Ron, Ronnie, Bobby and Dale. For most of my childhood these four boys surrounded me. First at Sunday School, where for years I was the only girl in the class and, probably not that secretly, liked it that way. And then in our wee high school where age differences were less important than whatever bound us. All four of them were a year older than me, and I can't count the hours I spent pining after each one in his turn. They (and my sons) are who I think of when I hear this song
Ronnie was, in that sweet innocent way of childhood, my first boyfriend. When I went to his 11th birthday party I was not the only girl, but I did get to wear a tiara to set me apart. Our relationship consisted mainly of holding hands in Sunday School, and occasional walks during other church related events. When I "broke up with him" he gave me a darling bunny to try to regain my favour. I joked to Shiny about naming it Dale.
Ronnie moved away shortly after that. In my mind he is forever 13, protective, and slightly angry at the world. I'm not sure why angry - maybe I added that last bit after his mom died way too early. We were pen pals for years. And then that stopped. I often wonder where he ended up and if he's happy. I hope he is. I'm often sorry I never kissed him; by rights he should also have been my first kiss.
All four of these friends were special - Ron was a true and dear friend even after we both managed to leave that tiny town for university, find partners, and start families. Of the four, Ron was the one I had the most in common with. As is the way of growing up, we too eventually lost touch. It's only through the glory of social media that we have reconnected, shared stories of the challenges of our now young adults, seen the changes in once familiar faces. The smile is still the same though, as is the laugh that reverberated down the line when we finally chatted on the phone last year.
Bobby (decades ago he requested we start calling him Bob. I can't) is the least clear to me. Tall and strong and blonde and quiet, I never knew quite how to talk to him. He had a way with horses that still stands out to me. Picture a cross between Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, in soft focus and with a breeze blowing in a field behind him. Bobby was someone I worshiped from afar, if across the school parking lot or from the back of a church dinner can be called afar. We caught up once 15 years ago. I'm not even sure how he knew how to find me, and it might have been our only one-on-one conversation in 30 years of knowing each other, but it settled me. Recently divorced and unsettled, that conversation reassured me that I was going to be okay. I imagine that's how horses being trained by Bobby feel about him.
And then there was Dale, I'm not sure how Dale developed such an aura around him, but to me he always had the appeal of the slightly naughty charmer. It could have been his amazing grin. I remember him having his mom absolutely wrapped around his finger, and laughing with a bit of wonder at their interactions. He was sweet and inclusive in a town that didn't encourage that in boys and men. He was a flirt, though always within reason. My crush on him waxed and waned over 15 years.
I don't remember where this photo came from. It could be one my Dad took and gave to me knowing of my lingering crush. Or it could be one I snuck under the guise of the yearbook club. Either way, it is how I always remember Dale - smiling, at ease, happy, 17.
Dale died last night. I didn't know he'd been sick with pancreatic cancer - perhaps his wife didn't want to deal with the Facebook response while they tried to make the most of the time they had left. It was the first post I saw this morning - her loving tribute to the man she'd shared 22 years and three sons with. They'd been raising Dale's nephew as well, since Dale's sister died of breast cancer last year.
My sadness is a quiet one. My heart aches for Dale's wife and sons, for his parents who will bury their oldest son, for his brother who has now lost both siblings to cancer.
But for me, the post was a reminder. I often disparage that small town I grew up in. I do not look back on it fondly or think of it as a place of opportunity or support. I left at 19 and took little time to look back. When I returned for my 10 year grad reunion two bar fights broke out AMONG MY CLASSMATES. I miss very little of that town.
And then I think of Ron, Ronnie, Bobby and Dale. I think of Shiny, Ali, and Brenda, and the teachers who saw something in me. I think of the parents of my friends and the friends of my parents and sisters. I wouldn't know them. I wouldn't remember them. They wouldn't have shaped me if I hadn't lived in that small town.