I was sitting on my bed reading Essence Magazine and listening to the radio in the background, when I heard Distant Lover playing on the radio. The lyrics toMarvin Gaye’s song ripped my heart wide open.I knew the pain Marvin was singing about, I had lived it over and over everyday like a broken record that kept repeating as I reminisced of our summer together. Marvin so eloquently wrote the words that were deeply etched in my heart:
“Distant lover, lover so many miles away, heaven knows that I long for you every night, every night and sometimes I yearn through the day. You should think about me and say a prayer for me… As I reminisce oh baby, through our joyful summer together the promises we made, all the daily letters. Then all of the sudden everything seemed to explode. Now I gaze out my window, sugar down a lonesome road…”
Tears flowed down my chocolate cheeks, and up came deep excruciating pain. I wonder what my life would be like if Leon would have returned and married me, what happened to him? Was he thinking about me?
LeAnn walked into my bedroom. “Mama, how did you meet Leon?”
“I met him one summer when my cousin Howard came and asked Mama if I could watch his kids while his wife was in the hospital. Mama asked me if I would, of course I said yes. I always loved to travel and I loved my older cousins.”
“You and your cousins are so close. My cousins—we’re not close like that.”
“We grew up together. We all lived in Meadville. When times were tough we all lived in the same house. That’s how we made it through the rough times. Howard and Janet did so many things with me. Howard would take me for a drive in his car. Janet would always take me for a ride out in the country to Cutters Variety & Craft Store where they sold all kinds of things arts and crafts, knick knacks, toys, and many unusual things. I loved the arts and crafts, but the knick knacks I couldn’t stand them.”
“What’s wrong with knick knacks?” She said with a puzzled look on her face.
“How many do you remember me having in my house? She thought about it for a moment.
“I can’t remember any being in our house.”
“Yeah that’s right, because Aunt Carm had a curio from the floor to the top of the ceiling that housed at least a hundred of them things. And I had to wash and dry each one. I vowed there would never be a knick knack in my house.” Whenever I had finished my chores at home, I would walk up to the Manning’s house to play with Donna and Sue Ann. But I had to walk past Aunt Carm’s house. I tried my best to tip toe past, but most of the time she’d see me and call me inside to wash those knick knacks.
“Mama you’re so funny.” She laughed.
Anyway on the way back home we always stopped for an ice cream at Hanks Frozen Custard Stand on RT.322. They had the best ice cream. So when Howard asked me to watch his kids I didn’t have to think about it.”
“I never met Aunt Janet.” LeAnn said as she folded some clothes she had brought up from the basement laundry room.
“Yes, you met her, when you were three years old you and your brother went to Akron and stayed with Janet and the kids for two weeks. Anyway, Akron was about an hour and a half drive from Meadville off of interstate 80 East. Mama was crazy about her Nephew Howard. His wife Janet was her best friend’s daughter. She loved Janet like she was her own daughter. And, we all loved their children. I hurried up and packed my suitcase. Howard and I left right away. When we arrived the kids were glad to see me. Janice, the next to the oldest girl ran up to the car and gave me a big hug. She had pretty brown eyes and a head full of hair, and a lot of spunk like her maternal grandmother.”
“So, which one is the oldest?”
“Carmen is the oldest then Janice, then Big man. Robin is the baby girl.”
“When Robin saw me she stuck her tongue out then ran around the house hoping I would chase her down and tickle her. When I didn’t follow she peeked from around the house to see where I was, I sneaked around behind her and said boo and grabbed her up and swung her around in the air. They helped me carry my things inside. That night we talked until we fell asleep. The next day we went about our day. I got the kids up and fed them cereal for breakfast. Howard had already left early that morning for work. It was a cool cloudy day. The kids wanted to go to the park down the street. I really didn’t want to go to the park, but they were begging and pulling on me. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE Robin begged, those pretty brown eyes looking up at me. Finally, I gave in and off to the park we went, Carmen, Janice, Robin, and Howard Jr. who we all called Big Man. I was swinging them and they were having so much fun running around, laughing, and playing.
“Mm” LeAnn said smiling.
“I looked up and there he was walking by, this tall, slender, light-skinned boy wearing rose-tinted sun glasses. His hair was cut close to his head and neatly lined. He had a gentle smile. I noticed right away how handsome he was. Man he’s fine!” I said. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. As he walked by my heart skipped a beat. He slowed down and said ‘hello’ but kept on walking. One of the kids called for me; that distracted me for a moment. In the meantime, Janice ran up to him. I saw her talking to him from a distance. He and Janice talked for a few minutes then he walked away. I wondered what they were talking about. When Janice returned, I asked, “Janice what were you guys talking about?”
“I told him you like him!” she smirked, her arms crossed around her waist and her right foot slightly in front of her left foot. Janice was always bold and had an outgoing personality.
“You what?” I hollered.
