I was seven that summer morning between first and second grade when I had my first taste of wooing. Danny was a quiet classmate, someone I’d smiled at once or twice and shared my reading book with on a half-dozen occasions when he couldn’t find his own. Sometimes that’s all the encouragement it takes. Sometimes, that’s enough to make a boy rise early and don all his cowboy gear … and go a’courtin.
“Mornin’, Ma’am,” he’d drawled in his fake John Wayne voice when my mother answered the door. “I’ve come to call on Shannon.”
Fortunately, I’d been sitting out on the front porch watching a pincher bug cross the walkway at my feet, and I heard and saw Danny making his high-noon advance from well down Cedar street. Long before I could make out the silver spurs attached to his red boots, I heard them jangling. I’d had to squint my eyes and peer hard at first, but then my suspicions had been confirmed. His hat was cocked at a jaunty angle; its red and white striped strings pulled hard against his hairless chin. The sun glinted brashly off his cereal-box sheriff’s badge, making me feel as if the Law were coming after me. The swagger did me in.
My heart galloped right to the bottom of my saltwater sandals. I left the pincher bug, skedaddled straight upstairs and into my bedroom and hid myself under the covers before my suitor could reach the house. As my bedroom was just above the front porch and the window ajar, I could hear the goings-on clearly. When my mother came upstairs to tell me I had a gentleman caller waiting at the door, I informed her in a shaky voice that I had the flu.
She rebuffed him kindly. My illness fled almost immediately, but to this day I can still feel that calf-with-a-branding-iron-coming-at-you lurch in my stomach if I dwell on the Danny incident too long.
I’ve no idea why I feared that cowboy so. I only remember feeling like that manchild-on-a-mission might just toss me in a feed sack, hoist me over his shoulder, and cart me off to the ranch. Maybe all he wanted was to show off his new spurs, but in my heart of hearts, I felt like a bunny who’d been spotted by a hawk.
I didn’t see Danny again after that. My mother remarried not long after and we moved to Oklahoma before the start of the new school year. I have no idea what happened to him or where he is now. But I do hope, in the end, that Danny found a girl who appreciated spurs and badges and red-striped chin straps. I hope she took one look at that struttin’ cowboy, and ran herself out to meet him.
That’s just what I did, when the right one came along.