By Bob Huber
It happens every spring — hornets buzz, dirt blows, and I recall my youthful romance with Tangerine Crotchmire. It didn’t last — it just wasn’t meant to be — but it was a shining moment in my misspent youth, and it comes back every year to haunt me.
Tangerine was the sister of my friend Virgil, and when we were kids, she often carried our weapons to European battlefields on the slopes of the Colorado Rockies. She wasn’t old enough to be certified in any weaponry, but she was a good gun bearer.
Her duties came to an end one day when she didn’t show up for our latest battle with Nazi invaders. I asked about her, but Virgil just shrugged and said, “She went to live with our grandma in Colorado Springs. You know sisters — they come, and they go.”
Then a few years later, Tangerine returned briefly, and it was spring. I should mention that crocuses were blooming, lilacs were budding, and I did a strange thing. With Tangerine in tow, Virgil and I were on our way to the county dump to shoot rats, and I said, “I’ll carry the guns, Tangerine. Take my hand. It’s stumbly here.”
Do I have to delve into the genetic terms that underlie a boy’s overnight leap from weird kid to unruly adolescent? I won’t, because this is a family newspaper.
But I will say that a boy is one day content to hunt rats at the county dump, even to ponder a career as a safari guide, and next he falls into an abyss labeled “puberty.” In other words, he reacts as if a yellow jacket dropped down his shirt.
That’s when the world changes. Girls are no longer little sisters and gun bearers. They are soft and fluffy cumulus clouds — with hips and lips!
When I took the guns and Tangerine’s hand, Virgil looked at me as though I’d just licked a toad. But Tangerine said, “Oh, thank you,” and at that moment my testosterone level went up three notches on the Richter scale.
I should further digress to explain a girl’s overnight leap from naïve childhood to glamorous doll, but I won’t do that either. If you don’t know by now, ask your daughter. They teach it in school.
Suffice it to say, a girl one day is content to tag along with her brother and Super Dummy from down the road — she even considers a career as a professional caddie — and next she ascends to a plateau labeled, for lack of a better word, “Womanhood.”
So when we finally reached a hill overlooking the dump, I spread my coat on the ground and said, “Sit here, Tangerine.”
“Won’t you get cold?”
“Naw, I never get cold,” I said, my teeth chattering.
“What grade are you in now?” she asked.
“Ninth,” I said.
“Do you play football?”
“Oh sure,” I said.
My coach often asked the same question, only he phrased it differently: “Huber, are you playing the same game we are?”
“I could tell,” she said. “Why are you shivering?”
“I smell perfume,” I said. “I sometimes shiver when I smell it.”
She held out her tiny wrist. “It’s called ‘Frenzy.’” I sniffed and made a mental note to look up the word.
Virgil, meanwhile, had wandered off and was shooting down by the dump, but I didn’t care. “I can dance,” I told Tangerine in my worldliest manner.
“I’ll bet you can,” she said.
I held her hand on the way home and stood by her gate, waving feebly as she and Virgil disappeared inside. That was the last time I saw Tangerine. She went back to Colorado Springs the next day and years later married a Bible salesman from Denver.
I too went on my merry way, and many years later was helping my wife Marilyn dig bulbs in her flower garden when she said, “Are you going to lean on that hoe all day, sighing and starring at clouds?”
That’s when my annual bout with spring took over. “I can dance,” I said.
“I know, silly” Marilyn said, but she looked at me with a little smile on her lips.
“Give me your shovel, Marilyn,” I said, “and take my hand. It’s stumbly here.” Talk about your frenzy.
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales. He can be contacted at 356-3674.