“I said… I told him you like him,” she smiled. You did say he was fine!”
“Why did you tell him what I said?” Janice had her usual smirkish grin on her face as if to say ‘so what!’ She wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone from the day she was born. I wondered what Leon thought. I walked over to a nearby swing and sat down and was daydreaming about him. I started swinging and pumping it faster and higher back and forth. Before I knew it I was swinging so high that the swing began to buckle, which let me know that I was going too fast and too high. I slowed down and came to a slow stop. When I looked up, there he was walking towards me.
“Oh My God! What am I going to say?” My stomach felt like a ball of heavy wire all knotted up inside. I wasn’t sure what to say so, I just smiled while I thought about what to say. Before I rounded up the courage to speak,
He said, “Hi.”
“Hi I’m sorry; my cousin has a mind of her own.”
“Don’t worry it’s okay.” We talked. He told me his name was Leon Smith and that he lived on the other side of the park. We walked and talked in the park. I told him my name and that I was babysitting my younger cousins while their mother was in the hospital. The next day the kids and I went to the park again, but this time I could barely wait to get there. He was there too. We talked again while the kids played.
“Show me where you live. He said.”
“Okay, come on, I’ll show you.” We walked to the eastern edge of the park. I pointed across the street to the large white frame house on Lover’s Lane with the big full length porch and driveway. The kids played and left us alone. He was so handsome it was hard to look at him without smiling. Leon dressed very stylish. He had on a gold shirt, and black trousers. There was a sophisticated manly look about him. From that day on I took the kids to the park everyday hoping to see him and everyday there he was as if he were waiting on us.
“How did he know you would be in the park? Did you tell him what time you’d be there?” LeAnn asked.
“No, I didn’t say anything. He just knew or maybe he waited there for us. Anyway, we walked in the park as we talked and got to know each other.”
“So, what grade are you in Heddy?” He asked
“How long are you going to be in Akron?”
“I’m not sure. I’ll probably go home when Janet gets out of the hospital.”
The kids came running past us. Janice almost knocked me over. Big Man was chasing her.
“They sure are having a good time. How about you, are you having a good time Heddy?” He looked at me softly and reached for my hand, which I gladly gave to him. His hand was soft and his nails were clean and well taken care of. There were no jagged edges, unlike most young men my age. We continued to walk towards the north end of the park holding hands. As we neared the end, Leon pointed to a white house straight ahead. It was a bungalow with a full porch. “That’s where I live,” he pointed.
“Oh, that’s a pretty house.”
“Thanks,” I could see the kids playing, but I was too far away from them to be comfortable. “I better get on back.”
“Okay, I just wanted you to see where I live.” We started walking back to the center of the park where the kids were playing. Leon said he had to go, but he would come to visit me later that evening. I said ‘okay’ smiling. As he left, I watched until he was out of sight. Wow! I can’t believe he’s coming over tonight. I didn’t think once about getting permission to have company. The kids were hungry so we headed home for lunch.”
“So did you ever ask Uncle Howard?
“No, I never did. I was brain dead—comatose. Once we got home I fixed bologna sandwiches and cool-aid. The kids ate. Then we cleaned up the house. I rearranged all the living room furniture, ran the sweeper, and dusted. Finally it looked just right. I went running upstairs and searched frantically for the right clothes to wear. The ironing board and iron were downstairs so I ran back down stairs and began ironing. By that time Howard was home from work. He asked me to cook dinner. Howard had brought steak for dinner. It was a nice round steak. He worked as a butcher at a meat-packing company. He asked me if I had ever cooked steak before. I said, “No, but I can learn. Just tell me what to do. So, he told me to wash it off and season it with salt, pepper, and some garlic salt. Put a little butter across the top. Then place it in the broiler.” He laid down to rest before he had to leave for his second job.
“I did it exactly as he said. I was so proud that I could do things for Howard and that I could actually manage the house and kids like a real grown up would, except I was learning step by step. While I was in the living room daydreaming about Leon, the steak was burning in the kitchen. The smoke made its way to the living room. Finally, I noticed and ran into the kitchen just in time. It was burnt almost to a crisp.”
“Mama, you were burning things way back then too!”
“Hush girl, don’t go there. Let me finish telling the story okay? Howard told me to put it in another pan with a little water and bake it for a few minutes until tender. In the meantime, I made a salad and instant mashed potatoes. Then the kids and I ate. Howard came downstairs, but didn’t eat. I guess he didn’t want burnt steak after all. I chuckled. He said he would grab something at work then quickly left for his second shift job. Howard was a hard-working family man. Even back then he was always busy doing something constructive.
“Yeah, Uncle Howard still stays busy working on cars.”
“He’s always done that. Howard is a great mechanic. He can ride in the car with you and tell you what’s wrong with it. Anyway, I never got a chance to tell him Leon was coming over. I didn’t think about telling him. As a matter of fact, he didn’t even know I had met someone.
