckles. All three of them. When this didn’t seem to illicit the response that Billie desired, she said she never wanted to see me again. I was a little hurt, but more wondering how that was going to be possible given we lived across the street from each other. Before you knew it, the neighborhood kids had taken sides. It was like “New Kid in Town” by The Eagles, but that song wouldn’t be out for another 10 years.

            Alas, I was due to go to my grandparents for a couple of weeks and that was pretty much the end of Billie and me. By the time I came back détente had formed and then Mom and Dad told us that we would be moving back to Houston as soon as our house sold. Billie would no doubt find someone else to ride bikes with and I was quite prepared for a new adventure. From time to time I would think about Billie, the first girl that I ever held hands with, and wonder what ever became of her. But things were moving fast in my young life. There was junior high school, high school, music, baseball, cars, and girls that made me forget all about Billie. I sure hope life turned out good for Billie. She really was a sweet kid. I think about that innocent stage of life and it makes me long for the days when things weren’t so cynical and messed-up. I hope that kids of today get to experience innocence like those days and before things start to get crazy. Billie, if you’re out there, then I hope you’re doing well, that you have a bunch of sweet grandbabies, and have had a full life. We were lucky to live when we did.

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