By: Ken La Rive
I was taught to have respect for women. In my day we tipped our hats when they crossed our path, and said something cordial like “Good evening Ma’am,” or just “Ma’am?”, like it was a proper question. Usually it would get you a coy hint of a smile in return, which was thought to be a priceless gift. We opened all doors for women, with respect bordering on reverence. Never did it cross our minds to ever swear or cuss in front of one, and with a woman on our arm, a man would be right to dot the eye of anyone who spoke out of turn. But then, somewhere in this proverbial tangle of ideas, those that define our human nature and our place in society, I learned that women were indeed beautiful, made to love, admire, and an enigmatic and mysterious art object. I was nervously tongue tied around then, in admiration of their self-control, their practiced poise, their articulation of language, and their demure and soft strength that proved to be stronger then steel, and stronger by far then me.
A mother and child are so beautiful, beyond a poet’s wonder, or understanding. There is a tie that binds them together that was so amazing to me, so awesome, and so spiritual. I realized this before I realized myself: that although our physical bodies are weak, a woman’s will, a mother’s maternal love, is the most incredible strength of all.
I remember those CYO dances, and the first time I ever did the “Peppermint Twist” with a girl. Before air conditioning, the night’s fresh breezes blew from open windows and mixed by revolving ceiling fans of St. Raphael’s recreation hall. My taps rang out as I made the long walk across the polished hardwood floor, to the girl’s side. I had jelly legs, a burning in the pit of my stomach, but I had a mission, to ask one of these angels to dance. I had scoped her out hours before, long before I had the nerve to break away from my buddies. What great fear there was in my heart. Fear that she would say no, but even more fear that she would say yes! Notwithstanding, there is a bridge that must be crossed by all of us, one way or the other, as we realize that both men and women are two halves of the same thing. I got my first inkling of this powerful thought, as in a dream, and clumsily tried to guide her between the other dancers, to that perfect and comfortable place. Those soft and moist cheeks, the smell of spray net on teased hair, and subtle smells, like fresh baked bread, vanilla extract, and something more, like a pheromone magnetism radiating from the heat of dancing. I was hooked.
I played the gambit, the game, by what I knew of love from songs and television. I saw literally what was meant by “Venus in Blue Jeans” and the whispers of Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, The Shirelles, and Tommy James dictated the words and feelings that came pouring from my heart. I remember well that fevered first kiss, and I thank you Debbie, wherever you are. A million miles and years ago, it seems, but really, only yesterday. I have carried effortlessly, tuns of girl books, while walking home from school. Those perfectly covered books, without a mark, a scuff, a dent, …and I tried with boyish wonder to understand the hows and whys of these bewildering and perplexing creatures that could touch something so deep inside of me. They were so clean, so fresh, so sparkling…
I have been lucky with women. Though there have been a few to have broken my heart, mostly, it was magic. One along the way took up my spirit as her own, and through the years I can no longer tell where she leaves off and I begin. I guess love is the cement for such a thing, and as time has a way of teaching us what we thought we already knew, the joy and pain blend into what we are and have become, and finally gives a sense of peace.
I have never been much into praying, not for something, anyway. But I constantly give thanks for the grace of Maddy and our daughter Laura, and what they mean to me. What purpose would I find in life without them to share it with? How lonely would it be to look out over the vast night stars, without having them to share it with? They are with me even when I’m half way around the world.
I have gotten jokes by email about the gross and subtle differences between men and women. Most of them I don’t find the least bit funny, but really, they are kind of sad, aren’t they? So condescending in the display, I feel sorry that life has treated some so harshly that they would be so insensitive, so detached. What we are, men and women, are the concave and convex lenses that focus into infinity. We are both the marriage of spirit and body, and this blend is the most beautiful and rewarding experience this life has to offer. How strong is an idea, a dream, when two is of one mind. What divine greatness could have perceived it?
I can’t Peppermint Twist like I could in the old days, but in my heart I still feel the same twinge of magic when I ask Maddy to dance. I guess I’m still in love, and surely, still in awe…