“Did Grandma allow you to have company?”
“No, only if she was there watching like a hawk. And, then she’d try to chase them away.”
“Chase them away how?”
“She’d say something like, Heddy needs to do the dishes now, you can help her, or she’d put them to work doing something else.”
“You chased some away from me too Mama. Remember that guy that pulled up to us at the red light?” she laughed.
I chuckled; “Yeah, you were driving that white Buick Regal I had. He was looking at you like he was licking his chops. It was LUST! I leaned over across the seat and looked him in the eye, then shook my fist at him. He took off like a 747 jet as soon as the light changed. Are you going to let me finish telling you?”
“Yeah, go ahead Mama.”
“The kids and I cleaned up the kitchen. Then I headed upstairs to get ready. I took a shower and got dressed. Then propped a mirror up on the kitchen table straightened and bumped my hair.”
“You bumped your hair?’ She frowned.
“Yeah, I bumped my hair. Back then we had those big Marcel Irons that we put in the fire until they got hot, then we rolled our hair up in them. That’s how we curled it. That was way before we had electric curling irons. My hair was my crown and glory. I kept it looking good all the time. When I finished bumping it; it looked like a wig every strand fell in place and was in perfect order. I inspected the house once more. I was standing in the kitchen and didn’t hear him when he walked onto the porch. The kids were upstairs playing when the door bell rang. I started to run to the door, but stopped cold.
“Why did you stop?” She asked.
“I knew I had to act like it was no big deal! So, I walked slow and calm like it wasn’t that important, but inside my heart was racing even tripping over me to get to the door. It was what I had lived for, and thought about all day. We both said ‘hi’ at the same time. We stood there for a few seconds our eyes fixed on each other.
Leon smiled and said, “Well, are you going to invite me in?”
“Oh yes, come on in. I opened the screen door. “Have a seat.” He walked over to the couch and sat down. I put on some forty-five records then sat down beside him. Leon talked and talked telling me all about him-self. I was quietly listening hanging onto every word he said watching his lips as they formed each word, each syllable, and thinking how fine he was. Finally he said: “Well I’ve been doing all the talking here. Tell me about you.”
Oh no! Now it’s my turn! I thought. “What should I say? Where should I start? My heart started pounding. Say something quick! I thought. “I don’t know where to begin,” I said.
He said, “Tell me about where you come from.”
“Pennsylvania.” I said quickly.
“Yes, I know that, but where in Pennsylvania?”
“Meadville it’s a small town in the northwest corner of the state.”
“How far is it from Pittsburg?” he asked looking directly into my eyes.
“It’s about one hundred miles north of Pittsburg.”
“So you’re a country girl.” Humph, I thought, country, he got his nerve!
“No, Leon we live in a small town, but it’s not out in the country. Back then I was sensitive about being from a small town and called a country girl. Everyone from Meadville was sensitive about being from such a small unheard of town.
“Well, how many police stations do you have in Meadville?” Police stations, I had to think about it for a moment. I only knew of one, but I was trying to think if there were any more.
“Just one,” I said.
“That’s all? How many post offices are there?”
I hesitated then replied, “One.”
“Just one police station and one post office, how many fire stations does Meadville have?” I thought Wow, all these questions about Meadville. It’s beginning to look like the country.
“I’m not sure how many, but I know it’s more than one. Leon, Meadville is not even on the map it’s so small.”
“But good things come out of Meadville,” he replied.
“How do you know that?” He leaned in towards me looked in my eyes and softly said, “I know because you come from there Angel.” I smiled and looked away. Leon was three years older than me. He was the youngest of eight children. The baby boy of the family had seven older brothers and one sister. I was just a freshman; he was a senior in high school.
Leon asked, “Do you believe in love at first sight?
What is love at first sight? I thought. Not only did I not believe in it, I didn’t even know what it was, I couldn’t even play it off.
“Mm I don’t know. What do you mean by love at first sight?” I asked.
“That’s when you first meet someone and you know right then and there that you love them. Do you think it’s possible to love someone you just met?” I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that question, but one thing I did know was that Leon was giving me a headache with all the deep questions. I guess he could see that I was getting tired.
He said, “Looks like you’re getting sleepy. I better go.” Although I was tired of the questions, I wasn’t ready for him to go. He left, but came over again the following night and brought some brand new 45’s from Motown: “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “My Girl” by the Temptations that was our song.”
“These are hot off the press. Nobody has heard them yet in Akron or Meadville,” he said. I wondered how he got them before anybody else did. We danced and listened to the records. He taught me how to bop. Just before he got ready to leave, he kissed me. An electrical shock passed between us when our lips touched.
“Ouch, you shocked me,” he said.
“No, you shocked me.” I responded. Neither Leon nor I understood why we got shocked when we first kissed, but it didn’t stop us from kissing again. It was undeniable we had a special connection. After a while we said good night and he left.”