I was fourteen when I got my first job… Oh, I had spent four or five desultory days the previous summer, wandering around a field under a blazing sun, chopping cotton, and I had helped the Porterfields get their hay into the barn when their son broke his arm, but this was a “town” job. On Saturdays, I was the shoeshine boy at Ivan’s Barbershop. I charged 25 cents… 30 cents for boots, and I could make a couple of dollars on a really good day. The shop was just off the corner of the Square… next to the Greyhound Bus Station and across the street from the bank. Sooner or later everyone in town would pass by that corner. I was there at the barbershop the first time I ever saw Mary. Everyone had heard that a new family had moved to Portales (nothing much escapes scrutiny in a small town). She was this weird little girl, eleven years old and she had a paper route. This was 1952… little girls didn’t have paper routes. Whoever heard of such a thing? Every Saturday morning, I’d see her across the street as she trudged catty-corner across the Court House Square to the News Tribune to turn in the money she’d collected and get her money.
So, Mary always claimed that we had known each other since she was eleven and I was fourteen… but let me tell you something… fourteen-year-old boys don’t know any eleven-year-old girls! Oh, I might’ve owned up to knowing her brother John who was a year younger than me, we played on a couple of ball teams together… but an eleven-year-old girl with a paper route… never.
Mary and I started going together when she was fifteen and I was eighteen… I had flunked out of school my first junior year and had joined the Navy and was back in school after not being able to stay in the Navy. ( ***That episode has a story of its own, which I’ll tell another time.)
So, by that time I had repeated the second semester of my Junior year, gone to summer school… I was now senior, Mary a sophomore. Ironically, Mary died fifty years to the day from our first date. Mary was, and probably still is, a legendary student at Portales High. Of course, she was the Valedictorian… made the highest scores on all the state-wide tests… and I can say with absolute honesty she was the most intelligent human being I’ve ever known in my life. Here’s what’s funny about the two of us going together. I was in a Rock’n Roll band… had a reputation of not being the sharpest knife in the drawer… as a matter of fact had been jokingly voted, “most likely to end up in prison”. This no lie…. when Mary and I started going out… teachers would stop her in the hallway and say… ”Mary, you’re breaking your mother’s heart”. Mary was my first and only love. I have never had another girlfriend… had never been on a date before Mary.
Her parents naturally were concerned that we had become “too serious”… she was only fifteen and was such a brilliant student that they took the drastic step of forbidding us to see each other. (Incidentally, they were probably right). For one year, we couldn’t go on dates. I’m not religious at all, but I was allowed to see her in church. So for that year, I went church Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and even went on Wednesday night. There’s was one other way we could see each other. Her dad loved to play bridge, so I learned to play and I could go over to their house one night a week and play bridge. After a year, her parents realized we probably weren’t gonna fall out of love, and they lifted the restriction. After Mary’s graduation, they moved to Albuquerque… her dad worked for the paper there… and Mary attended UNM for one year. So we didn’t get to see each other much during that year. Being apart was intolerable, so after her freshman year, Mary and I got married and moved into the Vetville Apartments at ENMU.