I moved to Hickory, N.C., in the summer of 1942 from a community called Pleasant Gardens, about five miles west of Marion, N.C., when my father was assigned engineering work on a new state project, now the much traveled Interstate 70 through the heart of Catawba County. I first remember standing on location and watching the cutting and filling operation, needed to level the road bed.
Although living my previous years in a rural area with a small high school, I enrolled at much larger Hickory High and showed up for the first day of school, a 130-pound, 15-year-old senior with a bad haircut, buck teeth and the social skills of Barney Fife. Having grown up in a family of males, lacking the experience of any interaction with the opposite sex and spending all my spare time in cow pasture ball games, hunting or fishing, I was ill-equipped for the future that faced me.
Since my previous school offered French as the only foreign language, I also signed up for French at Hickory High, and found myself in a class room with 24 females. It was only through the guidance and compassion of my teacher, Ms. Adelaide Shuford, that I was able to even stay in the class, much less finish the course. Most days, I just sat around with big, red ears. To say that I was miserable would be a gross understatement. I joined the football team in order to make some new friends, and then came out for basketball, a sport I had played since I was a fourth grader. Playing on a championship team helped me gain some confidence and make some new friends.
Although I had never spoken to her, word got around that I was really smitten with a pretty junior named Annie, and in the spring, when the first local dance of the season was held, I hit the old “jackpot.” It was the day of the big bands and our local dances were held at the old Legion Hut, near the railroad tracks in Hickory. Invitation to these affairs was by postcard, stating, "What?: Spring Dance Where?: Legion Hut When?: April 12 , 8 to 12, and most importantly, Who?: (and there she was)…Annie." This was the greatest day of my life, and it took me three more days to get up the nerve to call her. I told her I would be picking her up around 7:30 on the April 12, and we would be double dating with my friend, Gilbert Mayfield, whom I considered a smooth operator and completely unafraid of females. What could go wrong? This shouldn't be any harder than leading a three on two fast break, with the game on the line.
The big day arrived, and, now armed with a driver's license, I washed and polished the 1939 Plymouth, filled her with a mixture of rationed gas and cleaning solvent from Lutz Cleaners, donned some of my brother Murray's hand-me-down clothes, put a “dab" of Brilliantine on the old cowlick, picked up Mayfield and his date, and arrived at Annie's home right on time. When she came to the door, a vision of loveliness, I started hyperventilating, stepped in the flower bed, tripped on the front step and my nose started running but I somehow managed to wrestle the old Plymouth to the Legion Hut parking lot. I never suspected it at the time but I had already experienced the highlight of the evening, for it all went down hill from there.
As we walked through the door and I proudly handed my invitation to our host, lightning struck! I suddenly realized that I had never held a girl's hand, had never even seen anyone dance, much less dance myself, and “she sure smelled different from the Hickory High School dressing room.” I found Annie a seat, secured two cups of punch, and seriously wondered what would happen if I bolted for the door, jumped in my car and enrolled at another school on Monday morning. I decided to “tough it out” for a while anyway, and returned to my seat. A great band was playing all the favorite tunes of the era, and about every twenty minutes, I would remark to Annie that “this was a great band," or “that was a great song," or “it sure is hot in here." Her replies seemed to get shorter and shorter. My only salvation was when some guy would come by and ask her to dance. I sat there for four hours, determined to get up and try the next dance, but suddenly it was 12. To make a long story short, when the last dance was over and we returned to the parking lot, Annie crawled in the back seat with Mayfield and his date, whom, I think, spent a good part of the evening there anyway Having no idea how to apologize to her for the disastrous evening, I quickly delivered her home, knowing she was out of my life forever but trying to pick up a few points by not stepping in her flower bed again. Apparently, everyone else at the dance was enjoying themselves so much, they didn't even notice my plight, so I didn't hear it mentioned at school after my sleepless weekend. I was too embarrassed to face her again, and too “chicken” to shoot myself, so I just lived with my shame for a couple of months.
My message from this is, “Mamas, don't put your kids out in the world without some semblance of social skills, it's a jungle out there! Teach them to talk freely with the opposite sex, dance a little, smile a lot and apologize when necessary."
By the way, Annie , wherever you are, I haven't heard from “Dancing with the Stars” yet. If they call, I'll let you know, but I doubt if they'd be interested in a Texas Two-Step, and they have probably already hired people to serve the punch.